Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

It’s all in the mime

Posted by Kimberly on June 23, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
June 23, page 13 (1,226 words)

Charlie Chaplin was one. So was Buster Keaton. Then there’s Laurel and Hardy. All stars of the silent screen. With the advent of sound, the magic was lost.
That is, until the Chameleons Magic Mime Theatre decided to bring their special blend of theatrics to the masses.
Taking inspiration from those silent comedians, mime duo Keith Berger and Sharon Diskin chose Macau as the first and only Asian city within which to showcase their talents.
“We like to take very ordinary situations that are universal to people all over the world and put them into physical form,” says Sharon.
“It’s an incredibly powerful art-form if done well. What you need to do is touch an audience emotionally. It’s not enough just to do the illusions, the classic illusions of the rope and the wall,” she says.
The duo have been together, both professionally and personally, for a total of 22 years.
They credit the success of their marriage and their careers to an unwillingness to choose between the two.
“It was very difficult at the beginning,” says Sharon.
“The first couple of years we had to soul search and at one point we had to sit down and have a very serious conversation that went like this; well, we could either stay together as a couple and not work together professionally or we could not be together as a couple personally and stay working together as a professional team.
Adamantly refusing those suggestions, the couple were unwilling to give up either aspect of their relationship.
“We dedicated ourselves to figuring out how to do both of these things successfully.
“Almost nobody gave us their support. Everybody said we had to be crazy doing what we’re doing!” says Sharon.
She admits that it sounded romantic but it wasn’t.
“It was very very difficult. But I’m so glad we stuck with it,” she says.
Initially there was a decision made to divide their professional and personal lives.
“At first we said we really have to make that separation. But now we can let it bleed a little bit into each other. We know the point where it starts to get dangerous,” says Keith.
“The point is when we start getting angry at each other. And a little of that’s OK…but if it gets destructive, you feel it tearing you apart, that’s when we back off and say we went too far,” he says.
“I think we really have embraced how we compliment each other and contrast each other. I think probably what attracted us to each other in the first place is how different we were,” says Sharon.
“We have very much the same sensitivity about the art form but we are very different types of performers and I think that really is what makes us successful as a two-person company. We have so much more respect for each other now than we did at the beginning,” she says.
That success can be seen in the incredible speed at which the quota for their ‘Teacher In-Service Mime Workshop’, to be held until June 28, filled up.
Aimed at parents, teachers and those interested in this particular type of performance, participants gain simple mimetic skills and methods for imparting this art to their students.
A sister workshop, the ‘Outreach Mime Workshop in School’, is tailor-made for students where Keith and Sharon teach students to use their bodies to express their imagination and depict imagery. Emphasis is placed on the students’ own social experiences, hopefully resulting in a willingness to learn.
“ One of the first things we teach is to create something that isn’t really there, like pulling a rope and to kids especially, it’s very fascinating, because it puts their imagination out there and they make it happen right in front of everybody,” says Keith.
All those that attend have the opportunity to perform alongside Keith and Sharon during their show.
“We’ve done this before with students and after years of figuring it out, we have pieces that they actually recreate,” says Sharon.
“Sometimes we’ll go to one place and they’ll be completely different from another place so they’re really being creative with them.
“We give them the general idea of what we want and we work on it so we have several pieces in mind. We want everybody to be on stage. We don’t like to leave anybody out, especially with kids,” she says.
The duo will be performing a spectrum of pieces including ‘The Bizarre Circus’ and ‘Hurry’.
“The Bizarre Circus is a circus where all the performers come out and things go completely wrong for them. It’s funny and kind of strange at the same time,” says Keith.
“These performers are completely inept and they come out and make complete fools of themselves. And to me this is a lot like life. It’s one of my favourite pieces.
“We do another piece and it’s actually narrated in English and it’s called Hurry. It’s about a dream where you are late. I think everybody’s had this dream or some of the things in the dream.
“We hear her [Sharon] thinking in the sound system and what she’s doing to get to work. The whole piece is about the different things that happen to her while she’s trying to get to work.
“I’m in the piece but I play these different characters,” he says.
The request to perform didn’t include a specified list of pieces, and both Keith and Sharon were in unfamiliar territory, no pun intended.
“They said they wanted an hour long and they wanted the students to do a bit of performing with us for about 20 minutes so we thought what would be the best pieces that we have to put in this program?” says Keith.
“To tell you the truth we really don’t know the culture here so much, but we’re learning. I think the people in Macau will like it a lot. A lot of it is pretty universal.
“We do a piece called The Life Cycle. In the United States, the grown-ups anyway, cry at the end. I don’t know here if they’ll cry at the end. That piece might depend on the culture. We’ll see,” he says.
With audience participation a necessity in their show, Keith and Sharon hope to have a high level of it next month, when they perform at the Macau Cultural Centre on July 1, although they do admit to the odd silent occurrence.
“We’ve had audiences where you don’t hear a sound from them, no clapping or laughing or anything, but in the end they say how good it was and how much they loved it,” says Keith.
“We performed in Key Largo. That audience was very reserved. You just keep going. It does throw you as a performer especially for what we do,” he says.
Despite this, two decades of performing have honed the duo’s skills to pull in an audience, both agreeing that the years have brought changes.
“Yeah, I think our work is a little more mature. It’s probably funnier too. I think we were so serious when we started,” says Keith.
“We see more of a lighter side of life now that we’re a little older.”
That lighter side is hinted at when the pair dance with umbrellas in the air or mimic hapless circus performers. And the romance helps.

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