Since the 1970s, the term ‘mime’ has been applied to an increasingly varied field of theatrical activity, broadly characterized by a primary focus on physical expression. This activity draws together a number of historical strands, including the influence of several French mime teachers. British drama schools have tended to offer little training in mime, and have focused instead on acting that is voice/text based. The development of contemporary British mime reflects this marginalization, taking strength and identity from it.
   Mime has typically seen itself in broad opposition to the text-based literary theatre of the West End and regional theatres (see theatre, regional). The 1970s and 1980s witnessed a growth in alternative theatre companies. These companies were often formed by young artists rejecting traditional ways of making theatre to devise and improvise work of their own. A contemporaneous revival of interest in street performance (for example, Covent Garden Piazza, Robotics and body popping) helped to provide a rich environment for a rapid development of mime and related activity. Initially in the 1970s, mime theatre relied on silent illusions and sketches. Critics accused this mime of being too formal, too technical and lacking in content. Later companies/artists sought to break down the formal restrictions of this earlier style, and performers such as Steven Berkoff, Moving Picture Mime Show and Theatre de Complicité have since pointed the way for new physical-based theatre with a more popular voice and an increasingly strong sense of content.
   Mime’s accessibility, distinctiveness and physicality have made it attractive to a number of minority subcultures. In the 1990s, Black Mime Theatre developed a body of work distinctive in its focus on black issues and its exploration of a movement/mime ‘voice’ for black performers. Towards the end of the 1990s mime has reintegrated with dance, circus skills and acrobatics and provided a core of skills now being explored through new forms (such as Club performance, New Circus, alternative comedy and physical theatre), directly related to youth culture and subculture. Mime’s growth, and its subsequent transformation into physical theatre, has coincided with an increasing willingness to accept the moving body as ‘text’. The literal use of gesture as sign has developed into a more complex understanding of movement as a richly diverse and socially resonant vehicle for the making of meaning.
   Further reading
    Leabhart, T. (1989) Modern and Postmodern Mime, Basingstoke: Macmillan Education Ltd (gives broad historical context).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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  • Mime — Mime, n. [L. mimus, Gr. ?, akin to ? to imitate, to mimic: cf. F. mime. Cf. {Mimosa}.] 1. A kind of drama in which real persons and events were generally represented in a ridiculous manner; an ancient Greek or Roman form of farce. [1913 Webster… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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