01 September, 2006

Inside Job

...Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip/ Mum mum mum mum mum mum/ Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na....

Totsie brings up an interesting point. There is probably some need for 'back story'. To those of you for whom this is already old hat, skip ahead to the joke at the end. And Dan Tobin should skip it entirely, since he only reads the short ones.

In 1985, my mother saw an advertisment for performers for the Renaissance Festival. My friends Kate and Teever and I went down on a Saturday. I auditioned as a mime. I was contracted, by director John Strucken, assistant directed by Carolyn Spedden.

The Maryland Renaissance Festival began thirty years ago as a tent show at a local music venue. You can read more about it here.

My history is as Mimi, Mime Game-Master. As best I remember it, so please excuse any details I've gotten wrong.

I missed my first weekend of the 1985 Faire- the first year it was in Crownsville, Maryland- because my grandfather died and my sister and I flew to Detroit for his funeral. I finished sewing trim on my costume on the plane. I missed another weekend in 1989, when I went on my honeymoon. And then, in 2003, I missed the final two weekends, because I broke myself.

That first costume worked well, and looked good, but because it was back-lacing, was impossible to get into alone. Also, the white blouse had a habit of coming untucked from the black trousers, which looked messy. It was cute, though: A white blouse, black bodice, black trousers, white tights and black slippers. The slippers fell apart after two weekends, and it took several years before I finalized my footwear look. Then, two or three years ago, I revised it again. I spent my days playing with patrons. I met Coco in 1986, when she was the village bag lady.

That first season, there was a storyteller's chair. I sat down in it towards the end of the day, one day near the end of the season. A patron eating some cookies asked if I was going to tell a story. I nodded sarcastically. She waited, expectant. On the spot, I told the story of the The Three Bears. She followed and enjoyed. Others gathered and paid attention. It was a birth.

The next year, John scheduled me for several slots in the storyteller's chair. The year after, the same, only that year, it rained. A lot. Jim Frank felt sorry for the soggy little mime with only a few brave souls to sit on soggy hay bales to watch. He had taught himself to eat fire, and closed my show for me with something more entertaining than my stories. Once, I was brave enough to ask him to teach me to eat fire. He said yes. This was how our partnership began.

Seven years later, our partnership dissolved. I'd just had my first baby and he was getting married. In the meantime, we'd done four shows a day together as Firespiel, traveled to do a season at the Georgia Renaissance Festival (which John Strucken was directing), walked stilts together in parades and other places (for ten or more years, every pair of stilts I owned was Jim-built.), done one season with Jer Gallay as The Imaginary Circus, run through three costume looks, changed focus, argued, agreed, learned new skills and kept old jokes. It was during this time that marshmallows came to be known as 'mime bait.' Now, of course, it's liquor. I began to do murder mystery shows with Coco, outside the Faire. Inside the Faire, I had developed a stilt show all by myself, written for, costumed and directed Dragons By The Tale, a theatre troupe that performed children's material, ate fire at the non-Pub-Sing pub amidst wild drumming, hopped behind the bar for guest stints as 'beer mime' and learned how to make amazingly simple, but somehow impressive, huge bubbles.

By this time I was wearing what I still wear at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, a black unitard with a cropped Tudor-style top trimmed with bells. That top has held up surprisingly well. I wish I knew what I had made it from. I 'outgrew' my favorite pair of stilt pants- which I still wear in Pennsylvania, with short, JimBuilt stilts- a beautiful purple paisley rayon blend that flow when I move. I developed a solo fire-eating show, and a friend painted a beautiful banner for it. I built MimeCamp, a place to stilt up, keep costume changes and food. I had the opportunity to work with the Young Actors' Ensemble for a couple of years. This is where I met That Girl, who said to me, "I want to do everything you do." Well, that was fine, since I'd been looking to clone myself for three years or so, thinking that double the Mimi meant double coverage at the faire. Which did not happen, exactly. Something else did, perhaps better. Also at this time, Fluffy decided he wanted to be in my Mimi Flambe show- I was doing a couple of Mimi Flambe shows each day, and one or two storytelling shows. My storybook had increased from just The Three Bears to a total of four or five stories, including a naughty one about a maiden and a moose that the Pyrates used to narrate. Fluffy, as Max joined the act, and was an instant hit. Gigi joined the act, and was an instant hit. Fuzzy, safe at home and three years old, was furious. With Fluffy's help, she painted a cardboard box to be HER makeup case, and chose her name. Yes, a full two years in advance. Each of them began training to walk stilts at five years of age. Their first stilts were also JimBuilt. Now, we all walk HickoryStix, which were created by Martin Ewen, Lurk, in the Altitude Factory, which was located in my basement, just for irony.

Moresca sent out a catalogue with a white costume they called Gelsomina. I HAD to have it. Debra at DragonWings built a gorgeous feathered hat to go with it. I was hesitant to wear it at Faire, because of dirt. Patron response convinced me otherwise. That Girl came up with the idea of a procession of the four of us, all in white. She built the first cloak, and decorated the children's costumes. Since then, we keep adding elements. And now, I'm midway through a build of another set of fanciness, not white this time.

Shortly after Gigi joined me, she began to outshine me. In a sartorial fashion, if you'll excuse the pun.

"You need to be brighter," Carolyn told me. I tried purple. "You need to be brighter," Carolyn told me. "Look at Gigi, how she just stands out." Okay, does hot pink stand out enough for you?

So here I am these days, in a shiny hot pink spandex unitard and a brocade jacket, with pink superhero boots and my poufy long-tailed trademark hat. Guess what? I am bright. I stand out.

My day used to begin atop the front gate, blowing bubbles. Then I became part of a troupe, and now our opening is in fabulous white costumes, and if anyone has put a photo of this on the 'net, I can't find it. I've looked. I used to spend a lot of time taking families of patrons to various places on site when I saw them staring at the map in complete befuddlement. Nowadays, I spend a lot of time on stilts stealing sips of beer from patrons. Mime Lunch has evolved from a simple picnic wherever we felt like having it to the un-show, Chat and Chew With Mimi and Gigi at the Boar's Head Tavern. We are SuperModels, and spend an inordinate amount of time changing from one costume to another all day. We also officially finish at 3:30 PM, so latecomers may never even see us.

I still guide lost patrons, steal beer and babies, grin and wave madly to people I don't know, pose for photographs, fall in love with special guests and give them Most Favored Patron status, see self-Designated Patrons year after year with their authentic garb, and their rabbit fur covered baskets which contain cell-phone, PDA and digital camera. I know vendors better than the acting company, since they return year after year. An actor has to be with the company three or four years before I'll even notice him, unless he's living in my house. But now I have a troupe, an entourage, a partner, a family. Together, we're bigger than Mimi ever was.

I think that's a good thing.



I once knew a poet who would start writing his poetry immediately when he got up in the morning. You could say that he went from bed to verse.

(Get A Job; Silhouettes)

2 comments:

Paul said...

I have this vision of a drunken mime on stilts weaving around after stealing too many sips of beer... one hopes that Mime Tipping will not become a regular event.

(And now I have this vision of you on your back with your stilts in the air, trying to figure out how to get up...)

When I get to the Faire this season I'll buy you your own beer to carry- and maybe even have an appropriate cup for you to drink it from.

Cybele said...

Paul, as long as there are men around, getting back on my feet is not a problem, but it's a funny image.

I think Mime Tippling should be encouraged! Oh... you said 'tipping'. My mistake.