Mime offers students world of art without words

Hawthorne Elementary School’s artist in residence taught students the sounds of silence, the art of telling a story with no verbal communication last week.

Eugene mime Russ Fish taught students in each class a little bit about miming and worked with a group of fourth through sixth graders on a Friday afternoon mime performance.

Fish started miming in 1980 and is now one of probably three professional mimes in Oregon, although one is actually a clown but teaches some mime classes.

Fish has performed all over the United States, France and Japan. He has studied under three masters, including Marcel Marceau and his teacher, while he was in France.

Since 1988, Fish has worked as an artist in residence for schools. He now works throughout the western states. This week, he is working in Eastern Oregon.

His approach is based around Marceau’s both technically and philosophically.

“Other than just teaching kids the art for art’s sake, I also tie it to the curriculum,” Fish said. The components of mime are the same as writing a short story. “It’s a fun way for kids to learn the writing process.”

The best part of writing a story during his residence is the students get to act out the stories.

Learning often comes through repetition, Fish said. “The more times a child hears how you can make a good story, eventually, that’s going to make it click.”

Sometimes, a different slant or a different source can make an idea click for a student, Fish said.

Fish became interested in becoming an artist in residence after discovering the program.

“I just saw a lot of ways mime could teach kids non-verbal communication,” Fish said. Depending on the study, some experts say 75 percent of communication is non-verbal, through the use of body language, facial expressions and gestures.

“Our voices, words, can lie,” Fish said. “Usually, the body, the face, tells the truth.”

What is meant, true emotions, is reflected by body language and expressions. The force with which persons use their eyes as they speak, the way they look at something, has much to do with what is meant.

Last week, he visited each class following a performance and talk during a Monday assembly. On Wednesday, he began working with a core group of students. With two and a half days, they created practiced and performed their stories for another assembly.

“I think they did a remarkable job in that amount of time,” Fish said. “I always admire the courage of the kids to go out and to that.”

Fish said he was impressed by Hawthorne’s discipline.

It’s a good school, and the students are well-behaved, Fish said. They’re better than at most elementary schools.

“The teachers at the school, I really enjoyed working with them,” Fish said.

Before becoming a mime, Fish was a light fixture salesman. He got interested in mime after watching Marceau perform.

“I was awed by how much he could say without using any words,” Fish said. After that experience, studying under Marceau was “one of the greatest thrills of my life.”

He started mime at a time when it was a fad, he said. Throughout the 1980s, a lot of people tried it, but they weren’t driven or impassioned by it, Fish said. Now, there are fewer, but the “overall quality is much higher.”

He cautions that street mime is different than theatrical mime. Street mime can be offensive and hurtful, especially when the mimes are following a person, mimicking and mocking the person.

“What we do theatrically is usually much different than what you see on the streets,” Fish said. Fish performs theatrically as well as bookings for corporate events.

Fish loves the art form.

“I really love sharing that with schools and children,” Fish said. Besides teaching the art form, it also breeds an interest in the few children who will go on to be the future of mime.

Fish plans to have a Web site up within a year. For now, information may be found on him through Corvallis Arts, http://[email protected]. Persons interested in more information may also email Fish at [email protected].