With festivals appearing all over Europe and new technology on the horizon, mime appears to be having a moment. Marko Stojanovic, founder of World Mime Organisation, tells Nick Awde about new developments in the ancient art
Mime may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the globe’s fastest-spreading – and most empowering – art forms.
The universal attraction is clear. Like solo theatre, which has exploded around the world in the past decade, it uses minimal set and props (if any) and there is accessibility to both performers and audience. Unlike solo theatre, there are no words to complicate things.
The genre’s influence has grown thanks to respected showcases such as the London International Mime Festival, which has gone from strength to strength since 1977, and it also has an international voice year-round in the shape of the World Mime Organisation, based in Belgrade, Serbia.
WMO’s president is Marko Stojanovic, the Serbian stage and screen comic actor and teacher who set up the organisation in 2004 with fellow mime Ofer Blum of Israel (the pair were students during the 1990s at the Marcel Marceau Paris International School of Mimodrama) to promote mime as a “language of all”.
Citing the likes of Marceau and Rowan Atkinson as inspiration, Stojanovic promotes mime not only as an art form, but also as an educational tool with an ever-expanding range of possibilities.
He says that new techniques are prompting a major development in mime. “For example, I’m working at the moment with developers to create the first ever smartphone mime app game. It’s designed to open a whole new world of non-verbal gaming and produce a new audience for mime performances.
“In Israel, Ofer Blum is teaching mime and juggling in primary schools with impressive results. Kids are less stressed, better focused and have longer concentration, and they achieve more in learning and tests. That is all measurable, which is important when you’re being evaluated by committees, inspectors or investors.”
Because it has its roots in non-verbal communication, mime can be a powerful addition to any performer’s toolbox. “It teaches you the fundamentals of any movement. I train sportsmen and women in mime along with elements of acting, and with those new skills they find that they need far less time to acquire new sports movements and have better emotional preparation – and thus get better results.”
However, Stojanovic says there’s still a lot to be done to connect the many strands of mime, particularly in education. “We have to be aware that not much has changed in the past 100 years. The last significant impact in the performing arts was the invention of film in the late 1800s – since then, we have witnessed changes only in styles of performing.
London International Mime Festival, UK (January) mimelondon.com
International Mime Art Festival, Poland (June) mimefestival.pl
International Monodrama and Mime Festival, Serbia (June) festmono-pan.org.rs/en
Mimos, France (July-August) mimos.fr
Yengibaryan International Mime Festival, Armenia (July)
International Pantomime and Puppet Theatre Festival, Germany (September-November) pantomaniacs.de/english.htm
Panphys International Festival of Mime and Physical Theatre, North Macedonia (October) stranizza.com
Third World Mime Conference, with festival and showcase (October-November) worldmime.org
GBG Mime Fest, Sweden (November) gbgmimefest.se
Mimesis Festival, France (December) ivt.fr
“Of course, some aspects of the performing arts have seen a massive rise in popularity as a result of new mass media, which has brought exposure of artists and genres to wider audiences. That has also meant a rise in the number of schools and performers, but less of a rise in employment opportunities.”
Part of the industry’s response is the emergence of what Stojanovic calls the “new renaissance performer”, who specialises in one art or craft but needs to know a lot of others, including mime.
“Today’s performer needs to be trained in so many different methods, techniques and genres but also has to know how to write, direct, use a camera, edit video, use social media, know basic public relations and marketing, fundraising, production, company management, writing contracts… And it’s the responsibility of the schools, universities and teachers to give a performer that kind of education.”
As part of that practice, mime is popping up in unexpected sectors, for example, motion capture for the film and gaming industries.
“I’ve been working with the second largest motion-capture studio in Europe,” says Stojanovic, “and they say that the best experiences they have is not with regular actors but mime artists, because they know their bodies and the linked idea of movement far better. And since they’re trained that way, it means that the working process turns out to be shorter and therefore less costly.”
Stojanovic has also worked with deaf children and teenagers in Serbia since 1997. “Mime is natural to them. It can be a way of freeing their artistic expression and a profession they can earn their living from. For deaf people, mime is a tool of social, artistic, media and economic integration in society.
“What mime brings them most is self-confidence. After making a few shows, even touring in the regions, they acquire a certain level of knowledge, and I can encourage some of them to teach new students. It’s rewarding when you see a kid who you taught to moonwalk start to teach others. I often mix my [hearing] acting students with deaf teenagers in classes and, later, on stage. We all learn a lot.
“In some countries, deaf people have separate educational institutions, elsewhere they are part of inclusive education, and in others they do not have much at all. Whatever the case, mime should be part of what they learn, like painting. If there is no proper educational system built for the deaf, non-governmental organisations should do the work. It is not expensive and it brings immediate results.”
For deaf people, mime is a tool of social, artistic, media and economic integration in society – what it brings them most is self-confidence
With this in mind, Stojanovic has developed a training programme in Serbia – Music of Silence – offered for free via WMO.
Given the different traditions, it’s perfectly logical that mime is more advanced in Eastern Europe, where universities including Sofia (Bulgaria), Tbilisi (Georgia) and Kiev (Ukraine) offer BAs in mime.
Poland has a particularly strong tradition in non-verbal theatre, however that hasn’t stopped two top mime centres, the Warsaw Pantomime Centre (Warszawskie Centrum Pantomimy) and Wroclaw Pantomime Theatre (Wroclawski Teatr Pantomimy), from facing closure. “The city and regional governments are cutting their budgets – and mime is the first to go,” Stojanovic says.
A feature of mime in Eastern Europe is that it’s more conservative, and is heavily influenced by classical ballet and acrobatics.
In Western and Northern Europe, it’s more liberal, although it is still divided into the teachings, techniques and schools of Étienne Decroux (mostly), Marceau and Jacques Lecoq. It has also evolved in close relationship with contemporary dance and many mime graduates are recruited by dance companies.
Surprisingly, Serbia itself has no tradition of mime, which Stojanovic sees as an advantage since it presents a blank canvas. “That gives us an openness to new ideas, new technologies and new fusions that we can bring to the ancient art of mime.”
It’s those fusions that hold the key to mime’s evolution at world level, where its non-verbal platform offers a place to mix with and adapt folklore, legends, music and dance of a particular nation. “I’ve seen some exciting examples in Georgia, a country that is very rich in folklore and dance, and I can’t wait to see how mime will develop in China, where it is almost non-existent.”
As one of the global partners of the International Theatre Institute, based in Shanghai, WMO was invited by ITI to China for meetings in November 2019 where there was huge interest, especially from the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and Shanghai Theatre Academy, where Stojanovic gave a workshop. As a result, WMO is now exploring collaboration with both institutions in education and performance.
There are also plans for the third World Mime Conference to happen in Shanghai, with a linked international mime festival and showcase for the Chinese market. The idea is for the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre to act as host as part of its International Comedy Festival in November and December.
“We are working hard for that to happen this year,” says Stojanovic, “and we also want to ensure that the event is preceded by a season of educational and promotional activities in Shanghai and China. These are exciting times indeed for the art of mime.”
Founders: Marko Stojanovic, Ofer Blum
Based: Belgrade, Serbia
Partners: University of Arts in Belgrade, DesignStudio by ITAcademy, Festival of International Students Theatre, International Theatre Institute
London International Mime Festival runs until February 2. Details: mimelondon.com