Mime Over Matter
“For me, having Parkinson’s is like doing mime all day.”
— Rob Mermin
My mentor, the legendary mime Marcel Marceau, once told me, “When you clearly visualize an image and project it into space around you, you must feel it is real, with your mind and with your movements—then the audience will see it as real. The invisible becomes visible through the intention of your movements.”
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disorder (PD) in 2014. It is a neurological disorder characterized by symptoms of movement impairment. I’m not unaware of the irony of being a movement professional… who has a movement disorder! For the past two years I have been teaching a weekly class for people with PD, adapting basic mime and circus techniques to explore new ways of coping with movement limitations affecting daily activities.
My intention is to document our progress and promote these findings to the wider PD community. This involves studying the neuroscience of mime & circus training, research with neurologists and movement disorder specialists, filming the classes, and giving workshops at conferences, hospitals, and PD support groups around the country.
Mime techniques include: visualization, body language, nonverbal communication, movement economy, articulation of gesture, and creative use of imagery and space. Mime is a valuable method for creative perception of one’s immediate movement problem, visualizing a better result, and overcoming the limitation.
Circus skills involve elements of equilibrium, flexibility, dexterity, reflexes, and manipulation of objects (juggling). Mime and circus methods together may improve both physical and cognitive functioning, allowing class participants to regain some control of how they move through daily life. And we have a lot of fun
Imagine it: In class, a fellow who sometimes freezes (PD-related sudden inability to move) before a doorway and can’t get moving again without outer stimulus (such as throwing down keys and stepping over them), learned to mime an invisible wall. Now when he freezes, he imagines an invisible door, mimes it with his hands, “opens” the door–and steps right through the doorway! A great example of initiating a movement pattern through inner stimulus, with the trigger of creative visualization.
— Robert H. (retired Chair of Neurology Dept, University of Vermont Medical Center)
The PD Players! Our PD class, in Vermont, created and performed a full evening theatrical stage show. The show explores what it is like to live with Parkinson’s—using humor, emotion, fun, and sincerity through skits, music, mime, poetry, and circus. This project may eventually lead to three things: creating scripts for other PD groups to produce their own shows; tour with the PD Players; and someday training others to lead PD Mime classes. Click here to watch the entire show!
While I can’t say that I’m glad to have Parkinson’s, it has given me a new focus, a motivation for helping others in a socially engaging and professionally rewarding way. I’m finding this work—enriching our quality of life—is valuable in putting things in perspective with a positive attitude.
The next phase is to document my work in writing—a PD Mime curriculum handbook—and in video. Besides the potential value of a new methodology for PD, this work also enables me to fulfill a secondary mission: to promote the
misunderstood art of mime to new generations. It is valuable as an art form for the study of non-verbal communication and the relationship between thought, speech, gesture, and silence.
I’m encouraged by the interest from neurologists and physical therapists, who are excited by the potential benefits for those living with PD—greater independence, reduced isolation, social interaction, and improved posture, balance, and general motor skills.
Here is a link to Erica Heilman’s podcast RumblestripVermont. She interviews me about PD, training with Marcel Marceau, and the irony of being a mime with a movement disorder: https://www.rumblestripvermont.com/2017/10/catastrophe-and-grace/.
Thanks so much!
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