A Few Words on Pantomime

I like to start all my classes by teaching a little something about Pantomime. Pantomime is, quite simply, acting without words. Most beginning actors will draw a connection between Pantomime and charades. This is a good place to start.

In charades, just like Pantomime, we are challenged to use our bodies, gestures and facial expressions to communicate with our teammates. In order to be successful, we must give as much detail as possible and, more importantly, we must listen and respond to the needs of our team. Our team’s responses tell us how effectively we are communicating. Without the use of language or voice, it is important that we be specific.

To illustrate this, I demonstrate a poor pantomime and a good pantomime. I tell the class that I am going to perform a pantomime and they are going to tell me what I’m doing. So I go around the room and pretend that I am “picking” off the floor. I bend at the waist (from a standing position) and pick up a small, imaginary object from the floor. I do this a few times and “gather” the objects in my arm. I then ask the class, “What am I doing?” Answers may include, “picking something up,” “squashing ants,” “finding dust,” or “collecting rocks.” Then I tell them that I am going to do the same pantomime again, but this time I am going to provide more details. I then get on my knees, “pick” an imaginary object off the floor, bring it up to my nose, smell it, sneeze and gather it in my arm like I did before. At that point, I am usually hearing, “Aaaaaaaaaaa.” Everyone then understands that I was picking flowers. Then I ask them, as a group, to pantomime:

  • PICKING UP SMELLY GARBAGE
  • PICKING UP HEAVY ROCKS
  • PICKING UP APPLES
  • PICKING UP A DOG
  • PICKING UP BOUNCY BALLS
  • PICKING UP A BABY

COME UP WITH A FEW OF YOUR OWN!

We discuss the details that are needed in each pantomime to make the performance specific and unmistakable.

I also enjoy showing students what “advanced” pantomime looks like. There are a number of resources, recordings, YouTube videos and books, that chronicle the work of Marcel Marceau – probably the most well-known pantomime artist of our time. Charlie Chaplin also became famous for his pantomime skills through the advent of silent film — his recordings may be available through your local library. Their work is beautiful, inspiring and historic and I think that you and your students appreciate taking a look.

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