My Interview with a Mime

John F. Abess

Have you ever thought about mime? Maybe not—after all, how real, pertinent, or relevant are those who engage in it? Often, mimes are sidewalk entertainment we stroll past, smirk at, maybe toss a few cents toward before moving on...


Yet, perhaps it is precisely the issue of realness and relevance that forms the basis of our fascination with mimes. Most of us rush about tending to our “real” world business. We feel the need to keep up with our schedule and own relevant activity. Encountering a mime, however, and actually thinking about it is like driving toward an intersection and coming unexpectedly to a yellow STOP sign. Essentially, we don’t know what to make of it. We become perplexed—is it a YIELD sign or is it a STOP sign? 


At a minimum, one could think of a mime as a distraction—is this an inanimate statue or an actual person? At a higher level, you might wonder how a stationary mime can be doing mostly nothing while captivating a growing audience.


But what is the maximum benefit or value that can come from an encounter with a mime? I believe it is a state of mind I call “reflective wonderment.” Hear me out.


Mimes make people realize that things may not be as they seem. Even though we may move through life with confidence, that confidence comes from many assumptions we often take for granted. Let’s be honest with ourselves, we don’t actually know what the future is going to bring. I am reminded of this when encountering a mime because 1) the mime was not expected but suddenly encountered; and 2) a mime is curiously mysterious and unpredictable in itself.


In short, mimes cause people to pause and wonder. Mimes create the same feeling of wonderment I experience contemplating stars at night. A mime is part illusion, part mystery, part reality, and part human. Where we place the boundaries and how porous those boundaries are remain uncertain. The answers belong to our imagination. Yes, I now believe mimes have an important role to play for all of us.  


They keep us guessing.


As it turns out, I know a mime, Rosemarie Ballard. She lives in San Diego, California, and we are classmates from high school. I asked her if she would answer some questions and she was happy to oblige. 


Rosemarie Ballard


JA: What would motivate a person to go through the trouble, time, and energy to become a mime?


RB: A mime likes the challenge of attempting to engage others by using his or her own body and emotions as an instrument. In this process, mimes actually become more intimate, understanding, and accepting of themselves. 


JA: What satisfaction/gratification do mimes receive from their performance?


RB: There develops a connection between the mime and the audience as the observer concentrates on the emotion and actions of the mime. The absence of speech actually compels the audience to concentrate more fully on the mime. This connection helps people experience something emotional. The reward for the mime includes a great physical workout and the personal satisfaction you get from the bond created with the observer. 


JA: Are there different categories or types of mimes?


RB: A trained mime is considered a classically trained Mime. That mime knows to wear black, white, and red for their costume. They know the history of the art form. They have studied the masters in mime. The training is the same from country to country. There might be different names for things but the basics are always included. 


We sometimes refer to a character in mime (not dressed in proper colors) as a “clime.” Clime is derived from being half clown and half mime character. Mimes like Dom McCloud or Rick Wamer are considered to be mime actors. Their work is done on stage and they have no white face. They are both amazing!


JA: Are there standards or levels of mime as there are in medicine or academia?


RB: The skill levels of people studying mime include: Apprentice, Mime, Master Mime. [Rosemarie is a Master Mime.] A Master has time in the field, mentors/teachers that have recognizable names, and performance records, and is a person that teaches the art. There is also another level of what we call "crap mime." This refers to a person who puts on the makeup and goes out and acts the part. That is how I started. I was an untrained mime. The process of communicating with others without saying a word was very powerful. My crap mime experience opened the door. I was hooked.


JA: Can mimes make enough money to support themselves?


RB: I know a few mimes who have earned a living because of the art. The creatures in movies like Star Wars were either trained by mimes or were mimes. The person inside the American Tourister Luggage gorilla was a mime. His suit cost $20K. He traveled all around the world in his air-conditioned gorilla suit. He was also “Harry” of Harry and the Hendersons movie. 


Richmond Shepard (America's Marcel Marceau) made a living in LA. He owned a block of real estate and had a studio. He was in lots of commercials. He trained many people. He has performed all over the world. He is 82 and teaches mime on Saturdays in his theatre in NYC. 


I have not made a living as a mime. If I was on my own, I think I could have done so, but I raised a family. I have trained many young people and three now have entertainment businesses. We have many tricks in our bags: clown face painting, balloon art, stage performance... And in Europe, many mimes succeed at making a living. The art form has more respect overseas.


JA: What natural characteristics should one have if they hope to become a successful mime?


RB: The most essential ingredient is a loving nature. One should have love of self and others. Another essential ingredient is creative spirit! We make something out of nothing. Therefore, we need to be both creative and self-confident.


I asked Rosemarie to provide some links to performances or accomplishments that might be representative and here are some.     Comedic Mime Routine – “Long Distance Relationship”     European Mime – Entertaining & Realistic     “Living Statues – Butoh Angels”


Cover photo: Charleston International Film Festival