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MARCEL MARCEAU

STAGE PERFORMANCE

 
Marcel Marceau for many years structured his theatrical performances in two formats. His "one-man show" was a performance in two acts, the first act comprised of several Style Pantomimes, and the second act of several Bip pantomimes. His printed programs usually listed his entire repertoire of solo works, and stated that the performance at hand would be selected from this repertoire. When Marceau performed with his ensemble company, the first act was usually a selection of solo Style Pantomimes and Bip pantomimes, and the second act involved the entire company in the group performance of a mimodrame.
 

 

STYLE PANTOMIMES

Marceau's Pantomimes de style began as the creations of Etienne Decroux and Jean-Louis Barrault who, during the 1930's, worked tirelessly at discovering the possibilities of human dramatic movement. This work resulted in techniques, stylizations, and illusions that provided the mime actor with a means of "making visible the invisible," as Decroux said.

When Marceau first presented these and his own similar works, they were essentially short demonstrations, or "exercises," as Marceau called them, whose purpose was to show the audience the wonder of the technique of mime, and allow them to appreciate this aspect separately from any dramatic context. Early examples included Walking (Decroux-Barrault), Walking Against the Wind (Marceau), Tug of War (Marceau), and The Staircase (Barrault-Marceau). In the 1940's and 1950's, when mime was still a novelty to contemporary theatre and television audiences, these demonstrations of corporal virtuosity were of interest in themselves.

Audiences became more accustomed to the techniques and illusions of mime, and as their familiarity evolved, so did the Style Pantomimes. "Progressively the style pantomimes oriented themselves toward social satire, oneiric fable, symbolism and surrealism." 1  Marceau's works such as The Public Garden and The Trial showed the multitude of character types that we recognize amongst us, and the conflicts that fill our daily lives, from the trivial to the crucial. They also demonstrated retournée de personnage, the way in which the mime actor instantly changes from one character to another. The Maskmaker and The Cage used visual metaphor to express the human tragedy. In The Creation of the World, The Hands, and Youth, Maturity, Old Age, and Death Marceau employed symbolism and metamorphosis to condense time and space and render the entire expanse of human existence in visual moments that transcended the possibilities of words.

Other examples of Marcel Marceau's Style Pantomimes include:
The Painter
The Side Show
The Pickpocket's Nightmare
The Seven Deadly Sins
The Tango Dancer
The Small Café
The Four Seasons
The Eater of Hearts

 

 

BIP PANTOMIMES

Born in 1947 at the beginning of his career, Marceau's character Bip would become so closely connected with the artist as to be called his alter-ego. Bip was the fictional personification of Marceau's influences, heroes, and philosophy on mankind, and a tribute to his predecessors.

With the change of one letter, Marceau named his character after Pip, the favorite hero of his from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. He donned a costume that pays tribute to his influences—a coat that seems too short and pants that seem too long, the way Charlie Chaplin's costume was composed of ill-fitting elements; an opera hat reminiscent of a romantic era gone by, but battered and torn, and topped by a red carnation, the aroma of which reminds Bip from time to time that life is sweet in spite of circumstances. He applied to his face the white makeup of Jean-Gaspard Deburau's Pierrot, in tribute to the 19th-century sensation whose memory personifies the art of pantomime in the France of his time.

Marceau compared Bip to Don Quixote, always in search of adventure, and battling the windmills of life against which he is powerless. Like the Pedrolino of the Commedia dell'Arte and the Pierrot of Deburau, Bip assumes a humble position in life, but Marceau's hero always dreams of something more. Sometimes we see the Little Tramp side of Bip, as he struggles to fit in with society, to deal with technology, or to pursue love. Other times we look into Bip's dreams as he plays out for us his aspirations and his fantasies. Every time we see Bip, however, we see ourselves. Bip is an Everyman, and he reflects the comedy and tragedy of all mankind.

"Born in the imagination of my childhood," Marceau wrote, "Bip is a romantic and burlesque hero of our time.  His look is turned not only towards heaven, but into the hearts of men." 2

Bip's comedy often arises from nature, such as when he struggles against gravity to keep his suitcase in it's overhead compartment in Bip Travels by Train, or when simply maintaining his balance is an ongoing challenge in Bip Travels by Sea. Always the underdog, no undertaking is a simple task for him. Bip's childlike imagination comes to life in such pieces as Bip Plays David and Goliath, Bip Dreams He is Don Juan, and Bip, Great Star of a Traveling Circus. While Marceau lets Bip fantasize, though, he always brings him back down to Earth in the end. Although Bip is a simple man, or perhaps because he is, he is sensitive to the world. In Bip Hunts Butterflies, for example, he alternately discovers both the beauty and frailty of life. He is easily inspired, easily touched, and as easily wounded, but his simplicity allows him to quickly reconcile any conflicts and maintain his love of life.

Other examples of Marcel Marceau's Bip Pantomimes include:
Bip as a Skater
Bip Commits Suicide
Bip as a Lion Tamer
Bip and the Dating Service
Bip in the Modern and Future Life
Bip as a Soldier
Bip at a Society Party
Bip Remembers

 

 

MIMODRAME

Literally, mimodrame is the French term for "mime drama," or the theatrical art of mime. (The English equivalent might be mimodrama.) The term is often used to signify an ensemble mime piece. Marceau sometimes referred to l'art de mimodrame, but also used the term to refer to one-act or full-length mime plays he performed with his company.

Examples of Marcel Marceau's mimodrames include:
Mort avant l'Aube (Death Before Dawn) - 1948
Le Manteau (The Overcoat) - 1951
Pierrot de Montmartre - 1952
Un soir aux Funambules (An Evening at the Funambules) - 1953
Les Trois Perruques (The Three Wigs) - 1953
Le 14 Juillet (The 14 of July) - 1956
Paris qui Rit, Paris qui Pleure (Paris Laughs, Paris Cries) - 1959
Le Chapeau Melon (The Bowler Hat) - 1997

 
Notes:
1. From Marcel Marceau performance program.
2. As quoted in Marceau, Marcel, "The Story of Bip" (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).

Written by Lorin Eric Salm.  Photos courtesy of The Marcel Marceau Foundation for the Advancement of the Art of Mime, Inc.  Used here by permission.


Biography

Marceau's Stage Performance — His character Bip, his Style Pantomimes, his Mimodrames

List of Countries Toured

Television Appearances

Film Appearances

Video and Audio Recordings

Books by and about Marceau

Paintings, Drawings, and Lithographs

Awards and Honors

Marcel Marceau Links


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This page last updated 15 April 2008