MIME. Part 2. The Legacy of Jacques Copeau.

Mimes must be multi-skilled. But why? What skills? And where do you find a Mime when you want one?

The Entertainment Agency or ‘Consultancy’, as they may prefer to be known, Entertain Oz, must carry one of the greatest collections of Mime databanks Australia could have.

But as one scrolls through the pages searching the talent base, it must be noted that to find a pure mime is a rarity. All must offer various other skills as if pure mime is not enough.


  • juggle,
  • clown,
  • rove,
  • perform balloon twisting,
  • practice improvisation,
  • dance,
  • act,
  • and they must diversify to maintain an income. Just as we too must at the Festive Factory.

Further, they must be listed in a wide cache of categories all eager to catch the shopper’s eye.

Mimes will be found listed in

  • Children’s Entertainment,
  • Street Theatre,
  • Roving Entertainment,
  • Clowns,
  • Statues and
  • Actors.

Why is it that mime artists feel the need to be so multi skilled? Was it always this way? To answer this we need to examine the question:

Where does Mime come from?

Mime and mimicry can certainly be traced back to early Greek and Roman cultures however that is too early to be of great use here.

Of more recent times there is close connection between the Commedia Dell’Arte, the forbidden theatre of political comment, the bouffant, and the mask; also the value of silence to save ones head in those early days!

Cross fertilisation and merging of the technics and styles was well established in the very DNA back in the days of the Commedia in the 1500s. Note that its import to the UK was to be delayed until the 1700-1800s where dance was incorporated.

Here as it developed into a pantomime, its Commedic roots would follow stock plots. The plots allowed for extra skills typically drawn from the circus arts

such as:

  • stilts,
  • acrobatics,
  • tumbling,
  • contortion,
  • prat falls,
  • leaps otherwise known as ‘boosts’ (in circus jargon) and
  • mask work.

So a quick historical examination reveals that within the plots, the location of performances and the political limitations, improvisation and cross fertilisation were key elements.

Around the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, mime was very much diminished in popularity. What prevailed were poor renditions, rehash of old material and typically performances with poor technics that touched no one and spoke of nothing.

Jacques Copeau 1879-1949 was a young drama critic in France. He gathered a group of young actors and formed a school called the Vieux-Colombier.

It was his disgruntlement with the state of the theatre of his time that inspired a radical change of attitude and interest. His work and the team that trained under him would cast a bright and lasting light upon the theatrical practices still enjoyed and recognizable today. Without this man, it might be argued, there would have been no Marcel Marceau.

Copeau established a school and gathered a creative ensemble that was dedicated to striping the then current practices of commercialism, ham, waiting for the applause. The school taught a broad base of skills; acting, mask, circus, music etc. It researched the human form in movement in an exploration of discovering a pure theatre and language of movement. Email0003

This school had many notable artists and would have been a golden era. It was very much the birth of mime, as we know it today with students including, Etienne Decroux, Marcel Marceau, Louis Barrault and Jacques le Coq.

Each of these men, from common roots, extended the research; some worked together for a time but eventually with personal differing philosophies branched off into their own areas, two of whom produced their own schools and disciples to follow, one of whom popularised the form and was written about extensively in last weeks article.

For the student with more than a passing interest in Mime, advice is as follows:

Learn Mime history, practice many disciplines including but not limited to:
body knowledge and all there in, circus skills and improvisation.

A good mime is part actor, dancer, singer, puppeteer, acrobat, stilt walker, juggler, costume designer and more.

A good mime today, is like a painter who has a pallet full of colours and choice. Best results come from experienced judgment: which colour is most suitable for which effect.

A good mime today is master of none and thief of many skills.

But a brilliant mime today is one who does all this and contributes to the art form, doesn’t just rehash…or is that the role of all artists?