How to Mime

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Mime is one of the most ancient forms of theater, in which the actors pantomime a series of stories using only their bodies, without speaking. Too often the butt of ignorant jokes, mime is a vibrant and fun activity for both serious actors and people wanting to have fun with their friends. All you need is your will and a little direction.


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    Dress like a mime (optional). If you want to dress up as a mime, try:
    • Wearing mime makeup. A mime is instantly identifiable by his or her makeup—white grease paint over the face (but not on the throat), thick black eyeliner with stylized "tears" running to about the middle of the cheekbones, dark painted-on eyebrows, and black or dark red lipstick. You might also try small circles of light pink blush for a happy or girlish mime.
    • Wearing a mime costume. Serious mimes might not wear the classic "costume" anymore, but it's an easily recognizable Halloween or party costume. Find a black-and-white horizontally striped shirt, ideally with a boat neck and three-quarter sleeves. Wear dark pants, black suspenders, white wrist-length gloves, and a black bowler hat to complete the look. You don't have to wear a bowler hat. You can wear a black or red beret.
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    Use your body to talk. Talking or mouthing words is unnecessary during miming. Instead, use facial expressions, gestures and posture to do the "talking."
    • Use a mirror (or an audience) to assess what movements are the most successful in conveying emotions, attitudes and reactions. A full-length mirror is a necessity for beginners, but bear in mind the mirror is a friend you will need to leave behind at performance time.
    • A video camera, if available, is another invaluable tool.
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    Start with basic mime techniques: There are some fairly basic lessons that most mimes start with.[1].
    • Cultivate your imagination. Using your imagination cannot be overemphasized in creating illusions. Most important is for a mime to truly believe the illusion is real. Naturally the more real the illusion is for the mime, the more realistic it will be for your audience. This can be accomplished through practice. For instance, pretend the wall is real. See the wall in different colors. Feel the wall in different textures i.e. feel it rough, smooth, wet, dry, cold or hot. Use these same techniques while practicing all illusions. You will also find your body reacting naturally to the illusion if you are convinced it's real.
    • Take advantage of a fixed point. This may be more commonly referred to as 'pointe fixe', however that is simply the original French wording of 'fixed point.' This is an incredibly simple idea: The mime locates a point with his body, and then keeps it motionless in space. This technique is the basis of all illusions a mime can create.
    • Add lines to fixed points. The line builds upon Fixed Point, at first, by simply adding a second fixed point in space. What makes this a unique technical skill is the added difficulty of keeping two points the same relative distance from each other. Also, the relative distance between the two points becomes the definition of this 'construction block'. As such, the line may become 'un-fixed' as long as the two points are kept steady in their relation to one another. A good application of this concept is the 'mime wall'.
    • Make a dynamic line. Whereas the Line did not apply force to its points, the dynamic line adds that element. This is the idea applied to 'pulling the rope', but it can be applied to virtually any use of force in an illusion. The secret to this concept is synchronizing the impact of an imaginary force throughout the body. In that respect Dynamic Line is essentially an understanding of physics applied to the human body. This may seem complicated but you can get a sense for it very easily: Find a wall and place both of your hands on it at approximately shoulder height. Push lightly into the wall with your hands. As you push try to feel where pressure builds up in your body. You should feel pressure in your hands, of course, but you should also feel some tension in your shoulders and hips. If you can't feel anything, gently increase the pressure until you do. Also try different positions and feel how they change the pressures in your body. Dynamic Line calls upon the memory of forces like the ones in the above exercise to create realistic illusions of imaginary forces.
    • "Manipulate" space and matter. This is a fancy phrase for "making things out of thin air". This is the most complicated technique to explain because it makes use of many of the elements from the previous three. It is best served by an example illusion: dribbling a basketball. Using only one hand, the mime imitates much of the idea behind Dynamic Line, however by using only one hand, he only uses one point. Instead of two points, the mime transforms his remaining point into a shape: a rounded palm with fingers gently curled over it. This shape defines the 'space' where the illusion exists and allows the basketball, the 'matter', to exist in the illusion. Space / Matter Manipulation can be used to create any number of objects, characters, or events by utilizing this principle.
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    Grab a rope. Pretend to have a rope dangling before you and attempt to climb it.
    • Slide down and clamber back up for best effect. When you reach the top, wipe the perspiration off your brow. Climbing a rope is a very difficult illusion if done correctly. Imagine and feel your full body weight. If you are really climbing a rope, your muscles will stretch and strain. Your face will grimace in painful effort. Wiping sweat from your brow will be a natural reaction. If you have never climbed a real rope, do so with supervision in a padded gym. Make mental notes of your actions and reactions even though many illusions may not be done with the exact movements as used in reality, the mental attitude (i.e. imagination) should be the same as the real thing. (See first note below under "Warnings" and be sure to warm up before attempting this illusion.)
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    Pretend to be in a box. If you are in an invisible box, you can press the air out in front of you with your hands, first your palm and then your fingers. Act as if you are trying to find a way out of this invisible box by identifying its corners and sides. Run one hand across the "edges" of your imaginary box, as you try to find the lid and your way out. If you want, you can eventually find the lid and flip it open dramatically with both arms, in a triumphant gesture.
    • Climb a ladder. To show climbing a ladder, grab at imaginary ladder rungs going up in the air. Place the ball of one foot on the ground, as you would put it on a ladder rung. Pull down on the rungs (keep the hands moving together!) as you go up on your toes, and then drop back down with the opposite foot now "on a rung." Alternate feet and hands each time you "climb." Keep your focus upwards, as though you were looking at the place to which you are climbing. (If it is a tall ladder, look downwards occasionally for comic effect - tilt your head slowly and carefully, just enough to look downwards, and then look forward quickly, with an expression of alarm!) Make your legs do the same movements as if your feet were clambering up a real ladder.
    • Do "the lean". Pretend to be leaning against a lamp post, wall or a counter. It might sound easy but takes quite a lot of strength and coordination to "lean" on nothing. The basic lean has two parts. Start with the feet about shoulder-width apart.
    • For the top part: Hold your arm slightly away from your body, with the elbow bent so that your forearm is parallel to the ground and your hand (wrist relaxed slightly) is near your torso. Now raise your shoulder as you move your chest towards your elbow (keeping the elbow at the same point in space!).
    • The bottom part: at the same time, bend your knee slightly, taking your weight onto the bent leg. The net effect should be that your elbow stays where it is, but it looks as though your weight has settled onto the imaginary place where your elbow rests. Make sure you only bend the leg under your raised arm. Keep your opposite leg perfectly straight as this adds to the illusion.
    • Watch yourself in a mirror, or use a video camera to see how effective the technique is. It's sometimes most effective to do this technique casually, with very little exaggeration at all.
    • For a more active show of leaning, the act can also incorporate stumbling, sliding off and missing the leaned-on object altogether.
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    Take on the wind. Pretend that it is very windy and that you are having a hard time standing up in it. Let the wind buffet you to and fro. For added amusement, include a struggle with an umbrella that keeps turning inside out
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    Mime eating. It can very amusing to watch a mime of eating. Pretend to be consuming a very sloppy hamburger or hot dog, with all the contents slopping down the front of your clothing. Accidentally squirt some ketchup towards your eye. Or try peeling a banana and then slipping over on the peel.
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    Walk in place. One of the icons of mime is the stationary walk. It also one of the most physically demanding feats. This walk reverses the pattern of actual walking. The "trailing" foot in the mime walk does not support any weight, but it represents the weight-bearing foot of a normal walk. This is why the leg must remain straight in the illusion - it appears to be bearing the weight. Here's how to do it.
    • It is very important to begin with a good posture. You should hold your abdomen in fairly tightly as it will be prone to moving when you're not paying attention. Keep your shoulders up and back - don't slouch, your chest and neck should be erect as well - not puffed out.
    • To begin, place your entire weight on the ball on one foot. This is your "forward" foot. Bend the knee over the forward foot slightly as you do this. With your other foot (the "trailing" foot) position the toes parallel to the toes of the forward foot. However, keep your trailing foot from touching the ground while maintaining the sole of the trailing foot parallel to the floor. Keep this leg perfectly straight.
    • With your forward foot, slowly lower your heel to the ground and straighten the leg. As you do this, move your trailing foot backwards while keeping the sole of the foot parallel to the ground and the leg straight - you should feel an intense stretch along the back of your leg. Push the trailing leg as far back as you can while maintaining all of the above qualities, and your balance.
    • Once the trailing foot is as far back as it can go, bring it back to parallel with your forward foot. Try to pick up the heel on your trailing foot first, like a natural step. Bend the your leg as you bring the trailing foot forward.
    • Now touch down with the ball of your trailing foot. If you look at your feet, they are now in an exact reverse of their starting position. The "forward" foot is now in the "trailing" position and vise versa.
    • The transition of weight between these feet is the most crucial aspect of the illusion! You must smoothly transfer weight from your former 'forward' foot to your new "forward" foot. At the same time, you must lift the newly freed foot and begin trailing it behind you. This will take quite a bit of practice to master.
    • With all of the activity in your feet, don't forget to move your upper body! Swing your arms so that the forward foot is always opposition to your forward hand. Also, inhale when you lift your trailing foot to come forward; exhale as you slide your trailing foot back.
    • If you don't bring your trailing foot back to parallel with your forward foot, you can simply transfer your weight to it and begin moonwalking!
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    Make the mime interesting. You can go for a one-off laugh, or you can try to raise mime to a higher art form. If you create a story from your mime, you will be engaging your audience and providing true artistic resonance to the art of miming. Think in advance of a "tale" you would like to tell. Keep in mind that mime can be very beautiful and moving if done well. To take some of the examples above:
    • It is a windy day (wind / umbrella mime) and you wish to walk to the hamburger stand where you meet a friend who has a cat stuck up a tree. Your friend asks you to climb the ladder to rescue the cat (ladder mime). When you return the cat (mime holding a squirming and ungrateful cat), your friend treats you to a hamburger (sloppy, ketchup mime) and just as you leave, you fail to notice a banana peel on the ground.
    • If you wish to mime something more serious, adopt a mood with your clothing, make-up and lighting. Think out a serious tale in advance. For instance, you may wish to highlight the plight of the homeless sleeping out in the cold during winter. Paint on a sad face, wear tattered clothing and use dim lighting. Think through a story that allows you to mime trudging despair as the homeless person seeks shelter for the night. Mime setting up a sleeping space under a bridge with only a cardboard box for a bed. Mime shivering and inability to sleep well. Project sadness to reflect the plight of this person.
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    Make yourself be the object. For example, you could use your arm as swinging doors to create the atmosphere that you intend.

More Information

  • There are celebrated circus and theatre artists who have succeeded in embracing and combining various disciplines of mime and clowning to great effect. Joseph Grimaldi, the father of English Pantomime theatre in the late 1700's, used comic mime and patter songs to establish his enduring legacy.
  • 200 years before that, the lines between clowns and mime blurred as well in the grand tradition of the commedia dell tear and it's stock companies that scattered throughout Europe having been banned by the Roman church. Our moon faced french mime Pierrot has a strong comic lineage in the Italian Comedy characters of Gian Farina, Peppe Nappa and Pedrolino. An art form that strongly influenced the works of Shakespeare, Moliere, and Lope de Vega to name a few. The popularity of this art form had endured for over three hundred years across many nations.
  • The 20th Century also has a bevy of artists that celebrated their skills as a clown mime. From the circus field, one can cite the Swiss clown Grock, the legendary Lou Jacobs & Otto Griebling from Ringling Bros. as well as Leonid Yengibarov, and Anotoly Nikulyn from the Soviet era of the Moscow Circus. As clowns, they could embrace their audiences in pantomime alone.
  • From the theatre, music hall, film and television, it is hard not to fall under the spell of Bert Williams, Chaplin, Keaton, Stan Laurel, Harpo Marx, Red Skelton, Marcel Marceau, Georges Carl and Dick Van Dyke. Their influence can easily be seen today in the celebrated artists of the New Vaudeville Movement.
  • Penn & Teller, David Shiner, Geoff Hoyle, and John Gilkey are great examples for aspiring mimes and clowns. The more you practice your discipline, the sooner you begin to embrace other techniques in mime and clowning to elicit laughter.


  • "Mimes must have the bodies of gymnasts, minds of actors, and hearts of poets." - Etienne Decroux, the "father of modern mime"
  • Moonwalking and breakdancing have borrowed from mime.
  • If you are really interested in pursuing a career in mime, consider taking a mime course with a school or dramatic arts group.
  • White make-up worn by mimes is actually borrowed from the clown tradition. It is used in both cases to emphasize character traits and expressions so they can be clearly seen at a distance. The white make-up was originally meant to express a simple, innocent character. The mime make-up tradition has come to use more stylized symbols while at the same time simplifying the color scheme and lines.
  • Many mime-trained individuals now operate under the term "physical theater" in order to avoid the social stigma that mime often inspires today. Most of these artists do not use traditional mime costumes or make-up.
  • Instead of white faces, ancient mimes wore masks or simple stage make-up.
  • A very good mime artist is highly sought after in such fields as theater, movies and the circus. Think of Cirque du Soleil and science fiction films, where mime artists can express emotions without words and create a bridge between our human expectations and those of the dreamworld and other-wordly manifestations.
  • Though mime may seem cartoony, don't be afraid of more serious subject matter. Most well known mimes, including Marcel Marceau and Charlie Chaplin, mainly performed as courageous, but pitiful characters (Bip and The Tramp, respectively).
  • This article only addresses one specific style of mime - 'style mime' or 'illusion mime'. There are hundreds of other forms that have little to no resemblance to Marcel Marceau or Charlie Chaplin.
  • Mime artists are renowned for using blank white face make-up with black outlining the eyes and other facial features to exaggerate the emotions. A black and white striped top, white gloves and a black top hat are also features of a traditional mime artist's costume. This outfit and make-up has been a tradition of many famous mime artists, including the legendary Marcel Marceau. However, you do not need to dress this way; in fact, it is considered so clichéd by modern mime artists that the majority of them avoid it.
  • Don't perform in public places unless you're good. Or little kids might laugh at you.


  • To avoid stretch injuries, always warm up prior to attempting mime exercises; miming requires as much agility as dance or acting.
  • Mime can be extremely strenuous to perform or practice. Do not attempt mime exercises if you have trouble exercising normally.
  • Antagonism or fear towards street mime performers can sometimes get out of hand. Never perform in a public place without a friend or manager nearby watching the performance.
  • Do not confuse mime with clowning. Mimes and clowns represent distinct brotherhoods of comic acting, and while the two disciplines may seem related, at depth they could not be more distinct.
  • In the same manner as above, never perform in a public place without a safe place to retreat to. (a.k.a. a car, changing room or friendly business - do not use public restrooms.)

Sources and Citations

  1. The Fundamental Constructs of Mime, Dr. Louis Campbell

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