Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Teaching Mime at Open Air Circus

In my previous post I described the commedia dell'arte class I taught this summer at Open Air Circus. In this one, I will describe the mime class. Though I do not have any photographs to share of this particular class, The Somerville Journal did post a slide show that include some photographs of my mime class in session as well as some narration that came from an interview I gave.

This was my third summer teaching mime at Open Air, and I've come to have many of the same children signing up for my class year after year.

Given the very short teaching schedule (cut short by a week due to peculiarities of the calendar and another week due to rain), I was left with very little opportunity to do more than teach the concept of isolations, Decroux' corporeal mime scale, and rhythmic dynamism and get a skit together for the final show

Isolations are an essential part of any mime technique, and even when taught systemically, they are difficult for many children to learn due to the fact that their nervous systems are just not fully developed, but into my third summer, I have a group of students who are very eager to please, and at a youth circus, being known as "the weird teacher" really isn't a problem.

The nice thing about any of the traditional repertoire of mime illusions is that they can all be used as lessons in technique, but even more so, they can be used as lessons in teamwork and working with your partner.

This year I decided to work on the rope-pulling illusion and revive "The Spaghetti Sketch" that I had created for the circus two years prior. The "Spaghetti Sketch" has two acts: The first being a tug-o-war competition, the second a spaghetti dinner between the two teams who are even more competitive at dinner than during the competition, where I play both referee and head waiter. The first night (given this year's theme of "Rock'n'Roll") we use Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" for the spaghetti dinner. By the first matinée the music has changed to "Union Jack" by Big Audio Dynamite for the tug-o-war segment and an excerpt from "The Barber of Seville" for the dinner sequence. I have the kids develop their own individual spaghetti related lazzi while I improvise different bits of business each show. One that seems to work is substituting my top hat for a saucepan. The kids are particularlly excited that we've revived this piece as while a few had been in the first iteration from two years prior, many of them had seen it from the audience.

Peter Jehlen, the circus' artistic director, recruits me into incorporating my mimes students into the unicycling segment. He's chosen the music "Grease Lighting" from Grease and I borrow a couple of unicycles and build up some choreography based on various object manipulations (some of our experiments are seen in the slide show). Peter has another idea, which involves having four mimes playing air guitar to "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" during the opening sequence of the show, so I end up spending the beginning of the show acting as a conductor-- showing my "guitarists" how to play strict 4/4.

(I discover during the finale of the last show of the weekend that as we play the "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heats Club Band (Reprise)" that the tatkar I have been learning in my kathak classes fits perfectly.)

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