This old heart of mime

posted in: Teaching in Lesvos | 1

…which may be the worst pun I’ve employed as a title yet.  Though there are other contenders.

Mime, then.  A useful theatrical skill, all the more so when the class has very little English (though kids with excellent English do keep popping out of the woodwork to act as interpreters; in this case, the wonderful Ali.

For some of you, mime will immediately conjure an image of a white-faced man in a stripey T-shirt, battling against the wind.  And that kind of stylised, illusory mime has its place.  But for me, mime has always been but one component of a style of physical theatre, together with sound effects, slow-motion, and much else. And, usually, speech – just not on this occasion.

Actually, it was only at the very last minute that I chose to teach this lesson.  My timetable is random at best, and until things settle I have no idea who, or how many, or whether at all, I’ll be teaching.  As it turned out, about twenty again, including about five I’d seen before, which scuppered Plan A – teaching yesterday’s lesson again.  Just as well I had Plan B, the mime lesson, ready.

Same old stuff I usually produce: the cup, the ball, the magic object, the rope. But interesting dilemmas presented themselves.  I had never really thought about how violent much of what I use is.  And who knows what these kids might have seen or experienced.  An example: when developing ideas for a scene with a mime rope, I had always used the example of hanging.  And suddenly it seemed desperately inappropriate.  I did refer to Tom and Jerry – which thankfully remains even now a universal reference point – as an example of fantasy violence. And as it happened, they cheerfully included as much of that sort of stuff as any group I’ve ever taught.

The lesson had the same pattern as yesterday: at first, no-one would perform; by the end, just about everyone did.  My favourite?  Ali, as a sort of Robin Hood figure, firing an arrow with a rope attached into the walls of a castle, then shinning along it to rescue Amina (the only girl in the class, and already a regular.)  Thirty years of teaching drama, and you can still be surprised.  Wonderful.

  1. Sue

    Chris, that sounds magical. Will you be able to keep shaking lessons out of your sleeve, as the Dutch say.
    I found the lack of any real structure a challenge in Calais and Dunkirk too. If you get lumped with teaching English, I can highly recommend ‘word search’ Type of puzzle. The ones that give the words they need to find. It didn’t matter that the students had no idea of the meaning they just loved the accomplishment of finding the word! Good for all levels.

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