Monday, April 13, 2020

The Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe on the UNC Greensboro Campus

Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe, 1979
Founded in 1973 as an innovative and experimental drama group by acting instructor Jamey Reynolds, the Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe was established to give student mimes an opportunity to practice their art on and off campus. The tradition of Mime is thought to have had its origins in Ancient Greece, when a masked dancer, or Pantomimus, performed to honor Dionysus, the god of theater. In both the Greek and Roman dramatic tradition, mimes created a comical break between acts of more serious plays and performed for weddings and important events. The performers of the Middle Ages adapted the early art into “mummer plays,” or “guisers,” which evolved into the “dumbshow.” Pantomime, or Mime, saw its modern incarnation in France with performers portraying a character through silent, creative movements or gestures, usually in costume. Mimes such as Etienne Decroux, Jean Louis Barrault, and Marcel Marceau set the bar in France, while American Mime was made famous by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Emmett Kelly, and Buster Keaton.

The oldest Mime group in the US is The American Mime Theatre, which was founded in 1952. By the 1970s and 1980s, mimes mainstreamed into television, street performances, and even onto the UNCG campus. As part of the university’s Department of Communication and Theatre, UNCG undergraduates, as well as graduate students, could enroll in the Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe.

Alamance  County Arts Council Performance, 1981
Professor Reynolds taught his students that Mime was “the art of gesture, of making the body’s movements express a dramatic scene.” He incorporated elements of French, American, and classical Mime to develop routines that required mental and physical control to reach the optimal performance level. Their programs ranged from magical and mystical tales to abstract and representational interpretations of our society.

Pensive Student Mime, 1975

Sound, light, and costumes were also utilized to accentuate their programs. The costumes were often very imaginative in their use of bright color and design to re-mold the mimes' human shape into new forms. Describing their performances as “a combination of comedy, fantasy, mystery, and satire,” the Troupe performed at school and community events. They entertained with traditional miming, as well as juggling, acrobatics, magic tricks, music and dancing. The mimes continually re-configured their shows to suit their audiences, which ranged from elementary school students to retirees. Most performances were free, but when they would charge, all monies were channeled to a theater scholarship fund.

While The American Mime Theatre continued to produce mimes, the art form's popularity dwindled. By the 1980s, the Kaleidoscope Mime Troupe seems to have disappeared completely from campus.