Here are some ideas for teaching mime (especially for teachers who, like me, have little to no experience with drama). I worked on this while teaching the Learning English through Drama elective in Hong Kong’s NSS syllabus. In this activity, students:
- learn about mime and how to mime;
- perform individually one short mime routine of their own choice (e.g., walking into the wind);
- perform in pairs a short scene (e.g., sleeping in class and getting scolded)—the original teaching materials focused on this part;
- reflect on their performance.
Mime can be a useful activity in encouraging and aiding students to:
- develop their acting skills in terms of body language (posture, movements, gestures, etc);
- gain a greater awareness of the importance of body language as a form of communication;
- develop more confidence performing in front of others.
Students can focus on the following language skills:
- listening: viewing and responding to videos;
- speaking: planning a performance with a partner, discussing videos, reflecting on their, performance and/or commenting on the performance of others;
- writing: reflecting on their performance;
- reading: reading the reflections of other students;
- vocabulary: learning key terms like facial expression, gesture, pose and exaggerated.
Stage 1. Awareness Raising using YouTube: What is Mime?
You can spend a lot of time on this or just introduce it quickly. Ideas for activities include games: (be the first to correctly guess what the mime is doing), interpretation (write down what you think the mime is doing) and discussion (Why has the art of miming been so enduring? Why is physical comedy like ‘Mr Bean’ so popular?). Possible videos include:
1.1 Moonwalk, Mime, Michael & Marcel
These are intended to get students to understand that the moonwalk made famous by MJ makes use of mime techniques, so rather then mime being presented as something strange and new, it is shown as something that students have already encountered.
- Michael Jackson and Marcel Marceau (low quality, the two performers on stage together, this clip would only be useful to give students an entry into mime): www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvTRE8NBoMA
- Marcel Marceau (in French with Marceau teaching a class to moonwalk, also with Michael Jackson clips): www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJpBUPlMNU4 (French)
- Marcel Marceau Tribute (includes a good definition of mime): www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbxNWmH6CAo
1.2 Mime around You
Is there a local mime troupe where in the city where you are teaching? I recently found out about a mime troupe in Hong Kong that posts videos on YouTube: Silence Theatre (www.youtube.com/user/silencetheatre). The performers are young and seem to be having lots of fun. Here one of their videos is Mime Everywhere@West Kowloon Waterfront:
1.3 Rowan Atkinson Mimes
Students in Hong Kong know Rowan Atkinson through his Mr Bean character. Here is a music-related videos in which he demonstrates his mime skills.
1.4 Modern Performance
Mime techniques are also used in illusion-based modern dance techniques.
Trailer: RoboMatrix Kenichi Ebina:
Jabbawockeez Dance Compilation (this is a hip-hop dance troupe with and heavy mime influnce)
Stage 2: Learning Basic Mime Routines
We can let the experts teach us. Have the students follow the action and advice in some how-to videos (just search for ‘how to mime’ on YouTube). You can also practise along with the students. Some good videos to start with are:
- Pulling a rope: www.youtube.com/watch?v=PO2-2y-GhR8
- Leaning: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GNYE4lUIuY
- Adding expression to pulling a rope: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxITQc5uu-g
Stage 3: Planning and Preparation
Pairs plan and rehearse their scene. Students can work individually at home on learning a technique to show to class. This added practice can give students more confidence when performing.
Stage 4: Performance
If possible the performance can be recorded (video or photo) so that students have something tangible to reflect on. Here is a video featuring performances by students in our class.
Photographs can also provide useful reference. For example, for a related activity in which students created static poses in groups (called a tableaux), we used photos like the one below:
Stage 5: Reflection & Sharing
Students reflect on their performance in writing. In our case, students were given a series of questions to consider (e.g., From doing this activity, what did you learn about acting? What did you learn about non-verbal communication? What challenges did you face? How did you overcome these challenges? etc.). Students can then share their reflections with their classmates. Here are some of the responses given by our students:
Difficulties of Non-verbal Communication
1. It is difficult to communicate with non-verbal gestures and poses because they have various possible meanings.
Tips for Improving Non-verbal Communication
2. Facial expression is very important in communicating non-verbally
3. We have to act every move very accurately or no one will know what we are doing
4. The pose must be clear.
5. You need every part of your body to express the theme word.
6. We should express our gestures with some exaggerated actions.
7. A mime requires me to imagine the real situation.
8. Facial expression and posture are the two major elements of performing a good mime.
The Importance of Non-verbal Communication
9. Non-verbal communication is very significant in drama.
10. In performing a drama, you need to have good facial expressions, gestures, postures and body movements.
11. Non-verbal cues can even help you express your feelings/thoughts more thoroughly.
12. Facial expressions can show our emotion and this can help us communicate with people in a lively way.
13. The importance of non-verbal communication in daily life is to make our communication clearer.
14. There are some situations in real life where sound is not allowed and non-verbal communication is important (e.g., during live TV broadcasts, the TV crew must be silent).
More Acting Tips
15. To perform as different characters, we should act according to the ages and sex of the character . . . they should have good powers of observation.
16. If actors need to perform characters that are very different, I would advise them to observe, observe, observe (and get to know the daily life and routines of the characters).
17. In a drama, all the actors and actresses and helpers need to make a connection with each other.
18. A good mime depends on three main points, First, is to imagine false movements to be a real scene . . . Second, is to have plenty of facial expression. It will affect the fidelity of your performance. Lastly is the attractiveness of the performance.
Embarrassment & How to Deal with It
19. I feel embarrassed when I perform in front of my classmates.
20. During the performance, everyone stared at us. They would notice every little mistake or they would give us a doubtful gaze. So I tried to focus on the mime and look only at my partner. I tried to put myself into the scene and put myself into the role I was paying. This made me feel better and I soon paid less attention to the surroundings.
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