Aug 22, 2019

Miming minus the silence

This year’s CSU Summer Arts Program will be hosting first time participants The San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT) for an intensive two-week course delving directly into the method of its unique madness.

The larger than life approach is not a new form explains collective member, playwright, teacher and former actor Ellen Callas. The troupe borrows from various historical methods, including Commedia dell’Arte, melodrama and broad farce.

It is not a silent mime like most people think. The Greek origin of pantomime was not always silent; the silent figure in whiteface, which may have come to be associated with the word mime, originated in nineteenth century Paris.

Academically, the troupe’s complexity will allow students to use all types of disciplines to express themselves. The troupe utilizes acting, dancing and singing in all its pieces.

It is formative, it is collaborative and of the moment. “We look at what is happening in the world and then we ask ourselves, is there a genre that fits this issue well? That is our typical basis for generating ideas,” Callas said. “Exactly what happens varies with the team that teaches.”

Fresno State Theater Arts professor Ruth Griffin, who submitted SFMT for the Summer Arts program, said that the Troupe will engage students’ critical thinking processes while holding a mirror to society.

The class will generate the agenda, Griffin said, and then they will practice devised theater by choosing the topic and creating a piece that expresses their feelings towards that topic.

“The troupe will empower people to express what they are concerned about,” Griffin said. “Maybe the students that gather will want to do a piece on how technology is creating a more impersonal kind of human being, whatever the idea is, it will be generated by the people.”

Griffin understands that with the current economic conditions students will have a hard time deciding whether to spend money for the course instead of working over the summer. Griffin encourages those students to try to apply for scholarships.

“It will be imagination joined to a common purpose. We’re living in a time where people need to be empowered by imagination,” Griffin said. “We’re the type of country, in hard times, the best comes out; this is an opportunity for the best to come out.”

SFMT teacher Joan Holden said participants will create two plays in two weeks in an accelerated “full blown” version of the troupe’s distinctive creative process.

“People are totally passionate and engaged 12 hours a day,” Holden said, in regards to the program and its introduction through doing. “You don’t get polished performances, but you do get very spirited and passionate performances.

When contemplating the cost that Griffin discussed, Holden said potential students should consider a simple breakdown of time versus cost. If you were paying a professional an hourly wage to mentor you, what would you be willing to spend?

Community relations specialist for the Summer Arts program, Jackie Doumanian, said former students of the program referred to the experience as priceless. “I got more out of one session with the professionals then in my whole career,” Doumanian said, quoting one of her students.

“It’s not just book learning, it’s a full body experience,” Doumanian said. “It’s the only program like it in the world.”

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