Imagine taking a college course where you get to play with balls, eat a whole cake and do absolutely anything your heart desires. There’s just one catch: it’s all an illusion.
In the Mime Fundamentals class, taught by Whitney Rydbeck, students focus on developing the body as a tool for non-verbal communication by learning the techniques of creating and portraying characters entirely through gestures and bodily movements.
“Everything is in the imagination. You can create different worlds, environments and characters and tell stories as you would with words,” Rydbeck said.
Miming trains an actor’s body so that they can twist and change into different characters and do anything they want to do, according to Rydbeck.
“It’s about physical control and accuracy of movement… You make the illusion much stronger when you use your whole body. The audience watches what we’re doing, each movement, and the more truthful we are in the movement, the more they see and the more they expect from the illusion,” Rydbeck said.
David Coorough, an aspiring comedian who did improv comedy in high school, said that he is taking the class to improve his comedy on a more physical level.
“I can say funny things. That’s easy, but now I’m learning to convey those things with my body,” Coorough said. “The main [challenge] is keeping my balance. I’m not very balanced and it’s difficult because we have to move certain joints and center in on one thing. It’s hard when you’re used to moving quickly.”
Though miming may seem like a simple thing to do, it involves a lot more than face paint and pretending to be trapped in a box. Rydbeck teaches his students to isolate the different parts of their bodies and explore the movement of each part before the next part of the body starts to move.
“Miming is important for conveying scenes. It helps make your performance better because you become more aware of your physicalities and have better control over your body,” said aspiring musician Laura Toyne, who did improv with Coorough in high school.
Rydbeck has been teaching miming at the college since 1975. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s this was a very sexy class,” he said.
According to Rydbeck, miming is a form of silent comedy that has been around as early as the days of Ancient Greece. It started to lose popularity in the 1980s when street performers who weren’t trained actors came along thinking it was easy and that they could make some money doing it.
“Miming sort of got a bad reputation after that. All these people came out and demanded money and it got obnoxious and miming because this pushy, ugly, silly thing,” Rydbeck said. “People started making fun of it. It lost its sense of art and lost its recognition as an art form. It started to become ridiculous.”
Despite the decline in its popularity, Rydbeck still teaches his students how important it can be to their acting craft.
“It teaches actors how to use their bodies to tell a story. It teaches them how to create characters, especially physical characters. Miming is an art form and it’s very valuable, not just to theater. It’s good exercise in the sense that you are getting more control over your body and posture,” Rydbeck said.