Sunday, December 22, 2013

"After I Die..."

 A memorable dinner with Marcel Marcel Marceau in Paris, November 2004
Left to Right:  Victoria Labalme, Marcel Marceau, Haruka Moriyama, Gregg Goldston, Max Nourissat, Alexander Neander

"After I die, you'll tell people that "the mime" as a performer is the violin of all the instruments in a symphony orchestra."

This is what Gregg told me in a small bar near Cap 21 Studios, where he used to teach mime and physical comedy from 2001 to 2004. We often spent after-class hours there, hearing his stories about the art of mime and its philosophy. 

(Yes, Gregg is alive and actually very healthy. But I decided to share this story much earlier than he asked.)

Feeling the depth and significance of the word "violin" in his voice and gaze, I had no clue what he meant by "violin".

As I wrote previously, rich musicality called "The Musicianship" in mime performance develops overtime while we train our muscles by cubically defining and coiling body parts and also train our DNA by listening to different types of music constantly. 

If we hear the general term "rhythm" or "musicality", the word can mislead us to an intellectual image of it like that on a sheet music. However, as I kept working with Gregg, I started to catch a glimpse of a whole new world he called "Musicianship", which was not at all intellectual, but was much more tactile and forceful, where a lot of breath was used, where the rhythm became thicker and three dimensional, more vividly colorful and subjective as if the sound was generated within the musician's organs and exploded as it was projected towards the audience.

This was beyond what I used to understand as "rhythm" on a sheet music. That is why, I think, Gregg started to call it "The Musicianship", instead of "musicality". 

Last summer, I almost accidentally happended to perform one of my plays with Stephan Grappelli's short violin tune called "Misty". All of a sudden what Gregg meant by "The mime is the violin" made sense to me. I think it could happen to me then for two reasons. 

One was that I needed to improvise a lot and shorten my play to less than half the length of my original play while I was on stage. That condition forced me to listen to the music more carefully than usual. And secondly, that was the first violin tune I used for my play, and in the wings I was actually thinking back the very quote I heard in the bar a decade ago. "The mime is the violin... What could that mean to me now..."

What I learned from Grappelli on stage that day became one of my important milestones.  For I needed to deeply focus on the music, my visible thoughts naturally reflected the intensity of his violin sounds, and my acting got more layers of rhythms which I never had before!

As you know, a violin has a bow to rub against the strings back and forth. That edgy but delicate contact of the bow and strings creates the unique intensity of the vivid violin sounds. The way violin notes sustain is very different from other instruments. 

In order to sustain a violin note, the player must keep creating the new "current" sounds which is the "current" contact of the instrument. In other words, the violin sounds is less round, more square, vivid and raw, like the way our visible inner thoughts want to be seen by the audience.

But "reverb" in, for example, piano notes is not really a "current" sound, but an extension and reflection of a "past" sound, so it is not as keen or intense as a sustained violin sound. 

The characteristics of the violin sounds can most dexterously and intensely sculpt and resemble our delicate but amplified "visible" human thoughts. 

"After I die, you'll tell people that "the mime" as a performer is the (visual) violin of all the instruments in a symphony orchestra.

Firstly, that our technical level is not only most comparable to the skill required to be a solo violinist. 
And secondly and the most important to share is this: If we compared how we use our body, how we project our thoughts, suspend and coil, and how we stretch time...
Is most comparable to a violin.

Consequently, for the past 10 years, I've considered myself a human violin."  - Gregg Goldston

We wish you magical holidays filled with joy, laughter and art of mime.

--- We will see you in 2014!

Written by Haruka Moriyama 

For more information about The Goldston Moriyama Institute for Mime, our Personal Mime Training Programs in New York City, or our Summer Mime Intensives, please contact us at the links listed below.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Season's Greetings from The GMI New York

"May your holidays sparkle and shine!"

This year has been filled with joy, inspirations and laughter for us. Thank you all for your support and heartwarming smiles you brought to us both in and out of class.

We hope to see you all in person in 2014. 
Please write to us to stay connected. 

Written by Haruka Moriyama

For more information about The Goldston Moriyama Institute for Mime, our Personal Mime Training Programs in New York City, or our Summer Mime Intensives, please contact us at the links listed below.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"A phrase is a sentence, when it comes to the acting. A phrase is a song, when it comes to an activity."

"A phrase is a sentence, when it comes to the acting. 
A phrase is a song, when it comes to an activity."  
- Gregg Goldston

“When it comes to our acting, we deliver a phrase like a Sentence.  When it comes to an Activity or an Illusion, we deliver a phrase like a Song.”

Today we will share The Goldston Mime Grammar Page 3 - "The Phrasing Categories & Examples of Mime Phrasing. 

First, here is the background story on how this all developed:

In 2006, Gregg was brought in to teach at the American Ballet Theater Summer Intensive in order to help the dancers improve their acting.  While preparing for this work he studied countless productions from companies around the world.  Although ABT didn’t ask him to teach or address “Ballet Mime” he discovered that the difference between Ballet Mime and Modern Mime was that Ballet used a 3-beat system and Mime used a 4-beat system.  This is why when watching Ballet Mime, the audience never feels the conclusion of a sentence, conversation, or scene.  

Seeing that this was what Mime could offer Ballet, Gregg spent over two-years developing a complete grammar structure that ranged from a soloist day dreaming, to a full company scene from Romeo & Juliet.

***It was from this period of research that led Gregg to what we now call:  
“See-Wish-Doubt-Believe.”  The Four-Beat Sentence Structure.***

As he developed this Grammar, he studied “all” the situations in which a non-verbal communication phrase happened within a story ballet.  Learning this, Gregg then categorized them according to type of “scene”, they would appear in.

Those phrases are categorizes as below:

  • Attitude Phrase
  • Activity Phrase
  • Monologue Phrase
  • Dialogue Phrase
  • Announcement Phrase

Without that enormous effort and dedication Gregg had for creating a modernized grammar of ballet mime, this modern system of non-verbal grammar that we are sharing today, would not be exist.  It is true that this system was in use by Gregg, and it originated by examining how Marcel Marceau made his thought process so clearly visible.  However, it was only after codifying Ballet Mime, that he realized he had also codified Mime Acting to a higher level.

This was certainly the best part of all this work, and since then Gregg and I have been continuing to codify a broad grammar of mime and assemble it into a teachable foundation of techniques for mime artists worldwide.

Now, let's imagine how we can put this grammar to use by looking at a few mime scenes.

Example 1:  You see a girl you like very much, but you are too shy to speak to her. How do you physically show that (Attitude Phrase) on stage?

Do you have at least four sequential beats (physical gestures) to say "I could never speak to her" and complete your sentence?  If you just make one pose of shyness, that is not a phrase to be understood. And if you have only three gestures instead of four, that cannot give a conclusion.

Example 2: You tie a necktie in your scene. Does that activity have its beginning, middle and end in different rhythms as if you are singing a musical phrase internally and visually? 

Tying a necktie ends with the tightening quick move of your hands with your whole body and face reflecting it. The rhythm and your acting together must complete like the end of a musical phrase. And usually, the end of a phrase has a pronounced longer moment ("The Hold Point") to be photographed nicely (by an imaginary camera of your "Universal Audience".

At first glance these seem like simple and arbitrary thoughts to show, and/or illusionary activities to practice.  However, Gregg assembled a variety of topics that will put you in many “emotional” scenes causing you to have to utilize the four-beat structure.

Note that this page works directly with The Mime Acting page we released on November 10, 2013.  

We suggest you and a colleague try to act out each of these scenes using the 4-beat acting moments.  By exploring the variety of combinations with another person, you will both be able to see the power of “Thought over Action.”

Here are a few examples I would start with:

Curious, only (Attitude Phrase) 

Curious (Attitude Phrase) 
plus Opening a Present (Activity Phrase)

Sorrow, My love has left me. only (Attitude Phrase)

Sorrow, My love has left me.  (Attitude Phrase) 
plus Getting Dressed (Activity Phrase)

Spontaneity is always required in the training of phrasing all five categories above. But remember, it is supposed to be fun for you like a casual jam session. I have to remind myself about this and dance around when I get too serious about phrasing. 

"Yes, it should be fun and it IS fun!"

Gregg Goldston
in "The Argument"

Written by Haruka Moriyama, 
 with additional writings by Gregg Goldston

For more information about The Goldston Moriyama Institute for Mime, our Personal Mime Training Programs in New York City, or our Summer Mime Intensives, please contact us at the links listed below.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Comedy is anything taken to its most exaggerated limit." - Learning the Principles of Physical Comedy

Comedy is anything taken to its most exaggerated limit."  
- Etienne Decroux

A variety of performing artists from stage and film attend our “Physical Comedy through Mime” class. 

Most of these people first tell us “they are not funny” and they cannot do comedy.  However, I assure you that Physical Comedy can be learned because it’s an art in itself.  It isn't part of mime, or dance or theater; it has its own set of laws and conventions that are simplistic and learnable.

The principals in today’s article will enable you to begin to add infinite possibilities of visual humor to your scene, in any kind of performing arts.

Physical Comedy & The Mystery of Talent

Today I write for people who are new to physical comedy.  I personally had a hard time learning it especially for the first few years of my training.  It was always frightening for me to perform comedy in front of people, not having a clue of why sometimes it was easy and not always. The more I felt timid and afraid of making mistakes, the more tragic my comedy became. I started to think that comedy required some kind of talent you’re born with and I believed that I did not have any of it. 

It seemed true that some people who grew up making others laugh often acquire sense of physical comedy faster than others do, but I now see that the key is a relaxation while executing the comedy phrase.  Because if you are nervous or disbelieving your ability to be comedic, you cannot hear the most important element of comedy, "the comical rhythm".

Anyone can learn Physical Comedy step by step, because comedy “Is About Steps.” It is a “sequential” delivery of thoughts, and actions not a simultaneous one.  It is about the quality and rhythm of your "projected thoughts".  You play a musical instrument silently with your eyes, face, and body in square rhythm to convey your thoughts to the audience.

Comedy is Painful:

Making a scene comedic requires a strong focus on your acting within the scene.  Most great comedians create a persona that we “feel sorry for,” an empathetic character.  One key way to create this is to put your character in situations that make them the victim of the situation.  The audience always laughs at “pain” so put yourself in danger of pain, either physically or psychologically.

Even in a scene of "being in love",  you become a victim of love, and that is why your character becomes universally laughable, thus, worth loving on stage.

It’s your “Thought Process” that makes you funny, not your story.  

It’s not the Action, it’s the Reaction.

In improvisations in our class, we often see students' too much effort to convey a comic story (ideas of events) in order to make the scene comedic.  However, a comic story becomes "visually comical" only after the character’s sincere thoughts reach the audience whether it is a theater audience or a film camera.  The process of becoming comic is very different from writing a comic story in words searching for unexpected events in the story.

Comedic thoughts?

The word "comedic thoughts" may sound unclear for some people.

How can we make comedic thoughts?  Here are some basic aspects to see if you can make your thoughts comic.

"Comedy is square. Drama is round."

1. Is your non-verbal monologue visually square or soft and round? If soft and round, choose fewer moments of thoughts, hold a little longer on each thought and paint a dot with your eyes in the air for each thought. Keep breathing and hold your thought vibrant while you paint the dot. Then connect dots (thoughts) with straight lines and make those dots (edges of thoughts) sharp, not round. 

2. Are your eyes and cheeks seen by your audience? If not, look for a range of directions where your cheeks are seen from your audience while you share your thoughts (Wish, Doubt, Believe). Comedic thoughts must be visible to the audience first.

"The Spielberg" - Always feel where your audience is and adjust your face angle to have your eyes and face seen as much as possible, instead of expecting your audience to approach you with flying cameras like Spielberg movies. We, the performers, become the flying cameras for the audience. 

3. If you sing your phrase, does the rhythm sound comic?  If you count each thought as beat, you should be able to sing your thoughts like an instrument.

If the beats in the musical phrase you sang were evenly spaced or sound somehow boring, it is called "The Flat-lining".  You just entered a dangerous zone where your audience may consider leaving you soon.  How can you break the rhythm to get out of the dangerous zone?  Make every beat different in length and the emotional pitch (physical tension), and surprise yourself with spontaneity.

4. Can you put yourself as a sympathetic victim of the situation in your scene (in pain physically or psychologically)?  If not, try to lose the sense of "In Control" of your situation and make it "Out of Control". Then, scream with your eyes, "It is not funny to me!" 

5. While your character is in trouble, can you still remain light?

In other words, are you keeping your eyes open and readable and a little stupid that you cannot completely understand the danger?  Even if the story can lead to a life or death situation,  your audience does not like to imagine blood or an ambulance in a comedic scene.

Comedy is not a "911 – Emergency!"  It’s an escapable “Terror.”  The character is a victim with an exit to the situation. Like he is about to get run over by a car, He screams!  Then he falls into an open manhole in the street that saves his life.  

Do not close your eyes or you will make the scene go dramatic.  The comedy is always in your eyes.

You just finished the basic principles of Physical Comedy.  Did everything make sense to you?  Then, you are now ready to study the next level of Physical Comedy such as "The 1-2-3 Setup", "Bait & Switch", "A Drop Off" and "A Shake Off" and many, many more.  

We recommend watching great comedy films, old and new, and you will learn great rhythms by watching them over and over.  Gregg recommends:  Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  The Philadelphia Story.  Groundhog Day.  The General.  City Lights.  The Pink Panther movies.  Monster’s Inc. 

If you would like more step by step guidance, please come study with us in New York City! I am sure that all will make sense to you.

Great News about The GMI Workshops:

We will have weekend workshops in New York City starting next year. Please send us your specific requests on topics covered in those workshops. We will go deep, taking enough time for each technique. 

Written by Haruka Moriyama, 
 with additional writings by Gregg Goldston

For more information about The Goldston Moriyama Institute for Mime, our Personal Mime Training Programs in New York City, or our Summer Mime Intensives, please contact us at the links listed below.