In Memoriam: Marcel Marceau

What sculptors do is represent the essence of gesture. What is important in mime is attitude.

I’d never heard of Marcel Marceau before 1982. Granted, when I was finally introduced to his work, I was all of eleven-on-the-cusp-of-twelve, rebellious, snarky, moody. A typical tween-ager.

My introduction to mime had come years earlier, performance artists on television. As cheesy as The Donny and Marie Show was, they had some interesting guests from time to time. Mumenschantz, for example. What other mainstream talk show would spotlight art like that? Okay, Letterman did it, but he was late-night, so it doesn’t count.

The venue was Cal – U.C. Berkeley to the rest of the world – the night was cold and dark. February in the bay area is not balmy or warm. Northern California doesn’t get more than a quarter inch of snow about once every six years, but winter is still pretty chilly. The event: my mother’s first date with the man who would eventually be my step-father.

I didn’t want to go, didn’t want to spend an evening with this weird old guy and his son (roughly my age, also present.) I wanted to stay home and watch my favorite tv-show and have popcorn, and read a book. I lost the battle, so I went determined to have a horrible time.

My future step-brother, who professed to love mime, fell asleep half way through.
I was riveted. Oh, some of the satire was over my head, but for the most part Marcel puts on an entrancing show. Not just glass-box mime, the way annoying buskers do, but vivid portrayals of specific characters.

I loved it.
But I couldn’t admit it.
Not til now.

(Shh. Don’t tell anyone.)

Twenty-five years later, I still have an appreciation for mime, but, as I just posted in a thread about Marceau on the CSz boards, appreciation does not equal skill. I suck at mime. I dread having to do mime. I can tell at a glance if a couch, table, and chair will fit within a room in the configuration I think would work, but when I try to apply spatial relations to myself, it is decidedly awful.

(I’m working on it.)

Mime and writing share the connection of telling stories without sound. Yes, writing used words, but those words must describe place, and placement. Mime tells stories, and has place and placement but must convey thoughts without language. But all art is connected, all forms are about getting to the heart of something, to the kernel of truth that makes comedy universal, mime amazing, and a story about drinking espresso on Mars just as plausible as drinking espresso in Berkeley.

Marcel Marceau died yesterday.
He was 84.
He was amazing.

I left that auditorium with an appreciation for mime, and for Marceau.

Appreciation for my step-father came much later.

To communicate through silence is a link between the thoughts of man.


CNN’s story is here.

3 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Marcel Marceau

  1. I just saw the notice that he had passed, and I, too, was immensely saddened by it. He defined the genre for an audience that generally was content with more mediocre, mainstream fare. He stretched the bounds of his craft, and gave courage to those who would try to push their own boundaries – in any genre.

    I hope the world still has room for the Marceau’s of this and subsequent generations. I hope his legacy continues to inspire others as it so clearly inspired you.

    Thank you for this heartfelt, personal recollection of this great man. He would no doubt have been proud that he was such a powerful influence on you.

  2. I was sad to read of Marcel’s demise. He was a household name in the sixties and seventies and I think he must have been top in his field. The thing about mime – you either love it or hate it but one has to admire the skill of the experts.
    Michele sends her best.

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