Working with Marcel Marceau
A Genuine Apprenticeship in paris.
During the studies for my Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from the University of Houston, I was part of a Movement Theatre Company under the direction of Claude Caux, an Olympic Fencing Master, international Mime Artist, and a colleague of the world famous Master of Mime, Marcel Marceau. After the dress rehearsal for one of our productions, Claude introduced me to Marceau (as everyone called him when speaking about him) who had been observing our rehearsal. Marceau invited me to study with him at his Ecole Intérnationale de Mimodrame de Paris (International School of Mime-drama in Paris) once I completed my BA in Theatre—and that the rehearsal he had just observed was my audition. After graduating from the University of Houston with a BA in Theatre I moved to Paris at 21.
At the Ecole, we studied five styles of Mime in addition to Marceau’s, including the Dramatic Corporeal Technique of Etienne Decroux, French Traditional Pantomime as it relates to the Italian Commedia dell’arte, and the movement techniques of Henryk Tomaszewski with the lead actor of his Wroclawski Teatr Pantomimy, Stefan Niedzialkowski. The training also consisted of Competitive and Theatrical Fencing, Classical and Modern Dance, Competitive and Theatrical Acrobatics, and various Acting courses and corporeal explorations from many cultures. These disciplines were presented each year within a rigorous selection and jury system, spanning a three year program during which I became a representative of the school for the press, and the unofficial translator for foreign master teachers during their lectures. My particular First Year was class of 40 international students, and at the end of the 3 years of study there were only 12 of us who had been selected to compete for the Diploma.
In previous years, Marceau was more often away on tour than he was in France and was not able to commit much time to instructing personally at the Ecole. During my first year of study, Marceau suffered a ruptured ulcer while performing his One Man Show in Russia. After a quick and rather botched emergency surgery in Moscow, Marceau returned to Paris to undergo further surgeries requiring him to remain in Paris for his recovery for an extended period. For the first 2 years of my studies in France, we had classes with Marceau himself almost every day. During my third and final year, Marceau was performing in Paris and surrounding cities, and so he continued to teach and direct us personally for that year as well.
At the end of my first year studying at the Ecole, Marceau invited me to become his Teaching Assistant during his American Master Seminars at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (at the theatre where he first played in the United States in the 1950s), and in the following two years I was also given classes of my own to teach at the Seminars. The Fencing Master at the Ecole began teaching me to teach fencing and had me work with the first-year students alongside him. The Acrobatics instructors did the same and also invited me to perform in their Acrobatic-Danse Compagnie in productions across France, including a televised performance at the famous Folies Bérgerès.
In order to perfect my French and rid myself of my American accent, I began studying the Voice and Speech curriculum of the Comédie Française. I pursued a more rigorous training in the techniques of Etienne Decroux, studying with his final two assistants Steven Wasson and Corrine Soum at their own Paris Atelier. To broaden my expertise in Stage Combat techniques, I prolonged my training at the Paris School of Theatrical Fencing and performed in various productions with them. I was awarded an Honorary Diploma from the French Royal Academy of Arms by the great Fencing Master Pierre LaCaz, one of my instructors and Master to my own Master, Claude Caux.
From Apprentice to Journeyman—The Beginnings of a Career
In 1987, after receiving a scholarship from the French Minister of Culture to complete my studies in Paris, I became the second American of only three in the history of Ecole Marceau to have completed the program of studies and to be awarded a Diploma. Of the 12 of us who completed the full 3 years of studies, only 6 of us were awarded a Diploma after a competitive examination of the Techniques and the performance of our own Original Mime-drama Creations. This Diploma was Marceau’s official recognition that we may represent his art and instruct his techniques in his name on an international level. I immediately formed a Theatre Company with 3 more of these diplomés called The Paris Mime Studio, which integrated these specialized movement techniques with more conventional Acting.
The Paris Mime Studio was selected several times by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to represent French Culture abroad with performances throughout Europe, Scandinavia, The United States, Singapore, and Japan. While on the road, I continued receiving first-hand experience in as many dramatic movement techniques as possible including Commedia dell’Arte and Mask Work by Sartori, Japanese Noh and Kabuki, and I began teaching my own master classes in Dramatic Corporeal Studies both privately and at Conservatories while I continued my Decroux Technique studies at the Paris School of Dramatic Corporeal Mime. Among various film and television appearances, I was invited by Marceau to perform alongside him in Klaus Kinski’s film Paganini, and to act as his representative during the Governmental Welcoming Ceremony for Grand Kabuki Master Inosuke III.
In 1990, while coordinating chorus movements for opera productions in provincial France and helping to “animate” the studio audiences of French Television Game Shows, I became the first graduate of Ecole Marceau to be hired by the school as a Full Professor. In addition to teaching there, Marceau asked me to appear with him as part of the two-person additional cast of his One Man Show and to accompany him on his 1991 World Tour. This interrupted my work at the The Actor’s Studio in Paris, yet it was another opportunity to work on stage with Marcel Marceau. It would have been foolish not to accept!
Spending two years touring with La Compagnie Marceau, I profited from even more time and work with the Master of Mime. On his off nights between performances, we would often go to a rehearsal studio to explore dramatic sequences and improvise various story lines he would eventually develop for his International Mime Company. I would improvise a scenario alone or with another mime-artist, and then Marceau would direct us through variations on that theme—the same situation explored as comedy, tragedy, melodrama, dark-comedy, Contemporary Realism, Absurdism, Existentialism, etc. Spending hours on a train with Marceau, I enjoyed hearing about his early work and the friendships he created with Bertolt Brecht, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Red Buttons among many others enriched my life as an artist in ways no other experiences could. His knowledge of art from painting and sculpture and music to his knowledge of world cultures, religion, and literature to his life experiences as a man in times of war and peace, falling in love and raising a family—these conversations were some of the most valuable lessons in my artistic training.