Friday, July 2, 2010

A Mime Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

I like mime.  There.  I said it.  Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the guys who stand on street corners painted gold pretending to be statues just to get money.  Those guys are creepy1.  I’m talking about real mime.  The kind that requires actual talent.  I’m talking about the Marcel Marceau kind of mime.

About ten years ago, an acting teacher suggested I see Marceau perform in town that night.  Knowing the type of reputation mimes had, I hesitated, not wanting to associate with their type. Ultimately, I decided to go since Marceau was 77 at the point2, and I was unlikely to get another chance to see him perform if I changed my mind3.  I wish I could say I had an instant conversion to becoming a mime-lover during the show, but my reaction was more of a “meh.”  It was a cute show, definitely entertaining and at certain points even laugh-out-loud funny.  It was even good enough for me to admit that not all mimes were bad.  But this was supposed to be the best mime in the world, and with that kind of reputation, I expected something better than a bunch of funny and occasionally thought-provoking skits. 

I went back to work on Monday.  I’d told a postdoc about the show beforehand and she’d chided me about it, but she asked me how it went:

Her: How was the show?

Me: It was all right.  Pretty funny actually.  There was one bit with a mask maker where he gets a smiley mask stuck on his face.  There was also one with a kid in a park where he kicks a ball through a window.  In the background, there are these two old ladies watching and gossiping.  I think my favorite one was this dating service that keeps sending him women who are either too tall or too fa— 

Her: Wait.  I thought you said it was just him.

Me: [Confused] It was.

That’s when I realized the magic of Marcel Marceau.  None of those other people were there.  There were no set, no props, no text nor sound of any kind.  Not even a lighting change.  Just a silent 77-year-old man alone on a stage.

In honor of the great Marcel Marceau, see if you can calculate how many fewer words he said during his lifetime because of his career choice.

People usually say about 3 words per second when talking.  The only times mimes don’t speak is during performance.  Marceau might have averaged 5 shows per week during his 60 years of performing.  Each show is about 1.0 hour long.  If we assume only 5% of his time was spent talking, we can estimate the number of extra words he could have spoken in his lifetime,

words = (yrs performed) · (wks per yr) · (shows pr wk) ·(hrs per show)
· (fraction of time talking) · (words per s)
= (60 yrs) · (52 wks per yr) · (5 shows pr wk) ·(1.0 hr per show) · (0.05) · (3 words per s)
= 8.4×106 words.

Marceau would have said about 8.4 million extra words had he not been a mime.  

[1] I’m convinced they’re the reason real mimes are listed below jugglers and magicians on the street performer totem pole.
[2] As another member of our class put it, “He’s still alive?!”
[3] Plus, he was in a Mel Brooks movie.  How bad could he be?

1 comment:

  1. Having met Marcel Marceau, I can attest that when he wasn't on stage, he could be quite talkative!