Raising the Curtains On… Mime

Have you come across a performer with white makeup, while doing a funny performance without talking? Perhaps you have seen them in a few movies? Chances are you have just encountered a mime.

What is a Mime?

Mime is a type of performing arts. The person performing mime, also known as a mime, expresses a story with their gestures, body movements and facial expressions, instead of using speech.

Different Types of Modern Mime

Modern mime can be separated into two types: abstract and literal.

  • Abstract mime usually does not feature a main character and has no plot. Instead, it focuses on provoking thought about a something by expressing certain feelings or emotions.
  • Literal mime tells a story with a plot and characters. Often these stories are funny situations that crack people up. Aside from funny stories, it could also feature stories from other genres like a heartbreaking love story.

Characteristics of Modern Mimes

There are a few things that are typically associated with modern mimes:

  • White face makeup with black eyeliner as a mask
  • Monochrome clothing to minimize distraction, typically a striped shirt, a pair of black pants and a black beret.

But recently, there is an emerging trend of excluding the typical mime costumes and makeup in contemporary mimes to express individuality.

The Origin of Mime

Pantomimus, meaning ‘imitating all’, is a silent act that tells a story by using body movement that is originated from Greece. The performers had to wear masks, therefore could not use facial expressions. The word mime came from the Greek word ‘mimos’ (Greek: μῖμος), which means imitator, actor.

After the conquest of the Roman Empire in Greece, the Romans brought mime performance back to Italy and created a mime style of their own. During the Italian middle age to the Renaissance era, there was a type of theatre in Italy known as ‘Commedia dell’arte’. Commedia dell’arte spread silent performance across Europe, and it was most popularized in France.

Development of Modern Mime

Centuries later, in the early 1800s, a Parisian mime – Jean-Gaspard Duburau shaped many elements that are commonly seen in modern mime, including white face and expressive performance. He also became the inspiration of other great mimes, namely Etienne Decroux and Jean-Louis Barrault.

The most well-known mime, who successfully caught the world’s attention, and popularized mime performance, was Marcel Marceau. He is the reason why there is an association of mime with certain costumes and makeup. Marceau’s most famous work was his stage persona ‘Bip the Clown’.

Here’s a clip of Bip trying to catch a butterfly:


Due to the abundance of famous mimes in France, the stereotype of mime came from France is formed by many. This is just a myth, and there are many famous mimes outside France, including British mime Charlie Chaplin.

What Moves Can I Learn to Start Doing Mime?

Two basic moves to get you started:

  • Miming the wall is the most basic move of a mime performance. Pretend there is a wall in front of you, and firmly press your hands on the ‘wall’. This video will demonstrate how:


  • Pulling a rope is another basic move of mime performance. Pull an invisible rope in front of you, like in a tug of war. Here’s the tutorial:


Of course, there are many miming other moves. We can take inspiration from the actions of daily life, including eating, drinking water and walking a dog.

To end this article here is a funny video of Marcel Marceau miming a typical Parisian Café. Enjoy!


Written by Yong Hui Lin

My quest for knowledge is a never-ending exciting journey.

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