Desmond’s Nuggets!

All movement is an interplay between energy and relaxation

Below here are the nuggets, some of the theory behind the work that we did on the fabulous mime course. Many of these nuggets go beyond mime and performance, and they show off power, movement, other people’s impressions of things and sometimes our own impressions of ourselves.


Speaking first, then moving, creates a very different impression than 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!”

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 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!

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)


Never relax on stage. All actions and inactions must be with purpose. Relaxation is only allowed when you are pretending to be relaxed, but alertness should never be relaxed. Choreograph all moves, 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. Charlie Chaplin would spend a whole day finessing a 3 minute piece.

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!

Be careful not to lose the first movement when adding other movements.


The human body loves the vertical, so moving from the vertical is tricky and therefore needs practice. Pay particular concentration to the head to make sure that when off vertical it stays off vertical. One way is to feel the weight of the head when off vertical and during the further movement.

Finish each movement before starting the next movement. Make each movement as styalised as possible in practice, so that when it is performed it can be gentler but the essence is retained because the feeling in practice was so real.

“The audience wants to see the parts of the body that are most easily sunburnt. These are the vulnerable parts, and make them sympathetic towards us.”

The audience loves patterns (their brains are looking for the pattern all the time). There is a sense of achievement when they recognise the pattern, so coordination on stage is delicious. The key is to do it for long enough, but not so long that it bores the audience.

Patterns are the routine, breaks in a pattern are the drama, and drama is the story. The audience wants to know what the routine is to understand the story, however they want the story itself, the drama that comes through the break in the routine.

Remember the start. The start cannot be lackadaisical, it must have purpose, it must show the start. The same goes for the ending. The end is the end, make it finish strongly, and while we are still visible, we are still not finished.


It is great to learn a new skill, have something special about you or whatever, but much more important is what you do when you get there. The Elephant Man is interesting, but the Elephant Man doing something is more interesting.

Never let anything on the stage disappear. Release grip with an explosion. Grip should be with fingers together (because the pole is not curved)

Remember, always finish elegantly.

When picking something up, it is important to see the point of effort. Whenever releasing something, explode release, make it clear to the audience. Spread the fingers wide, explode them apart as if onto an imaginary wall, then, immediately release them.

The moment you touch an object you are lifting, your hand becomes the object. China, glass, rubber, metal, etc.

Watching as things are done slowly makes them incredibly important.

Spasms, ding of the wrist. The pause is very important between moves.

When miming it is important to see all the details of everything you are working with, from the crumbliness of the biscuits to the weight, colour and smell of the milk.

Remember the audience. Having tea with a friend, the audience are a way away. Be styalised and let them see what you are doing. The slower it is, the more important it is.

Hold the energy all the way to the end.

Avoid drawing the audience’s attention to anything strange. If there is anything about someone that stands out, be aware of it and work out how, if necessary, to mask it. If you have a hole in your tights, the audience will see that. If you have particularly un straight arms, the audience will see. Use it or hide it, but be aware of it’s presence.

A small reorientation can have a massive psychological effect. e.g. bearing the inside of the arms, hands out, inside of elbow forwards.

A hand in profile, to the audience, is not a hand. Angled 45 degrees up is a hand.

The pause as people try to work out what is happening / they should be doing, is very funny


In mime, practice with everything, down to the smallest thing, and as accurately as possible. That way when it is performed, you know its “essence”. You cannot start with essence.
Desmond recounted a story of Marcel Marceaux showing cracking an egg with a clap of his hands. He said that he’d never manage to crack an egg like that, but on talking to Marcel, his suspicions were confirmed that Marcel had practiced the egg cracking all the way through down to it’s tiniest detail, so that when he clapped his hands the essence was still there.

Know the height of the table, feel the weight of everything, the saucer getting lighter when you lift the cup off, the biscuit getting lighter as you eat it, the cup getting heavier as you pour tea into it, the colour of everything, the flavour.

The smaller the object you are manipulating, the bigger you need to be to show it.

I must show tension in my fingers. If I am holding a heavy book, my hands become the heavy book.
Close the fingers. Everything must be working when on stage.

Every movement must be practiced in an explosion, “pah!”, so the audience can see it.
Always explode the hand away from an object to show the audience.


Every single movement must have a definitive start and ending. The explosion.

Always be acting when on stage. Never just be waiting for the next cue, if you are supposed to be relaxed, show that you are, but always be playing the piece. Believe it. Sustain the thing that you are doing and don’t give it up!

Practice at not coming out of character. Go to extremes. Do so with confidence. Do everything spectacularly. Make the effort to succeed or fail gloriously!

The more difficult it is to find / do something, the more important it probably is for the individual.
Try doing scary things, things you have never done before.

Sometimes you practice a piece of technique for years and you may only use it once in your performance career, but it will stay with audience for years.
The more areas of experience you have, the more you have to draw on.

Practice, but don’t worry about things.

When practicing, overact the details of actions and everything, so that the performance is relaxed and still contains the essence.

The expert doesn’t look at what he is doing.

Really tighten the hands for realism.


When the extremities move first, it is either intellectual or grotesque. When the body moves first, it is natural.

Keeping feet wide to the audience keeps you open. “Showing off parts of the body that are the last to get sunburnt”.

Careful with extreme faces and voice, if the audience can’t understand then a cheat is necessary. It is important that the audience can still hear.

“That’s interesting, because you don’t often get it 100% wrong”

Remember, maximum hand tension, the hand becomes the object.

Illusions are based on massive technique. The audience don’t notice something done well, only something done badly.

We don’t learn the techniques to show off the techniques, we learn the techniques so that we can tell a story and the techniques bring it to life. Hence “What can I do with what I know”. Technique with no story is dull.

Never let anything disappear. Throw it away, drop it or whatever, but never let it disappear.

The first time the audience sees you they make a load of assumptions about you. Tension is very useful to help guide their ideas.

There is humour in opposites, so that the opposite status to the tension demonstrated is interesting to watch.


There are five ways to move space. The main 3 are: Being pulled, pulling and pushing. The other 2 are: Pushing and walking as if making no progress “I am here. I am here. I am here”

Going away from something before going towards it makes the movement bigger, even if the movement it tiny. The sharper the movement, the small it can be. Hence why tighter clothing shows off mime better.

When the arms move, they take up their position because the chest moves. Feel the way the chest drags the top of the arms. Feel the way the upper arm drags the lower arm, which in turn drags the hand. Stand in a swimming pool and feel the drag of the water.

A curve in a limb is better than a bend. A bend is too sharp, a curve looks more natural.

Don’t do the DOM! The Dirty Old Man leads with the hand as he puts his fingers up a girl’s skirt. Don’t do it. Lead with the centre. Leading with the extremities is grotesque or intellectual, with the centre is natural.

Dings = short, sharp movements. Practice. Make them shorter and sharper. This makes them both clearer and more subtle.

Separate each movement first, work out each move, get each movement as clear as possible, then do it as a flow. The clearer the movement in practice, the clearer the essence in the flow of performance.


The “face” of the body is the chest. The nipples are the eyes, the belly button is the nose, the pelvic girdle is the smile.
The power of the body is in the chest. The eyes of the chest show both the attention of the body (what you are really paying attention to), and the intention of the body (what you are about to do). If, sitting down, your chest is looking down but you are looking up at someone in the room, you focus is still on your work. Chest inclined up, your focus is on them.

The three power moves are pulling, being pulled and pushing. Being pushed is less powerful and not so interesting.

Keeping the legs wide allows more movement to be shown and gives you more space to work in.

Do lots of balancing exercises, particularly on the toes!

Choreography. When heads are important, try to get the heads as close together as possible, more impact on the audience

Black is great for mime as it really stand out and delineates. It is all about what the audience can see.


Always think about objects in terms of what is their distinctive signature, what is different about them. If you get that right, the audience will be able to identify the object. Keep it simple!


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