I’d like to attract the mimes to Maine from all over the world.
March 23, 1973
By Sandra L. Gregor of the Maine Times
Photography by Tom Jones
Maine offers many advantages to its growing crop of new citizens, but it is certain that at least some of those outsiders bring them talent and recognition in a surprising variety of vocations that are advantageous to the state.
NOTE: This article has been posted and digitally restored for educational purposes.
One of those more unusual persons, now a second year citizen of South Paris, is widely respected pantomime artist Tony Montanaro.
Montanaro, his wife Pam and five of six sons live two miles outside of the village in a large farmhouse they reclaimed from a degenerative destiny. Standing on a hill, the house has withstood some two hundred years of battering winds, and its strong frame and surrounding ten acres provide him and his family with the kind of home and space that wasn’t available to them in Woodstock, New York where they came from.
Behind the house is a large barn-converted-to-studio, where Montanaro’s dream for a mime community in Maine is shaping itself and flourishing.
About nine persons are presently training with Montanaro as the core of the Celebration Mime Theatre, which Montanaro expects to be deeply rooted in South Paris.
Montanaro’s expressed intention is to develop a real home for himself and the embryonic troupe in South Paris. “If you have a good home, you can travel better,” he says.
A naturally gregarious and warm person, Montanaro says that local merchants ask about the theater and “they know what I am doing, I make sure of that.” He enjoys the rapport he has developed with the local people. After receiving the wrong piece of mail, employees at the post office told him it was their first mistake in 20 years. Then again one day recently he received someone else’s magazine and laughingly dramatized confronting them with the shout, “Aha second mistake in 20 years!’
He is looking for the community to provide a certain amount of support for the troupe, to take interest in its growth.
As the roots he is planting are fed and nurtured, Montanaro expects his plans and projects to leaf out over the entire state, as well as making an impact nationally and internationally.
“I’d like to attract the mimes to Maine from all over the world,” he says, amused by the fact that the community is named South Paris, counterpoint to the location of the world’s most famous mime, Marcel Marceau, in Paris, France. (Montanaro studied with Marceau when he was entering his mime career in 1957.)
Besides the nine permanent residents who work with Montanaro, he yearly teaches upwards of 70 students in summer and winter sessions in the studio. By this summer (or sooner with the smaller group) Montanaro expects to have a program of light sketches and free-form work for his students to present to small audiences in the barn. The acts will be added to the program by Montanaro and assistant Craig Babcock., “A Mime’s Eye View,” which they have presented in Maine as well as other states.
“Tony brings to the exacting art of mime a deftness, wit and unmistakeable clarity about what he is saying. His work is extraordinarily clean, unlabored, minimal. Wearing only leotards, and eschewing makeup altogether… (Montanaro transforms) himself completely into the character at hand before one’s very eyes.”
A recent review in the Woodstock Times describes “A Mime’s Eye View”: “Tony brings to the exacting art of mime a deftness, wit and unmistakeable clarity about what he is saying. His work is extraordinarily clean, unlabored, minimal. Wearing only leotards, and eschewing makeup altogether… (Montanaro transforms) himself completely into the character at hand before one’s very eyes.”
Montanaro and Babcock have also begun to perform and teach in local schools, where Montanaro hopes to introduce young people to his art.
Montanaro worked with children for years as host of a Philadelphia based public TV program, “Pretendo,” which was broadcast nationally. The show’s purpose was to “teach simple techniques which demonstrate that imagination can move from the plane of ‘I wish’ to ‘I can’ and ‘I do,’ “ according to a brochure released by the station.
At present, Montanaro is involved in making a pilot for another such program, which will again take for its theme what Montanaro refers to as “The thin line between imagination and reality.”
That thin line, of course, is the thematic thread which weaves its way through all the work of a mime whose intention is to pretend so well that the viewer can see non-existent props and understand a variety of characters without being told who they are and what they’re doing.
A mime, Montanaro says, “must have prowess, clarity, lucidity, gentleness, grace, and most importantly, a deep respect for other human beings.”
Although Montanaro does not eschew discipline as essential to mime, he believes that a good mime possesses an additional spiritual understanding of the movement. His contribution to the field of mime is a mental, rather than physical, approach to the art: that the idea, or concept of a motion must always precede the action.
A mime must be able to work in all dimensions, Montanaro said in a class where he and his students were practicing walking on their hands. “Only humans have upside down. Your mind must be able to overcome limitation problems.”
At an improvisational session, Montanaro instructed his students to constantly ask themselves “What do I want to do next?” And then how and where to do it, and what to say. “Creativity is making decisions, lots of them.” The scene only reveals its complexities when the mime is aware of many more possibilities than the one that immediately occurs to him.
During some of the more rigorous physical stunts and exercises, Montanaro told them, “You may never do it on stage, but the ability to do it is implied. The voice is free, the body is free, and you’re able to invent ad nauseam.
“If we start to rehearse too soon, we won’t have this kind of character to work with,” Montanaro said, adding that an important part of the process is “the way we touch each other while we’re playing and working.” Essential to a troupe is understanding the rhythms of each other’s bodies, and how each person moves. Another exercise they practiced was to synchronize a series of forward rolls to one person’s rhythm
“What comes next are your philosophies,” he told them. “Let them come out in the movement.”
Montanaro’s own new of the Universe pervades his work, most of which is supported by his beliefs as a Christian Scientist.
“Mime was before Science,” Montanaro explains. “I couldn’t find a religion to back up mime. But because I work metaphysically, I can actually work on (the Science) with the mime.”
He has left the Christian Science teachings and gone back to them several times, Montanaro says, and although he doesn’t make a deliberate attempt to reflect Christian Science in his art, the connections remain.
If a man is trying to find out about the relationships between himself and the universe, no matter how he does it, it makes him better.
“If a man is trying to find out about the relationships between himself and the universe, no matter how he does it, it makes him better,” Montanaro said. “Until then he’s not worth a hill of beans. He’s a victim of what winds are blowing at the time.”
In the same way he tells his students in an improvisational situation to be aware of the influences of the others but not to simply follow the trend. “Before you grab it, say, I’m going to grab this. Now, how am I going to grab it?”
A mime creates out of nothing. Props, costume, make-up and voice are usually minimal, if not non-existent. Nor does a mime require exaggerated or sweeping gesture to get his point across. Proof of that “thin line” that Montanaro refers to appears when he shows that he can switch from one character to another by subtle differences in posture, attitude or expression. The change is obvious, how it was created is not.
Those lines that Montanaro is so capable of crossing are, he believes, created by society. Boundaries of sanity, of towns and countries, between men and women: “there are even laws” to create more illusory lines, Montanaro says, and predicts the “ailments of the world will disappear when the lines go.”
On the stage during various moments in his program “A Mime’s Eye View,” Montanaro will create an illusion and then abruptly stop it, as when he climbs an imaginary rope, and some way up lets go. But no, he doesn’t fall, there he is standing on the stage.
At the end of his performance, as the audience applauds, Montanaro takes the usual curtain call. But he comes back on stage with an enormous shinola smile, arms open wide as if to say, yes, I deserve this. The audience begins to think, this guy Montanaro really has an ego, but at that moment his excruciating grin freezes, he stops being the person and is again the performer, the clown; an ingratiating frozen figure that his assistant carts off stage.
Tony Montanaro, illusion/reality. A thin line.