The world famous French mime Marcel Marceau died Saturday at the age of 84. In homage to “Mr Mime” we rerun an interview he gave to Molly Grogan and Parisvoice in 1997…
Last year, Marcel Marceau celebrated the 50th anniversary of his internationally known and loved character Bip and this year marks the 20th anniversary of his school, the Ecole Internationale de Mimodrame. On the occasion of these milestones, in an interview with The Voice, Marceau had much to say in fluent English on topics ranging from his training and early years as a mime to the influence of Charlie Chaplin on his work and his 300-performance-a-year schedule (never mind that he is 75 years old), both solo and with his Nouvelle Compagnie de Mime Marcel Marceau.
Q: You recently said that you hope, through mime, the 21st century will be one of light for the children of tomorrow…
MM: Especially in the art of theater, we speak about light. Even when there are shadows, they are artistic shadows taken from life, but always with a will of bringing consciousness to people, and hope and light not with a special moral, but a poetic appeal. In my art of mime, especially, we show fables of life. We can be abstract; we can be concrete; we can tell stories. But because there are no words it implies also an obligation to be essential. I would say there is a great hope that the art of mime mi: modrama will enter the theater world with force.
Q: Is mime not yet on an equal par with theater?
MM: No. In the ’50s and ’60s, I had no school. I was just a young mime director with a company, and the public came, loving the theater and taking mime as something evident. It was theater! People even forgot that I didn’t talk. But, not having subsidies, it became more and more difficult. I started to disband the company and went as a one-man show through the whole world. Then I became really famous. In America, I was “The World’s Greatest Mime.” In France, “Le Mime Marceau.” This is the French way (he shrugs). But I realized in ’78 that my dream was to create a mime theater. Then it was a necessity to have a school. Mime is theater like dance, like music, like word theater, like circus which is why I think that mime will bring a great part to the 21st century.
Q: Is there an ideal subject for the mime?
MM: We can do mime in different ways. Mime can be abstract, mime can be symbolic and mime can also be visual stories, which are drama or comedy, like in the theater. But you have to know how to introduce it, so people will not say, “Oh, with words it would be clearer.”
Q: Are there subjects that do not lend themselves to mime?
MM: Absolutely! The complexity of thought, psychological problems… Words bring images, and through them you create many situations. Mime enters in the essence of life. Dream. Reality. Rich. Poor. Hate. Love. And comedy, of course, like Chaplin did. If he had been a theater mime, maybe he would have followed my path. I even read one day in an American movie paper that if films had not existed, Charlie Chaplin would have been the Marcel Marceau of his time. Mime is a definite dramatic art form, but only a mime can be a director and a creator of mime, because he needs the technique; he needs to know how to show the invisible.
Q: How do you renew your art after 50 years ?
MM: To be very honest, this is a big problem. I have in my repertoire at least 50 pantomimes de style and 40 pantomimes de Bip, but in a program I can only give seven [of each]. Very often, I choose the best ones. The press always wants new! But they don’t understand that there are always new generations coming who have never seen Marcel Marceau. You have to be different, but you cannot leave out the classics. They are the strongest numbers. They made me famous. Imagine a whole generation who had never seen them! Some critics will say, “Marceau is always the same Bip character. He’s always the same style pantomimes.” What should I do? Bip is timeless on stage!
Q: Growing up in the United States in the ’70s, for myself and I think for others of my generation, you were a symbol of France.
MM: In America, as long as you give your numbers, even if it’s the same, they will recognize that you have to give it to the new generations. This is why I keep Marcel Marceau as a soloist, [and why] my body has stayed young. Decroux said, “Marcel Marceau, l’art te conservera en jeunesse eternelle.” Of course I got older, c’est vrai. Of course, I have wrinkles. If I do this (he pulls up some skin around his mouth in a face-lift gesture), I look young. But, the body and the vitality and the force are still there. If they were to diminish, I would stop, honestly, but I would still direct the company.
Q: What are your future projects?
MM: That I continue my tour through the world and continue my school. Man should have seven lives, not only four seasons. Imagine! I am a painter, I write, I direct, I teach and I have a feeling sometimes I did nothing. I swear it is true! I even have a guilt complex when I take a rest one day! Sometimes, I say, “What did I do? What did I do?”
Q: How do you see the future of your school?
MM: I will continue as long as I can. Maybe there will be an Ecole Marceau which will continue. If not, I will be remembered as the one who has really brought mime to the world.
1923Born in Strasbourg.1946
Student of Charles Dullin and Etienne Decroux, the latter considered the most influential grammarian of mime. Played Arlequin in film “Les Enfants du Paradis” with Jean-Louis Barrault.
Created Bip, inspired by character Pip from Dickens’ “Great Expectations.”
Created 25 mimodramas (mimed dramas) with his company.
US debut, followed by six-month tour.
Founds Ecole Internationale de Mimodrame in Paris.
Founds company of former students, La Nouvelle Compagnie de Mimodrame.
Created new mimodrama “The Bowler Hat,” a tribute to Chaplin.
And, this year…
Marcel Marceau continued to fête the 50th anniversary of Bip during an international tour of performances of “The Bowler Hat” and “Pantomimes de style, Pantomimes de Bip” launched at Paris’ Espace Pierre Cardin.