The Great Collision Of Art And Life

One of the greatest mimes of our time, the late, great Marcel Marceau
I had the privilege of seeing him perform live at the Fox Theater in San Diego in 1985

I once made a living as a mime.

It was long ago, but I haven’t had a job since that’s been as challenging, memorable, and fun.

Seaworld of San Diego has this ongoing Seal and Otter show that’s been around in one form or another since the sixties. The show changes format every few years, but I’m not going to talk about that today. Instead, I’m going to tell you about Michael and John, two guys who met each other one day long ago.

Michael was a former Ringling Brothers circus clown who’d been hired as a mime but then promoted to show producer. He was a funny guy, and frankly, that’s an understatement. He still took the stage once in a while to fill in when someone wanted a day off and, when he did, we’d talk about his legendary performances for days afterward.

One day I only had a few people show up. The stadium held 1200 so, when you only have twelve people sitting there watching you perform, that’s one percent, and that’s enough to be a downer. I went out and did some of my funnier bits for them but it basically sucked and they applauded politely as if to say, “HAHA, very nice, now get the hell out of the way and bring on the dancing otters.”

I left the show feeling drained and ran right into Michael behind the scenes. He was carrying his clipboard while wearing a tie and showing appropriate concern that I seemed blue, and not the bouncy, happy mime I was supposed to be.

He asked how the show went and when I told him there were only twelve people, he told me about an audience he had only a week earlier when filling in for someone who took a sick day.

He said it was cold and drizzling rain, and he knew it’d be slow, so he hoped nobody would show up and he’d not have to perform. But there they were, three teens – two boys and a girl – who climbed to the very last row at the top of the 1200 seat stadium, sitting in the drizzle and waiting to be entertained.

So he entertained them.

He pretended to be a mountain climber when he first came out, swinging an invisible pick and pulling on an imaginary rope to make his way up to them. That ate up the first five minutes of his routine so once he got up there he stood on the empty bench in front of them and offered up a silent yet panic-stricken prayer to his muse for ten minutes of inspiration.

It came a few moments later, by the bucket-load.

He said he didn’t know how it came or from where, but dammit… he was funny! Those kids laughed and clapped and had a great time, as Michael stood on that bench and did silly schtick that he couldn’t recall when telling me about all of this a few days later.

His point was that if I’d just trust my muse to let inspiration flow through me, I’d be able to do it for one, one hundred, one thousand, or a million people.. just let it be. Obviously, I’ve always remembered that story because it had an impact on me.

This happened back in 1988, so now we fast forward to 1998. Dorian and I were living in Ashland, Oregon, and I was doing sound design for a local theater, working with a young guy named John, who was doing lighting. After we finished our show set-up one evening, he came over to our place and we sat around drinking beer and swapping stories.

Turned out he was from California. Turned out he visited SeaWorld once with some friends.

Turned out it was while on spring break in 1988.

I’d told John I used to perform at the Seal and Otter Show as a mime, so he was telling me about the mime he saw. He said it was a drizzling Monday and the place was empty. After he and his two friends made their way to the top of the stadium, the mime came out and did some kind of mountain climber bit to get up to them, followed by ten minutes of delightful comedy on the bench directly in front.

John, his buddy, and his buddy’s girlfriend all thought it was one of the funniest performances they’d ever seen.

Michael had told me the three kids came up to him later and said they really appreciated him doing the entire bit just for them, so I asked John, “Did you guys see the mime in another part of the park later and go up to thank him for doing a whole routine just for you?”

Yes, they did. 

I told John about Michael and his inspirational story ten years earlier. Here we were, a decade later and 500 miles further North in a different state, sitting in stunned silence for a few minutes until Dorian finally laughed and suggested that perhaps now would be a good time to go buy a lottery ticket. I did, but I didn’t win.

Steven Wright once said, “It’s a small world, but I’d hate to have to paint it.”

Me too.

2 thoughts on “The Great Collision Of Art And Life

  1. Lorna Cunningham-Rushton

    As much as I love theatre, I have to admit to being somewhat worried when a mime is performing, as I don’t know how to show my appreciation without actually laughing out loud, which seems wrong.


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