Category Archives: Arts

What Mime (yes, mime) Can Teach Us about Changemaking

by Lizzie Hetzer

Trabian’s post got me thinking about how change happens and why we do it. Social entreprenuership is neither a motivation, a means, nor an end.

I began to make some connections in a book called “Mime Spoke Here” by Tony Montanaro – one of the most celebrated mimes. Yes, it is a book about mime, and yes, it does connect to social change. 

Premise: Feeling the “tug”

The key to being a good mime (or an actor) is the understanding of the premise of our actions in everyday life. Yes, it’s the actor’s annoying question: “What’s my motivation?” Motivation and premise determine an actor’s credibility. In mime, the premise changes how you do something. In the SE world, the motivation for doing certain work will change how you do it.

A person who has mastered mime isolations (exercises) won’t be a perfect mime until they’ve gotten the premise right. A mime attempting to create the illusion of a tug of war, needs to feel the tug before moving; if not, the movement looks fake. 

The premise is critical. As a changemaker, it’s the tug of oppression, disparity, and inequality that influences the movement. WIthout the tug, the integrity of the movement is affected. 

Your premise also affects your wider audience. Montanaro says, “My ability to believe these things, these images, determines the clarity of my gestures and the integrity of my sketch. My belief ignites my audience’s belief, and they join me in my adventures.” Isn’t that what social movements are all about?


Doing: There is no blueprint

The inventors of mime work and those great illusions that we enjoy – the tug of war, the ladder climb, the wall – didn’t read a book to figure out how to create them. Instead, the inventors of this work studied real-life situations to understand the tangible forces causing the physical effects. 

They understood the importance of understanding not only the wall, but its forces. In fact, the physical object–for example, the wall–isn’t what is most important at all in the mime illusion, but rather what that physical object does to you. Likewise, in the SE world, it’s not just about understanding systems, markets, institutions, but what those things do to people. Understanding the effects help us to better interact with the object.

Montanaro talks about the good that comes from not reading the instructions. And the ability to “trust” and “thrust” — feeling the outside force and “thrusting” against it. A just do it approach.

Character: Giving in to the work

In mime work, one has to create and thrust oneself into character. The character (like a cause or your work) has no life of its own – the actor breathes life into the character. 

Montanaro points out: “…when you do not loan all of yourself to your character, you have to treat your character as a separate entity and speculate on his/her feelings, thoughts, and behavior. While you’re busy speculating on your character’s behavior, you can never move and speak spontaneously. But if you “give in” to your character, if you let the character “get to you,” then the correct thoughts, words, and actions will occur to you, as if by magic.”

If we keep ourselves distanced from the work, we risk losing the spontaneous and invaluable actions and thoughts that can occur to us when we delve in, despite the risk.


In Short:

If Montanaro were asked about social change, I think he might say: Give in to the work and the risk, let it get to you, feel the tug, forget the instructions and use your experience as expertise.