Fitting With the Crowd
Ideas and research by Ven Inting Edits and drawing by Jo Murphy.
Marcel Marceau is regarded as the world’s greatest mime, whose interest in the art of miming bloomed at a young age. Born in Strasbourg, France, Marceau was usually found copying any gesture that sparked his imagination as a child, which eventually led to his discovery of silent screen artists like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Stan Laurel, and Oliver Hardy. With great respect, it was these brilliant personalities that ignited his dream to follow in their footsteps.
It was when Marceau’s career quickly established in 1947 that he gave birth to his clown alter-ego named Bip, whose misadventures were limitless. As years progressed, Marceau’s works were acclaimed as genius, with a critic saying, “He accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes.”
Marceau was known for his great personality on and offstage. Even during interviews, it has been observed that his eyes, face, and hands always moved, showing off the way his words alone cannot speak for himself. For Marceau, “his aim is simply to make his audience see, feel, and hear the invisible. And the passage of time is no obstacle.”
Sketch by Marcel Marceau. Uploaded by TheMajsticalMime 2008. Accessed May 15 2014
Marcel Marceau’s mime Sketch captures aspects of today’s society as a performance that is both simple and complex at the same time. It is interesting to note that the confusion he portrays is as relevant today as it was when he created it.
His performance is set on a stark, plain stage. There is nothing for him to lean on until a solid object appears as a prop towards the end of the skit. His costume is a simple outfit and his presence is mainly accentuated by the clown makeup that he wears. His costume itself is merely long sleeves, a pair of pants, and flats coloured white. On the other hand, the complexity lies within the sketch itself. His gestures and facial expressions look extremely simple but the artistry required to represent the emotions of people is guaranteed to be more difficult than it appears to be. There is an art of mastery in the synchronisation and flow of his body movements. This is a highly skilled and adroit performer.
The mime captures the nature of an artificial and ‘masked’ society. The message may not be understood easily and it is wise to watch the short skit a few times, looking closely at the way Marceau moves from gesture to gesture.
It is in these short gestures that move from one ‘face’ to another that Marceau acts out the humdrum but exhausting way human beings live their daily lives. People, it seems, change faces and expressions to suite the moment and they adapt emotion and presence to the company they keep throughout the day. Marceau portrays the emotional life of a lonely ‘clown’ trudging through daily activities as they attempt to live up to the expectations of others. In this stark, simple experiential way, the artist portrays how modern people can get lost in this mechanical kind of life. It is as though we ‘run ourselves in circles’ trying to please and to keep up with others.
Unhappy People Behind the Mask
Marceau’s short skit speaks of confusion and exhaustion. There comes a time when pleasing others becomes repetitive, tiring and false. So much so, that we many end up unhappy behind the mask that supports and maintains the charade while hiding it from the response of others.
The Sketch shows the sad isolation of a lonely man “pretending to be happy when he is not.” This is not a good way to live one’s life. Surely there will come a time when the mask will have to drop? Or will there come a stage where the mask has been worn for such a long time that the façade will become permanent? Are we condemned to live quiet, desperate lives of falsehood? At some time in this vicious cycle, the actor will struggle desperately as he attempts to break free from this façade.
This Sketch has a timeless quality about it. Marcel Marceau has captivated and beautifully executed the essence of what it means to be a human being. We crave authenticity and genuine connection. Unfortunately we can become lost behind our masks (the ones we think others desire) in our attempts to nurture those connections.