Classical Marceau's Simplicity
San Francisco Chronicle

After several delays, the call to the International School of Mime in Paris finally got through, and the whispery voice of master mime Marcel Marceau could be heard. "The public wants to see the old Marceau," he said. "Every creator is a prisoner of himself because the public loves him in a certain way and wants him to be the same-even if he changes."

When Marceau brings his one-man show to UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium on Friday and Saturday and Cupertino's Flint Center on February 19, Bay Area audiences will have a chance to see the "changed" Marceau.
    Photo credit: SF Chronicle
  Marceau will stage five works for local audiences for the first time, including "Cain and Abel" and "Bip as a Fireman." Also on the program is his newest piece, "Trees," a more abstract, dance-like work on which he collaborated with his wife, Anne. Marceau described "Trees" as a symbolic work that depicts the relationship between trees and man.

"The public is accustomed to the more classical style," said the 58-year-old artist, "and when they see new works, they feel a bit strange. When the audience sees "Trees" a second time, they'll discover many things they didn't see before, and perhaps will accept it more."

Marceau emphasized that his style has not changed, but that the content and themes he deals with are different. "My style is now more refined," he said. "I've arrived at a greater simplicity. The more one matures, the more one captures the essence of one's art."

Nonetheless, Marceau also admitted that he'd "prefer to do an old number that is better in style than a new number that is not as good."

Bip, a character born in 1947, is Marceau's on-stage alter-ego. He is a hapless figure clad in a striped shirt, fitted pants, and a crumpled hat with a weeping flower-looking much like Chaplin and Keaton, both of whom Marceau admired. "There is a part of me and everyone that is Bip," said Marceau. "If not, the public could not identify so strongly with him."

Over a span of 30 years, Marceau has presented his one-man show about 9000 times world-wide. Between tours, he teaches at his school in Paris. He also creates "mimidramas" for his newly formed company, which he hopes will tour the United States by 1984. The company is subsidized by the French Ministry of Culture.

The school consists of more than 100 students from about 20 countries, who are chosen from lengthy auditions. The students study mime, dance, and fencing five days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. "It's a school to develop mimes," said Marceau, "not just actors who study mime. It is a specialized school."

Marceau says he has grown from his experiences with his school just as his students have developed from his teachings. "We learn from the young how life is today-from their mistakes, feelings and creations, from what they don't know. I learn from their anxiety, love and joy-but mostly from the dedication that they can bring me with their ideas and creations, and reflections of their excitement.

"Now, more than ever, when I work with my students, I understand the mysterious spell that silence creates on the audience-it's like music. There's so much music in silence and so much silence in music."

Author's comments: Please note that this article is taken from my theater and dance archives, written more than 20 years ago. However, just as mime is a timeless art, what Marceau had to say then is also timeless.

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