Studying the Art and Science of Laughter

If you’ve been attending The Crossing for several years, or perhaps have read Every Square Inch for several months, you very likely have met or at least read something written by my husband, Warren Mayer. If I were asked to describe Warren to someone who doesn’t know him, I would probably call him “a man’s man,” rugged and stocky and wooly and…well, a guy. Some words that our close friends have used to describe him include “serious,” “intelligent,” “introverted” – actually the word they used was “antisocial,” but I softened it a bit for the sake of our kids. Other descriptive terms include intentional, contemplative, responsible, stoic, intense, honest, analytical and wary. Having been married to this man of German extraction for seven years now, I would also add “punctual.” Very, very punctual.

How odd, then, to consider that none of these words immediately leap to mind when trying to categorize someone who for several years was an aspiring mime.

I really think it might help to balance the perception of Warren’s personality as “austere” to reveal a little-known fact about my husband…he loves pantomime. More accurately, he adores it. Watching and critiquing it, of course, but mostly…performing it! His quiet demeanor makes him a natural, but the grace of his fluid movements whenever he dons the make-up and clothing essential to the character he has developed over the years is really what I find refreshingly fun about him.

Even as a young boy, Warren was drawn to the art of pantomime. “I grew up with an insatiable desire for it,” he told me once. “And let me tell you, performing mime on the streets of Detroit was no picnic, believe me. Whenever I would try to maintain character at one of the downtown ethnic festivals, some drunk would invariably begin heckling me. What really hacked me off, though, was when someone would refer to me as ‘the funny clown.’ Excuse me, but I’m a mime, not a clown! There were times I’d get so upset that I would yell at the spectators and completely ‘break the fourth wall’.”

Warren was also active in high school theater as a teenager; we still have several old photos of him dancing away in such memorable musicals as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel.” As a freshman in college, Warren played the role of Nick Bottom in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” If you’re familiar with classic renditions of Shakespeare, then you know what this means. My “man’s man” – at least at one point in his life – was required to wear tights. (I really wish I had a photo of that.)

But it was his overarching love of the rigorous disciplines of pantomime that preceded his work in theater. As a very young boy, he was first inspired by the prodigious talent of Marcel Marceau. While other kids were out riding their bikes or playing ball, young Warren was glued to the television, watching Marceau perform whenever he could, steadfast in his desire to learn from the widely-acknowledged “Master of Silence.”

At the height of his obsession, around the age of 14, Warren was beginning to get noticed for his talent. He was hired for several birthday parties in his neighborhood; his classic mime attire and simple-yet-expressive faces entertained dozens of delighted elementary children. Though he made plenty of pocket money by working events like this, he would tell you it was certainly not what motivated him. It was the delight of the craft itself.

In 1976, at age 15, Warren heard that his idol had a small-but-significant part in a new Mel Brooks’ comedy, “Silent Movie,” playing (of course) himself. Word was that Marceau would actually speak! Alarmed, and filled with disbelief that something like this could actually happen, he recalls to this day the trepidation he felt as he went to the movie theater to see Marcel perform. His idol, his mentor, the man he most wanted to be like – the silent magician who performed his trade so flawlessly – did indeed speak. For all to hear. It was just a single word: “No!” Hardly anything, really. But Warren could very plainly feel the weight of his dreams come crashing down.

Warren was never quite the same after that. He simply could not imagine how a mime of Marceau’s caliber could so publicly betray his fellow craftsmen. He briefly went searching for someone else in the field to look up to, someone to replace Marceau after his treachery, but the popular 1970’s mime team of Shields and Yarnell were the only ones around and, in Warren’s estimation, they were making a mockery of pantomime with their robot couple routine. “Absolutely appalling!”

Without the dignity that Marceau historically brought to the field, miming as a career path now seemed more like “clowning” than anything else. Warren was a disillusioned young man.

A more somber Warren graduated from high school and went on to college, where he studied theater and German history at Adrian. Disguised as a history buff, he hoped to uncover a talented German pantomime on whom he could transfer his affections in the wake of Marceau’s perfidy. Turns out, though, that the art of pantomime isn’t all that big in Germany, at least not as a career. Warren learned much about his German ancestry through the courses he took, but his research produced no notable silent performers along the Rhine.

Since graduating from college, my husband hasn’t once performed his beloved craft for crowds. Not even a neighborhood birthday party. It seems as though, without a muse, someone to inspire him, pantomiming just seems…well, silly.

As you enjoy the rest of this first day of April in 2011, I invite you to take some time to simply laugh and enjoy life. Christians, at their worst, can have something of a reputation for being terribly serious, uptight, legalistic and even graceless individuals, and you have only to read the headlines to see that the world gives all of us, no matter our religious beliefs, a lot to be uptight about.

I think that every once in awhile it’s good to remember that, as Christians, we actually have good reason to simply relax and enjoy life. If we believe that what the Bible says is true (and I certainly do), then we know that the fate of humanity is in the hands of a loving, all-powerful Creator God, Who is pleased to use us frail, flawed individuals in the building of His Kingdom (2 Corinthians 4:7, 5:18-20). We know that God’s kingdom will come (Revelation 22:12-13), that His plans will not be thwarted (Isaiah 46:9-10), and that it really is okay to for us to lighten up, make fun of ourselves and have a good laugh. As you “celebrate” April Fool’s Day today, remember Who it is in that is in charge…and don’t take yourself too seriously.

P.S. I think it goes without saying that there is nothing at all “wrong” with genuinely enjoying the art of pantomime. If you ever meet my husband, though – the most “un-mimelike” person I have ever known – I suspect you’d get the joke immediately.

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