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Master mime teaches his art to Mass. students

By Marc Munroe Dion
The Herald News / April 8, 2012
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FALL RIVER, Mass.—For the mime, the world is not a place to live, it's a place to create.

"The mind of the audience fills in the reality that doesn't exist," said Michael Grando, master mime, as he gave a lesson last month to students at Bristol Community College.

Grando, based in Providence, has been miming since 1962. He is 69 years old but moves with the grace of a much younger man.

"Bad for the hips," he tells students, demonstrating a foot placement. "I'm not in bad shape for a man who is 105."

While Grando's been miming for a long time, he suspects the history of the art goes back further than anyone can trace.

"Back to the caves," he said. "Probably since before language."

For Grando, it goes not back to the caves but back to the old Ed Sullivan variety show, a staple of television in the 1960s.

French mime Marcel Marceau appeared often on that show, in his trademark French sailor's shirt and white pants.

"And I knew that's what I wanted to do," Grando said. "I later was fortunate enough to study with Marcel Marceau."

With his mane of white hair and all-black clothing, Grando certainly appears to be the heir of artistic traditions untold. But his teaching reveals mime to be a combination of art, athleticism and geometry.

"A line has no dimension," he told the dozen or so BCC students. "But there are points on a line and the points are where things change radically."

His wrists moving with the smoothness of water, Grando showed three students how to feel their way along an imaginary wall in such a way that the audience "sees" the wall because they see the artists "feeling" the wall.

"When you reach across yourself, put your forearm over your elbow," he said.

The students did that move over and over as Grando demonstrated.

"It has to stop me in my head," he said of the wall that could not be seen.

"It's a matter of focus," Grando said. "Keep the image in your head of where you are going."

The students followed Grando's continuous, "1-2-3" count as they felt their way along a wall of air and, more difficult still, to turn the corner of that imaginary wall.

"It's like reading the audience a story without the words," Grando said. "Rigorous, is it not?"

The students made their way around the corner with varying degrees of grace and believability.

"That's the beauty of mime," Grando said.

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