Sunday, January 19, 2014

Marcel Marceau: Largest Mime on Earth.

Today I will write about one of the elements I've found to be the most captivating things about Marcel Marceau's technique, which is: "how large" he was on stage.  I've spent more than 20-years learning how to achieve this in my own work, and also developing a method of teaching this technique to my students. 

Over the past several months Haruka has written about:
"Coiling", "Off the Clock", "Throwing Thoughts" and being "Larger Than Life."  Today I will use a few photographs of Marceau to diagram what he is doing physically, in order to help you see the base of technique from which we work from.  Suspension, or "Coiling" is the root of it all and I hope these illustrations will help you begin to apply this technique to your own work.

When you look at how large the stages were that he performed on, it makes sense that he had to develop a new physicality to reach audiences that were often 3,000 people or more.
I once asked him: "Did Etienne Decroux develop this?   He said no, and then told me that he developed it by combining Decroux's technique with Chaplin's style of movement.  He said he was always intrigued by how Chaplin had a "compact" body, a look he hadn't seen before. 
Marceau then explained that his own style did not begin this large, but that it developed over time.  He said that as he became more famous, he was put into larger and larger theaters.  His illusions, as well as his actual "posture" had to become large and more powerful to reach the back rows of theaters that were 2,000 to 3,500 seats.

You would always hear mimes speak of this quality and over time there became a standard line to describe it: "If you want to see how good he really a seat in the last row of the theater."
I was fortunate and had a long history of 21-years with Mr. Marceau.  Many of these years were spent hosting a two-week Marceau Seminar at the Goldston & Johnson School for Mimes in the USA.  During these years I was able to not only see this technique up close, but he would often let me touch parts of his body in order to understand the different ways his muscle groups were moving, and with what amounts of tension and relaxation were happening "simultaneously."

And this is the secret I discovered:  "Simultaneously!"
Furthermore, this is also why it is so difficult for anyone to even "see" what he is doing, because it is "purposely hidden."  All the tension points, counter-points and contra-diagonals are hidden by relaxing the other body parts.
Most revealing is to look at how he stands when Not Performing.  Look below at the same photo and see how I diagram the "throw points."  (Throw-Point = how far his body reaches out into the theater.)

Note how he is often "rotating" parts of his body on 45 degree angles. And, rotating another part in opposition. (Creating what he called "suspension" and what we now call "coiling.")

Yes, its insanely difficult, and I've been working on this study since 1986.

What really helped me see this clearly was when I toured as one of his Assistant's holding the Title Cards in his solo performance.  I was finally able to see him from the side, not from the front. 
This is when I realized that you can only see the "effort" from the side, because he purposely hides the difficultly from the front view. 
I used to watch each show from a different angle each night in order to see the variety of coil points.


When I was first studying this, a Marceau student named Maurico Celedon described it like this:
Imagine a spring.  A large heavy spring like on a car axle or machine.  Now, imagine the spring is pushed together from the top, and from the bottom.
Now, see how the spring is pushing from the middle...upwards and downwards "simultaneously!"
Then he said the most important part of this image:
Our hips are the center of the spring.
We are "simultaneously" pushing up through our head,
and down through our feet. 
At the
"same time,"
"all the time."

All parts, all directions, all the time.
Yes, it makes Ballet seem easy.
One final point I'd like to make is that the reason a "spring" or the term "coil" is the best image we've found is because this technique is about: "Rotations" not just stretching.
Look closely at all of the red lines I've drawn to help you see this effect.  
You will see, for example with an arm, that the upper-arm rotates one direction, the forearm the opposite, and the wrist-hand opposite again.
All of these opposite create a "twisting-stretching" of the muscles,
...and consequently, they become "longer than normal" and become: "larger than life."


Finally, this is a technique which enables a person to look larger than life.  It enables a performer to throw thoughts all the way to the back of a theater. 
Most importantly, know that it is not based on a style of mime, and this can be applied to Decroux work, Ballet, even ice skating.

If you analyze my photos, you will see it in my work also.  Few people ever come up to me and say 
"...hey man, you're a Marceau copy."  
Because I've hidden these techniques within my shapes just as Marceau did.

But what people do come up to me and say is:
"Wow, you're so large, I could feel you all the way in the back row."

And that's the point, right?   


It may take some time.  It may be fatiguing to use all your muscles all the time in all directions.

But believe me, it's worth it...

"Gregg Goldston - Louder than Words"
at the
International Mime Art Festival
in Warsaw, Poland - 2011

Written by Gregg Goldston
Coiling Lines drawn by Gregg Goldston
Marcel Marceau Photos taken 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.

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