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Magic Show in Mime – How To Create Visible Objects

Gregg Goldston in “Phantom 309”

The Art of Mime is known as “Making the Invisible Visible.” (A famous quote by Marcel Marceau.) In mime, we make our character’s inner monologues, (non-verbal thoughts) become visible, the invisible objects and environments become visible, invisible illusions become visible, and even invisible characters become visible.

Here is how we categorize these and in this article I will focus on the first one and the rest in upcoming articles.

A) Visible Objects

B) Visible Environments

C) Visible Characters

D) Visible Illusions

E) Visible Inner Monologues

For better understanding, I will use the following terms:

“Objects,” will refer to things found within a Place, such as a coffee pot inside of a kitchen, and “Illusions” will refer to a Classical Illusion, such as a Wall, Rope, Ball, with which an entire play can be created from. I am referring to “The Placeless Plot” writing structure. It is true that those too are non-existent objects and it is helpful to clarify which of these I am referring to in this article. We typically categorize this difference due to the different type of play writing structure in which they appear.

In the future, I will write more specifically about The Placeless Plot illusions such as the wall, balloon and rope and the variety of ways these can be used.

Today, I will focus on the “Mime as a Magician” side of our art form – making non-existent “Objects” visible. Let’s first look at how to “technically” create this phenomenon within your performance, and enable your audience to paint these objects in a most colorful and astonishing way.

Our audience is so smart and creative that they can paint our objects more beautifully with their imagination than what we actually draw on stage, “if” we properly introduce and maintain those objects within our scenes.

A) Visible Objects:

A-1) Contact Reflection

By touching and mirroring the characteristics of the objects with the contacting part of your body, e.g., when you show a door, your hand makes a shape of a doorknob and your elbow moves like a door hinge. When your door is shut, your hand becomes the hard surface of the door. Your hand is no longer a hand. It becomes the doorknob or the door surface when you are touching it.

Note 1: When you release your hand from the door, you loosen the tension of your hand, making your hand round to show that it is no longer flat/door surface. (If you skip this clear change of hand shape, it visually looks like your door keeps following your hand until you do it.) Then keep your hand there for a second to spotlight from your palm toward where you were just touching. This way, the invisible object stays visible longer.

Note 2: Before touching your object, we often need to give at least a glance to the object (with your head, instead of only eyes), and project some thoughts about the object. This preparation helps your audience see the moment of introduction to the object. If you miss it, your audience will feel left behind of your magic, thus your magic becomes private.

In other words, you SEE it, then WISH (first thought) then DOUBT (second thought), then BELIEVE (conclusion) before touching it. This phrase can be very subtle depending on the relation between the character and the object. However if there is no thought before touching, it can hardly become visible to your audience. It is your responsibility to make it visible, or there is nothing but your body on stage. And remember, your audience sees your object through your eyes/thoughts.

Gregg Goldston in “The Ballroom Dance Teacher”

A-2) Direct Reflection with Entire Body

The “Entire body” directly reflects the universal image of the object. With touching or without touching, looking at the object from a close distance to it.

Example 1: You make your entire body delicate and lovely if you are picking or looking at a delicate and lovely thing like a flower or a feather.

Example 2: You make your entire body square and stiff, if you are touching or about to touch a square hard thing like a table.

Of course you need to put thoughts (from the character’s point of view, not that of the object) super-ceding your hands or body. You, the character, are the star of your play, not the objects.

This A-1 and A-2 are often combined simultaneously or sequentially. The next one A-3 is a little bit similar to A-2 but it is used more indirectly to establish or maintain your Visible Environment. A Visible Environment is painted with a set of key objects (usually with three or more objects to best identify the Environment) plus your projections towards them.

I will explain more about the Visible Environment in the future. Let’s now continue with the subject of Visible Objects.

A-3) Indirect Reflection with Entire or Specific parts of the Body

It can be done without touching, or after touching it. There are different ways to make Indirect Reflection with Whole or Parts of Body.

1) Thoughts from a distance – By looking at the object and showing thoughts about it:

Imagine a scene in a sport bar. You are leaning on the bar drinking. Then you see a huge TV screen, which is showing a football game. How do you make the TV screen and the game visible?

You don’t want to touch the TV screen at a bar, which will look strange. Touching is definitely most helpful to make it visible, but it can be done only if you can find a natural reason to do so in your acting/scene.

Here, without touching, you can first find the TV (SEE), then notice what’s showing in the screen with at least a couple of thoughts (WISH / DOUBT), and reflect your excitement (BELIEVE) in your eyes and face.

But you have not conveyed enough info to your audience to help them recognize what was showing in the screen. They see that you are excited, but they have no idea why you are excited. So, here is another way to help them visualize the game.

2) Mirroring from a distance – By mirroring the essence / characteristics / activities of what the character sees:

Continued from the sport bar scene above.

You can also reflect some activities of the players in the game, using short slow-motion images of a player running with a ball, throwing a ball, and cheering, woven into the gestures of the guy in the bar. It can be done very much like a quick recap of a “Metamorphosa” play.

Mime is magical. You can create a gradation of images and take the audience with you to a dream state at once.

With #1 and #2 both combined, finally your audience will recognize that you are watching a football game in a TV screen!

3) Maintaining an Object from a distance:

This is my favorite, which is used to gradually create, or steadily maintain the invisible objects visible. By giving subtle, unnoticeable glances from a corner of your eyes to the object in the required frequency, you can maintain the energy connection between you and the object, thus you can maintain its visibility of the object in your audience’s imagination.

I will explain how it’s done with the following example:

I learned this technique from Gregg when he was helping me create a comedic play about a pianist in a concert hall. I entered the stage, introduced my character, gave three quick glances with thoughts to show the Environment, which was a concert hall, and the third glance was the grand piano.

I needed to make the piano clear to my audience, because it was important for the story. So, I lightly traced the shape of the piano with my hand, while I shared my thoughts about it. Then I put my music sheets on the piano and made some noise by mistake, a couple more jokes here and there, the spinning chair broke, etc., then I left my piano. I went to downstage center, more jokes there, and bowed to the audience. I think the story started something like that.

However, when I looked back to the piano, the piano had completely disappeared! This happened “only” because I didn’t know how to maintain its visibility without touching it.

I wondered: How could I maintain the visibility of the non-existent piano on stage while I was not “touching” it? And even more difficult, was when I was far away from it?

I then saw how Gregg could so naturally demonstrate this technique for me and how there was a method to keep the piano staying so clearly visible in the audience’s mind.

When your body has to leave an invisible key object, you have to give indirect glances to it, often from a corner of your eyes, in the required frequency and rhythm. If you want to know the frequency for a specific scene/object, ask an outsider’s eye. That will train your intuition to know what is needed for your case.

By giving the glances, you can keep in touch with the object while you are away from it. It is like saying casual hello to its existence before any audience member forgets that it is there.

It is created with a constant attention to it, using a type of mimed projection from your body parts to the object. The energy you project towards the object is similar to how you pay attention to an important guest in your room while you are not looking at him. You give him a space to sit and relax, then keep paying indirect attention to him without disturbing him.

Another example is this: Imagine you “own” the stage space and then be consistently aware of the fact that: “Nobody should invade your space.”

Suddenly, someone brought a grand piano and left it there. How do you react psychologically and physically? Maybe you feel pressure from the foreign invader.

If you would like to know how it is done physically, I would advise you to imagine that the piano is blowing gentle winds toward you continuously, so your body is a little blown away from the piano. Then, every so often, you are reminded about the invader in your space. You know it’s there, so you do not look at it directly, but the corner of your eyes is capturing it every few to several seconds.

Now, let’s replace the pressure from the piano with the kind of thoughts your character has towards the object. If you like the object, the projection between you two becomes a positive connection with respect. If you hate the object, the projection between you two becomes a negative uncomfortable one.

While you keep projecting towards the object, you also receive that projection “back” from the object. You create a “mutual connection,” just as you would in a human relationship. This gives the Object the stronger importance, and with this method the Object begins to have a life of its own. Then the object stays visible for the audience’s eyes and at the same time, your emotional relationship to it also becomes much stronger. This is the magic you can control technically and then over time, it will help you become a stronger Mime Actor.

Why is it important to remind your audience about objects? Because if your audience forgets where the “important” objects were or what objects were there in the environment you established once, they feel lost and confused. They will begin to feel like they are losing their memory not being able to remember what happened five minutes ago. Eventually they become frustrated and will later hold this against you.

Another thing to remember is that if you create an object that is not important after being used once, you should “purposely” make it disappear. By doing that purposely, you tell your audience they do not need to remember this object. In Film terms, we would call that Object an “Extra” not a “Main” character.

Objects need their proper balance of visibility in order to guide your audience through your play. It is similar to what we see in regular theater as lighting design, adjusting stage lighting in order to switch the focus of the play, and quickly make necessary changes of your stage setting and props around you while it is dark.

In mime, most magic tricks are purposely created right in front of your audience. You remain in a spotlight, make things appear and fade away like how film uses special effects.

That is why mime is known as a mysterious art form.

When our public tries to describe what they saw, felt, or imagined; they will often use words like: Astonishing, Mesmerizing, Unbelievable, and Magical!

It was for this reason I was inspired to write an article about one of the most powerful elements within our art.

Our job is to create the visible world properly and steadily, simplified and universal enough so that your audience can follow the story line easily and enjoy painting it as they wish. Usually they paint our invisible world by using their own memories. That is why your objects need to be universally recognized ones, those that the audience can identify quickly, then their minds can “play in this world with you,” not spend their time running behind you “guessing” what is going on. The MAGIC in Mime isn’t that we can make them see something that isn’t there…the Magic comes from what we do with that thing “once they see it.”

It is in this moment that our technique, becomes an Art.

To be continued,

NEWS from The GMI

We have received quite many inquiries about our next summer program (three-week personal training program) in Italy (1 hour outside of Rome). We are now finalizing our details of the program and preparing to announce the application process next month. First application will be closed by the end of December.

We already know that the program will be held in July 2014, and it will be a 3-week program, expanding the time to make it even deeper than our last memorable summer.

The opening is very limited again, accepting only ten participants from around the world. Please prepare a video link (Website, YouTube, etc) to your performance or video file to share via Dropbox, if you are new to the GMI and interested in applying.

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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