You say the word “mime” to people and most everyone goes into mock-panic or parody mode as they exaggerate pressing their hands upon the walls of an invisible glass cube while all their friends guffaw loudly. Becky Baumwoll gets it.
“Mime is indeed a four-letter word in the U.S.,” says Baumwoll, a mime and artistic director of the 12-person troupe, Broken Box Mime Theatre. “People often see it as outdated, cheesy, simplistic, stylized, and sometimes even stuffy or pretentious. We get a real kick out of breathing new life into it and changing minds about the form.”
Broken Box Mime Theater, based in New York, is bringing their talents to the Wilson Chapel at the Andover Newton Theological School Aug. 8 at 2 p.m. Their stated aim: It’s threefold: to activate the imaginations of their audiences, contemporize the art of mime, and remind us all of the power of simple storytelling.
“In truth, the members of Broken Box are as surprised as anyone that mime happens to have this incredible storytelling power,” says Baumwoll, a Newton native. “It distills theater down to its essentials, creating efficient, powerful, engaging theater unlike anything else we’ve known as professional actors. Once I realized that mime wasn’t about silence or blank space, but rather about making room for the audience to fill-in our plays with their own memories and imaginings, I realized that this medium was something special, deserving of a true renaissance for contemporary audiences.”
Baumwoll, 27, became involved as an undergrad at Tufts. “I was a member of HYPE! Mime Troupe, which was arguably the most off-center yet fantastically accessible thing going on in the theater department,” she says. “HYPE! was structured very similarly to Broken Box: collaborative, based in realism, set to contemporary music, each show comprised of a dynamic mix of original short plays. After learning mime technique and playwriting with HYPE!, I decided to create a company in its image when I moved to New York City to pursue acting.” This was five years ago.
Eleven of the 12 mimes will be in Newton for the August performance. “The entire company covets this experience to get away from New York City and recharge,” Baumwoll says. What will you see at the performance, an open studio presentation for their upcoming work, “Above Below”?
“Our shows are like a well-orchestrated tapas meal,” she says. “A little bit of everything! We work hard with our narratives to balance cinematic and intimate, hilarious and heart-wrenching, abstract and realistic. All will be set to contemporary music and be told entirely through movement; our plays are both accessible and complex.”
“’Above Below” is about exploring what is above us, what is below us, and where we are in the here and now. Our fall show will be held together by this theme of place and perspective, honing in on the theory of “as above, so below” and the surprising synchronicities that pop up in our lives.”
The name everyone brings up, of course, when you talk mimes is Marcel Marceau, who I was lucky enough to see once, late in his career at the A.R.T. Asked if his work had an impact on what Baumwoll does, she said, “Marcel Marceau was a master, and is a true inspiration to us. The great mime masters have a thorough understanding of the power of body language, speaking it fluently and with keen intention. Marceau knew how to use mime to communicate directly to the hearts of his audiences, and we aim to do the same thing.”
Is there, perchance, some sort of mime revival or renaissance going on? It did happen with burlesque after all …
“Sound the alarm: we’re bringing it back!” says Baumwoll (in photo). “Broken Box is the only professional collaborative, contemporary mime company doing this kind of work that I know of. However, there are numerous artists and companies exploring mime and movement theater in the States, and certainly around the world. We are proud to be part of a strong and innovative community of artists.”
Note: Broken Box was the recipient of the 2014 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Ensemble, as well as the 2014 White Pines Residency and the 2015 CUNY Dance Initiative Residency at City College. Thier last show, Topography, was nominated for 3 New York Innovative Theatre Awards.
Saturday’s show is free.
210 Herrick Rd., Newton, www.brokenboxmime.com