When I moved to England after four years of contemporary dance, I couldn’t quite bring myself to revert back to my “old ways” of miming. The black stripes of the American stereotype were a little tiresome, and, forgive the pun, a little too “in the box.” After traipsing around the abstract dance world for so long I needed something with blurrier edges. Not abandoning mime, but softening it somewhat.
The result is a slightly more farmer look—a linen shirt, suspenders, and no hard black line surrounding the face. But my peasanty pauper wouldn’t be much of an everyman’s mime if he didn’t at least wish to have a little more. So he tries to reach a little higher than his allotment in society, sporting his old top hat and the airs of an aristocrat—a dichotomy of manner and material.
I’ve been stretching my wings here in the Isle of the Mighty, with a little street work to acclimate myself to the people and culture. Cambridge is very international, with the universities, language schools, and tourist, so I’m not dealing with purely British mentalities on the street, but it’s been good. And street work is not only allowed, but relatively welcome here in City Centre. Buskers (street performers working for tips) are under no great legislation, only that they respect shop owners, patrons, and each other. So dipping my top hat to the crowds for a few coins, I joined their ranks.
I’ve performed on the street quite a bit in the United States, and have quite a pocketful of tricks I usually pull. Illusions, and robots, and characters, and the odd street sketch for those passersby with a moment to watch. But I’ve not always directly engaged my audiences; because in the States there’s an irrational fear (and sometimes hatred) of mimes. But here, there seems to be no such thing. As such I’ve decided to try to unlock my sense of improve and inspiration, and take more cues from the people around me. As a performer you can always hear the little comments watchers make, and see the goofs of the groups who think they can open a door in on your wall, or knock out the thing you’re leaning on.
I’ve decided to explore those moments. I plan to chronicle a few of the best ones here for you all. As a teaser I’ll say this: I was exploring a new illusion for myself: archery. I was across the street from King’s College, and many people were sitting down opposite me on the low wall outside the college lawn. I drew and took careful aim above my audience’s heads, planning to do a whole Summer Olympic athlete routine. Instead, when I let loose my first arrow one of the men sitting across from me (pretending to be hit) jumped on his seat, and fell backwards, almost completely. He and his wife barely caught him before he toppled into the grass.
My Olympic dreams shattered I did the only thing any self-respecting buffoon could. I raced over, and helped the man back onto his seat. Asking, through gesture, if he was okay, I put one foot on his chest, and both hands on the arrow, and plucked it out with a jolt. Double-checking to make sure he was okay, I resumed my position. Needless to say, after that, there were few arrows that found their true mark. And everyone in front of King’s College had a good laugh, and felt a good deal safer, when I finally put my bow down.
Tomorrow I post another story, because there have been some interesting results.…