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How To Show Thoughts On Stage

Gregg Goldston

When I first started mime training with Gregg Goldston, I felt that my brain was working harder than my body. Many people feel this way, especially in their early stages of mime training, and are surprised how technical “mime acting” is. Learning to show a clear thought process, which is our visual monologue, was the most foreign element I found in mime training.

However, once your brain learns how it works, I assure you that you will be always using this powerful technique to show your thoughts clearly. In fact, we find very similar techniques in great animation films such as my favorite “Monsters, Inc.” Readable thoughts bring your art closer to your audience whether it is through a film projector or a live performance.
In this Blog Post, I will explain our Terms and Descriptions of the Mime Acting method we have developed and teach here in New York, and at our Institute for Mime in Italy.
All right, let’s proceed:
We intentionally use the word “thought” instead of a more common and similar word “emotion”. The word “thought” often conveys better images of visual and clear, i.e., physically choreographed therefore readable, emotions for the audience. Contrary, the word “emotion” can trigger various vague expressions which can hardly work in mime performances.
A single move is called a “beat”, a series of 4 to 12 beats is a “phrase”, and a series of phrases becomes a “section” or a “paragraph”. Getting too technical? Let’s move on before you understand what this means.
“The Attitude Phrase”
An Attitude Phrase consists of 4 or more thoughts (beats). It is a phrase to complete a thought process of a character.
Here is a perfect example of an Attitude Phrase:
Beat 1) Hey,…
Beat 2) …what the…
Beat 3) …huh?…
Beat 4) …oh!
The term the “Attitude Phrase” is equivalent to a sentence in writing.
However, we call it a phrase instead of a sentence. Because in mime, we use “compressed” rhythmic wording, internally of course, instead of long sentences full of eloquent meaningful wording often found in drama.
Although mime is a wordless art form, we do have our own language with grammar. It is much more simplistic than, let’s say, ballet or Martha Graham Technique.
In mime, thoughts are projected as visible dots and audible beats, that we can actually count with our eyes and (imaginary) ears by watching.
Here is the basic structure of an Attitude Phrase.
The minimum number of thoughts in an Attitude Phrase is four. It can be five or more, but not less than four.
1. See
2. Wish
3. Doubt
4. Believe
1 is called “See”. It is a moment of an event, e.g., you find something, you are being pushed, you heard something, etc.
Please note that “See” is not actually a thought. Separating thought from event (reaction from action) is an essential technique you need to learn first. This “See” (event) follows the last beat of your previous phrase.
2 is your first thought (reaction) addressed to the event. We call it “Wish”. It can be either a positive or negative thought.
3 is your counter-thought. We call it “Doubt”. It is just a different thought from 2. It could be a thought with a frown such as “.. but wait a second…” or ” .. he actually looks like…”, etc. You are giving a second thought or doubting about your previous thought.
4 is your conclusion. We call it “Believe”. It is a conclusion to your entire thought process. You could say “… I was right!” or “… so sad.” or “… beautiful!” etc.
As I stated earlier, the minimum number of beats in an “Attitude Phrase” is four. It could be five or more.
You can simply add 2 “Wish” and 3 “Doubt” as many times as you would like between 3 “Doubt” and 4 “Believe”, i.e., See, Wish, Doubt, Wish, Doubt, Wish, Doubt, then Believe.
Basically, you just look for changes of colors in sequential rhythmical thoughts to expand the phrase, i.e., there is no need to use your left brain to identify which is “wish” and which is “doubt”. However, “See” and “Believe” are obvious ones you should recognize.
We do not have time to say the actual words in grammatical order of your language. Saying long sentences in your head will only make you live in Shakespeare Time, instead of Mime Time, which is always either compressed or expanded. Imagining colors and textures of thoughts helps you a lot to spontaneously express them on dots in the right timing.
Feel those colors and textures of thoughts, and just internally sing with sounds that represent those thoughts. Scat singing or imitating instrumental sounds can be helpful for you to learn the rhythm of mime phrasing.
Common mistakes are made by using only two thoughts to show an “Attitude Phrase”. The structure of this wrong version is below:
“See” (event) – “Believe”(conclusion – happy, sad, etc.). It actually looks very thin and fake, thus, incorrect on stage.
Here is an example of a wrong phrase consisting of only two beats.
A. You find an apple in a box. (“See” Event A)
B. I’m happy! (“Believe” Conclusion to Event A)
C. Then find another apple. (“See” Event C)
D. I’m happier! (“Believe” Conclusion to Event C)
The example above is not a 4-beat phrase, instead, those are two separate 2-beat (incomplete) phrases. The performer skipped 2 (wish) and 3 (doubt) before both conclusions.
Let’s fix the problem and make it right here.
A. Look in a box and see an apple
B. Look front (We call it “Universal Audience”) and say (internally)
” … I think that is a…”
* Here, you don’t complete the sentence, so you suspend the end of this thought as if you are still “in the middle of this thought process”. In other words, you have not understood your emotional reaction towards the event.*
C. Look somewhere else and say,
“… but why is it…?”
“what does this mean…?”
D. Look front and finalize your thinking by saying,
” … I now understand what it is!”
” … I now understand why I found this!”
You see the difference?
Here is another important element in mime. As long as the thoughts are clear and true to you as images, i.e., you have clear See-Wish-Doubt-Believe in your phrases, your audience will paint their own exciting story and fill with their own monologues, based on the visual images you project.
I advise you to consciously train your Attitude Phrases in various rhythms for at least a few months having an experienced viewer to tell you if you are doing them correctly. In my own experience, identifying correct phrases and incorrect phrases took time to get used to. Unfortunately it does not come naturally to most people, but anyone can learn by conscious training.
It is important for you to know that in real life we do not skip these color changes (wishes and doubts) before each phrasal conclusion, and if you skip those elements, people notice that something is not true in your acting.
Also, especially in a mime play, meaning where you want your audience to follow your monologue visually, you must articulate these amplified thought dots using your whole body, and project them effectively. I will write about “Where to Look on Stage” subject at another time.
Here is a simple rule for you to remember:
A phrase is a sentence, when it comes to the acting.
A phrase is a song, when it comes to an activity.
And remember, many emotions are colorfully blended and woven into each thought like a candle light in your eyes.
To be continued,
For more information on The Goldston Moriyama Institute for Mime, our Personal Mime Training Programs in New York City, or our 3-week summer program in Italy, please contact: /
Haruka Moriyama,

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Caden Manson is Editor In Chief and Curator of Contemporary Performance Network and co-founder and artistic director of Big Art Group, a New York City performance company founded in 1999.
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