Theater productions without dialogue, props or scene changes may seem unthinkable, but miming is a traditional art with a new look in the 21st century. Tonight, three mimes from Broken Box Mime Theater (BKBX) will arrive on campus to present students with an up-close insight into this complex and underrepresented form of storytelling.
BKBX is a non-profit production company based in New York City that was founded in 2011 by former members of HYPE! Mime Troupe from Tufts University. Over the past eight years the group has grown to welcome 13 members and has performed on various stages, in New York and elsewhere, under the artistic direction of Becky Baumwoll.
Baumwoll points to her experience performing in school as inspiration to continue miming as a young actress.
“It seemed like an obvious choice—when thinking about what kind of work I wanted to make on my own—to do something that no one else is doing. And mimes have been really out of fashion for the last few decades,” she said.
In fact, BKBX is the newest American mime ensemble to emerge in the past 50 years. For this reason, few people are familiar with the art of miming and think only of its stereotypical depictions in the world of comedy and satire.
BKBX is working to push these boundaries and revitalize the art form of miming. Together, members write a series of short plays and productions, giving them the flexibility to craft narratives that display a wide range of emotions and artistic creativity.
“We tell really complex stories and they run the gamut from really funny to really heartfelt to dramatic, cinematic, metaphorical, abstract—we can do all of it,” Baumwoll said.
Baumwoll argues that the stripped-down nature of BKBX productions and its deviation from traditional theater allow for a more intimate performance and connection to viewers.
“[Traditional techniques] miss something in the potential of what mime is, which we find is the distilling of theater down to its absolute essential and introducing the audience’s imagination as the final playwright and as the heart of the medium,” she said.
Lucy Sydel ’22 can attest to this feeling after having the chance to intern with BKBX two summers ago and watch several of their productions.
“I came in with all of these preconceived ideas about what [BKBX] would be based on contemporary theater in New York,” Sydel said. “And I just remember being really blown away by how immediate and simple the stories are and how much I felt connected to the other audience members, who I didn’t know, after the show.”
Over Winter Break last year, Sydel saw BKBX perform again and had the chance to reconnect with the group’s members after the show, sparking the idea of bringing them to campus to perform.
Baumwoll will be joined this weekend by company members Tasha Milkman and Matt Zambrano, who both have diverse backgrounds as teachers and artists. After performing ten short pieces, they will remove their makeup and engage with the audience in a talkback facilitated by Sydel.
The next day, the trio will host a workshop open to students of all backgrounds and experiences aimed at increasing awareness of body language and physical movement in storytelling. Students will also have the chance to engage with Baumwoll, Milkman and Zambrano in a casual dinner in Thorne Hall on Saturday before their departure on Sunday morning.
“Lucy helped us design this stay [so] that all three of the engagements that we have this weekend [are] about starting discussion, and figuring out how this seemingly niche idea of performance and storytelling can be an opening into lots of other lots of other points of inquiry,” said Baumwoll.
While BKBX’s stay in Brunswick is limited, Baumwoll hopes that bringing this unique art form to a small community like Bowdoin will expand the mindset of students far beyond theater itself.
“Those questions of: why are we doing what we’re doing? And why must it be in this medium? I would say [is] just as relevant to a student who’s in any field trying to figure out why they want to be where they are [and] doing what they are,” she said.
Baumwoll, Milkman and Zambrano will perform in Reed House on Friday night at 8 p.m.. The workshop will be on Saturday from 1-3 p.m. in Memorial Hall Room 601, followed by a dinner at 5:30 p.m. in Thorne Hall’s Pinette Room.