My main objective in beginning my unit with a brief history of mime, is to give the reader as many options as possible. The background information may trigger an idea in which the teacher can expand and apply to their subject area.
1. A social studies teacher might use the story of the early man hunting or the Zuni Indian Story. These two pantomimes will be addressed later and could enhance any applicable unit.
2. A literature teacher may want to use the information with students to further study mime. A creative writing unit may result from a mime experience—or possibly to delve deeper and create research papers, gaining even more information and understanding of this course of study.
3. Science teachers may want to look at nature’s natural pantomimes. The great crested grebes have a complex courtship ritual which consists of a variety of movements. Many animals and insects use pantomime to convey a message on their own level.
I thought it would be very difficult to express what mime is in words. That in itself is a contradiction. As I researched this subject I found a wealth of information. The following historical account, except where noted is drawn from:
All About Mime Understanding and Performing the Expressive Silence
, Loeschke pgs. 2-23.
Pantomime the Silent Theate
. Hunt pgs. 7-15, 40-46.
Mime—A Playbook of Silent Fantasy
, Hamblin pgs. 16, 17.
Mimes on Miming
, Rolfe pgs. 3-8.
Pantomime or mime, the two words cause quite a dilemma for those who try to explain them. Some feel pantomime alludes to a performance, while mime represents the performer. Others feel that a pantomime is a comedy and a mime is a serious drama. There are many theories, but for the most part, the words are now interchangeable. I will use both terms within the context of this unit.
Mime/Pantomime is self-expression without words. It is a silent form of communication. When performing, your body becomes your instrument. Modern mime is a form of the theatre, but its roots go back a very long way. Mime is one of the earliest modes of communication,—an expression of self. Man has used mime to express many things in a dramatic way. The first cave people acted out their daily experiences through pantomime. The adventure of the hunt made for an exciting drama, though the excitement of the drama was not the objective. Primitive people used mime to influence their environment. They believed in pantomiming a successful hunt even if that day’s hunt had been poor. By doing this they felt it would bring good luck for the next day’s hunt.
Mime was used in religious ceremonies. Man expressed his myths and traditions through mime.
The Zuni Indians tell a story of ten corn maidens. These corn maidens were entrusted with the care of different types of corn. Whenever these maidens felt threatened by the god of butterflies, the god of music, or the god of flowers, they would hide. Then it became essential for the people to get help from other gods. They needed to coax the maidens out of hiding so the corn crops would grow. This story was portrayed for the most part, in mime. It was performed every four years not to celebrate but to bring rain for the corn crops. It is still performed by the American Southwest Indians, but as a ceremony to entertain tourists, not to influence nature.
Some primitive pantomimes were performed strictly for amusement, while others gave examples of a great event in the past of a particular tribe. Illustrations of these may be found in Kari and Douglas Hunt’s
Pantomime: The Silent Theater
It was in the Orient that mime was first used in organized theatre. In fact, since the inception of the national theatres of Japan and China, mime has had an active role.
The Greeks and the Romans used mime to perform a sketch. The Greeks were probably the first to use mime as a pure art form. Many times masks were used to interpret a certain scene/dialogue. They were then called pantomimes and were very strongly connected with dance. The Greeks had many festivals and pantomime always had a place in these celebrations. The Romans broadened the use of mime into a very popular show that was frequently risque.
Through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, the expression ‘dumb shows’ was used to describe a silent play.
The Middle Ages brought the jester. He traveled about bringing his improvisations to many people. Most likely, he was the example of our solo comic mime of present day. With the exception of the jester, most of the performance of mime during this time period had a religious connection. The miracle plays used mime, within the church, to express the mysteries and morales of that time.
During the sixteenth century mime was brought back for pure entertainment. This was the beginning of the Italian School of Mime, which is still active today. The Italian Commedia Dell’Arte was extremely popular. It centered on the fool, Pierrot, who was an engaging clown. The French were influenced by this form of pantomime. The established Italian characters of Pierrot and Columbine were brought to France by traveling jesters from Italy. There they developed another type of mime in reaction against the Italian school.
By the 1800’s mime was recognized in many countries as an entertaining art form. Three schools of mime developed a certain individualized style. These schools were from:
The Orient—this is the oldest school. They use simple plots and sets, elaborate make-up and costumes. The mime has a sense of a spirit that comes from within.
Italy—this style is mostly comic, with broad, exaggerated movements. Slapstick prevails. There are many examples of Italian mime, presently. The work of Red Skelton is one.
France—the youngest of the schools. It combines the French ballet with the Italian characters mentioned above. They create very believable, well-developed characters. Their movements are very precise, creating an illusion of reality.
These schools had and continue to have a specific technique and structure. The above descriptions are brief. The schools continue to influence the present mime performer. Despite cultural differences all mime is either a reflection of or a reaction to one or more of these unique styles.
Some aspects of the Italian school will be used with my students. The characters of the Italian school react in a big way. All of their actions are big and are usually stereotypical, but very human. The techniques are much less specific than those of the other schools. I feel these views will influence my classes, especially in the beginning activities.
As my students become more comfortable with these mode of expression, I hope to use some of the components of the French school. Their moves will become more subtle. They will work like an actor, concentrating on what motivates their character ”n a given situation, and thus creating a more realistic drama, which is one of the objectives of the French school.
This curriculum unit has been created for my dance and drama classes. I teach kindergarten through sixth grade at an integrated city school. My students come from varying backgrounds culturally and economically. These variances have enriched the interactions within my classes. I see twenty-four different classes a week. Each class runs thirty-five to forty-five minutes long, once a week. Depending on the pace of each class, this curriculum unit is designed to last eight weeks or longer.
I plan to use this unit with my third, fourth and fifth grades. I’ve chosen these particular grades for a couple of reasons. One, I feel they will be open to and enjoy this type of unit. Two, my fourth and fifth graders seem to have become self-conscious, regarding their bodies. I believe this unit can be applied to most grade levels. I envision this unit being taught in grades one through six with some minor modifications, in the delivery, according to grade level.
As I’ve observed my students performing in school assemblies, I’ve noticed many of them having difficulty making the connection between what they are saying and their bodies. They are concentrating so hard on remembering their lines and forgetting to feel, move and express.
In the using of mime with my students, words will be taken away and they will develop their skills in a non-verbal drama. In so doing my objectives and goals are as follows:
1. For my students to become aware of the expressiveness of their bodies.
2. For my students to become less self-conscious around this expression and feel more comfortable within their bodies.
3. To broaden their awareness of how we speak with our bodies in everyday life.
4. To understand body language, which will help my students to interact and communicate much more effortlessly.
5. My students will be introduced to a new way of communication through the use of mime.
6. My students will gain self-esteem by accomplishing a given activity where there is no right or wrong way of completing it.
7. My students will learn to focus on a given task, tuning out all distractions. This will enable them to increase their abilities to concentrate.
8. My students will increase their attention span.
9. My students will learn tolerance and patience by the structure of the class. No one is judged and everyone is seen.
10. My students will gain confidence and increase their performance abilities and stage presence.
As I begin this drama unit with my students I will stress the rules of the room. The rules are:
1. Respect for each other and themselves.
2. No one is to negatively criticize another’s response to a drama activity.
3. One person speaks at a time; the rest of us listen to what is being said.
4. Any questions or comments about a given activity are to be asked at the beginning or end of the lesson. Once the drama has begun those not involved directly will watch and wait until it is completed before questioning.
I always have my students sit in a circle. I use a moderate sized space which contains no furniture. This may be adapted to your classroom by moving furniture. We normally sit on the floor but again you may use chairs if necessary.
As the director of each drama activity I have certain cues to take us out of the drama when needed.
1. I ring a bell which means: stop, look at me, and listen to what I will say.
2. I say the word “freeze,” which means just that. Whatever position my students were in when I said that word, they stay in, until I say “melt.” This doesn’t mean they will melt to the floor. They are to resume normal posture and look at me and listen for direction.
3. I clap my hands three times for Stop, Look and Listen.
Any one of these cues is effective when explained to students before the activity. These cues become part of the drama class, to be used many times.
If there is a problem with behavior, I say ask a student to leave the circle. They are told this before the activity begins. I give them all two warnings, the third time I have to speak with one of them, that person will leave the circle for a time. That student may earn their way back into the circle after sitting out quietly for a period of time (to be decided by the teachers).
All of this is used to create a safe space for my students so they will feel comfortable expressing themselves. They will realize that inappropriate behavior is not acceptable. If they want to participate in the activities they will have to demonstrate the appropriate behavior.
As the director of any of these activities I may choose to stay out of the activity or at times be part of the drama. I am free to move in and out of the activity whichever will be most productive.