Mime artists have been around since ancient Greece and, through the centuries, they’ve evolved into the silent, white-faced performers we know so well today. The art of mime remains intriguing to a modern audience and, although it seems very simple, this specialised theatrical art takes talent and hours of practice to appear realistic.
Jaques van Jaarsveld is a mime artist and physical theatre performer. He discovered that he had a peculiar interest in the art of mime when he was studying drama. He states, “While studying drama, I was always fascinated by the people with the white faces pretending to be in a box. We did a two-week course in mime at the Pretoria Technikon, and I discovered I had a knack for it. That’s how it all started.” Today, Jaques works for several companies, including Sallys Party Services.
A key aspect of this career is the variety. The performance venues and audiences always differ, the payment fluctuates, depending on the specific job, and work hours vary from day to day. Jaques explains, “I perform at various venues for different people. My mime performances are usually comical, and I’m often booked to promote a specific product, or just entertain a group of people in a specific venue. There isn’t such a thing as a typical day, as I don’t always work every day. If I don’t have an early morning performance, I usually go to gym to stay in shape. Then I might do a gig of an hour or two, depending on what is diarised. Working hours always vary, and I usually work over weekends and often have free weekdays. Along with performing, I’m also involved with workshops at schools, to teach learners more about mime and physical theatre.”
The physical working conditions also vary from performance to performance. “Sometimes I’m booked to work outside, sometimes inside. Either way, it’s important to be punctual. As a mime artist, you need to have
enough time to do your make-up and prepare, and also speak to the person who booked you, to make sure you know exactly where they want you to work and what they want you to do.”
A career as a mime artist is diverse and fun, and it’s always satisfying to give a good performance and be hired for another job. “It’s very rewarding when a client is satisfied with my performance, and they phone me again for another gig. That shows me that they’re happy with my standard of work.”
The art of mime is, however, not generally recognised in South Africa as the specialised performing art it is, and Jaques fumes, “I hate it when people call me a clown! My performances are usually funny, but there is a big difference between a mime artist and a clown.” Apart from the humorous nature of his own performances, there is also entertainment to be had from the reactions of spectators. Jaques laughs, “Once a girl ran up to me and started kissing me! People try a lot of things to make a mime talk.”
To become a mime artist and physical performer, you need to have an interest in and talent for the performing arts, as well as the ability to think on your feet: “There are usually no scripts for this kind of performance, so you must be able to improvise on the spot, while using the techniques of this art form.” Furthermore, you’ll either have to be able to market yourself well enough to find your own work, or get a good agent to do this for you.
Once you’ve established yourself in this field, however, you can look forward to a fun and exciting career in entertainment. Jaques affirms, “If you’re good at something and enjoy it, keep at it. You never know, you might be able to make a living doing it. There is really nothing else I would rather do.”
Jeanne du Plessis
Published By: Brian Merz & Matters