Desmond Jones Mime Workshop, Day 1


Well, I decided to take a mime course with the legendary Desmond Jones, who used to train with Keith Johnstone. I go to Chicago in just over a week and this is part of me getting the most out of my trip. I will be doing an intense amount of improv training while I am out there, and good space work (the ability to mime imaginary objects convincingly) will make a huge difference to my improv progression. That’s the theory.

Over the next few days I will write about the course and post my detailed notes up – information for performers and instructors, but possibly a little dry for others! I will write up the experiential version of the course at some point soon.

We did a number of exercises to start with. In fact, most of the morning was exercises, which will apparently be the basis of the week. We started with exercises designed to help us remember each other’s names. In a circle, we went round saying the names of all those ahead of us in the circle, finishing with our own names, so that the last person in the circle was saying everyone’s name, first clockwise and then anticlockwise.

The next naming exercise: Again in a circle, someone would say a name, and then, and not until then, would walk towards the person who they’d called. Before they arrived, that second person would then do the same to another person and so on. This we did, faster and faster.

Point of note
An interesting point came out of this. Speaking first, then moving, creates a very different impression that moving first and then speaking. Most of us move and speak at the same time. One of the things with mime is to make sure that every single movement or lack thereof has a reason, you know why you are doing it, you are aware of it. A vague movement has no power, but a specific movement is gripping and interesting to watch. So a specific movement with a specific start and a specific end, which is then followed by what is said, can be extremely powerful indeed. Think: Pointing and saying “You!”

An exercise to loosen our shoulders and arms, where we “swam” upwards. The hand went from hanging by the side, up to the chin, followed the neck around to the back of the head, palm in, and then reaching straight up before dropping in a swinging motion, the other hand doing the same thing and starting when the first hand reached it’s zenith.

Then we flicked out hands each ahead of us, then up at 45 degree angle, then straight up, then 45 degrees to the side, then straight to the side. After this we had to not mirror each hand, so that each one went in a direction that was different from both it’s opposite and its own previous move.

Flicking feet was the same, straight forward, angle forward, side, angle back, straight back. Then, as above, no morroring.

Point of note
Owning the stage is about knowing where you are at every moment.
Feet together or feet planted apart is strong. Feet “quite” close together is much weaker.
Life is about patterns, when the pattern is broken, that is drama.
With all the exercises, failure is the most important because firstly it means we are being taught at the right level of challenge, and also because with each failure we learn. The key is, each time, to fail better!

We then mirrored each other. Firstly we mirrored each other’s words, then actions, then both. Then one mirrored the other’s words, while the other mirrored the one’s actions. Then, with every clap from Desmond, we changed, and Desmond then started clapping faster and faster.

The right angled dance. This was tricky, apparently a 16th Century Comedia del Arte dance. It is very staccato, right thigh horizontal, calf hanging vertically, hops to the spot of the left foot, left thigh now vertical, calf horizontal behind. Hop and turn to left, in the turn the left thigh comes up to horizontal, calf drops to vertical, hops down to the spot of the right foot, and so hop and turn, hop and turn.

Point of note
Practice should be styalised, it should be played at the height of extremes, so that when we reach the stage we can relax a bit, knock the edges of something complete, rather than mute down something that was not loud enough in the first place. The performance is where we get to shine, but we practice hard so that we perform easily (“Train hard, fight easy” if you are feeling green)

With a partner, one pushes the other, the pushed then flows like water, returning to upright. Very little resistance.
Then, in a firm stance, both push each other. Next, feet staying in the same place, each try to touch between the other’s shoulder blades
Finally, push your partner across the room, they just move as they have been pushed. After this, we moved as if we’d been pushed, making us look like zombies, very interesting.

Next exercise, we were in a group of four. Each moved either in slow motion, in curves and flow, in a staccato fashion, or in bold, muscular poses. As one person adopted someone elses style, that person had to instantly change to the now unused style.

Next, in pairs, sequential claps and stamps, 4 of each. Easy enough, but then 4 claps, 5 stamps, much trickier.

Next, back in our fours, each person chose a different pose. Everyone sitting down, one person stood, did their pose and then that of someone else in the group and sat back down. That person then stood and did the same, so that everyone was constantly up and down. Knackering!

Strong poses. We made strong poses, changing the strong pose with every clap from Desmond.

This is a bing exercise.
Two shoes, being passed round the circle in opposite directions. “This is a bing” to my neighbour. Neighbour, “A what?”. “A bing!”. “A bong?”, “No, a bing!”, “Ah, a bing”. The shoe is then passed, and the neighbour passes to the next person in the same way. At the same time, a bong shoe is being passed in the other direction.

Linked arm tag (cat and mouse?). Everyone linked arms in pairs except for 2. One is the cat, the other the mouse. The cat must catch the mouse, but if the mouse linked arms with a pair, the person at the far end of the pair comes off and becomes the cat, whilst the cat instantly becomes the mouse. Confusing!

Point of note
Never relax on stage. All actions must be thought. Relaxation is only allowed when you are pretending to be relaxed, but can never be relaxed. All moves must be choreographed, one must always be doing something. The same goes for facial expressions. “You should never feel, when on stage, that you are waiting for something”. Always know what you are doing.

The key is to fail, as through failure it is easier to identify what needs changing.
And never touch your hair to flick it out of the way; tie it back or cut it!


After this, we went through the parts of the body and how to specifically move them in a broken down fashion.

To be continued…


One thought on “Desmond Jones Mime Workshop, Day 1”

  1. I had the opportunity, long time ago, to study in London in the Desmond Jones School of Mime and Physical Theater. He was a fantastic teacher, and as a drama teacher myself, and even if I didn’t become a mime, I use a lot of his exercices, and more : I try to be as exigeant and aware of my pupils as he used to be. So, I wish you to find the same richness ( I dont’t know if it is the right word, I didn’t speak english for a long time) an may be able to transmit mime the same way he did ! Good luck.

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