Thursday, April 29, 2010

More than just a mime

Silent actor Rajmund Klechot comes to Your Theatre

For a silent actor, Rajmund Klechot sure has a lot to say.

The 70-year-old polish born performer with a thick accent will eagerly discusses his craft with great passion and enthusiasm. Even while just sitting and talking he is performing, often acting out the words as he is saying them. But sometimes his seat is too confining.

“After one and a half hour being on the stage I am exhausted,” Klechot said leaping from his stool. “I cannot even speak because I am in my vision. I have to have a break then I can come back and speak logically with someone. Because when I perform you are sitting here, I am looking through you, not looking at you.”

M&D Production is bringing Klechot to their Your Theatre stage in North Conway, N.H. to perform his “Journey of Life” May 1, 2, 8 and 9. The performance is a silent one-man show in four vignettes. Whatever expectations that description may create, the actual experience is likely to be quite unexpected, according to Klechot's manager Ben Mayerson.

“Every age, you just scan the audience, whether you're talking 80 years old or 4 years old, they are all sitting there with their mouths hanging open,” said Mayerson, who came out of retirement to manage Klechot. “The comments afterward are, 'I didn't see that coming. I had no idea that that's what this is about. This is not mime.' And of course immediately he's, it is not mime, it is silent acting. Don't you dare call this mime because it is such a different art form.”

So, then what is the difference between mime and silent acting? To understand the distinction, Klechot first goes to the word that mime is shortened from: pantomime.
“Generally, they [people] think pantomime is silent acting, it is not,” Klechot said. “It is a combination of two different words: pan and mimus. Pan is everything and mimus is to imitate, so in other words I imitate everything.”

Klechot furthers the distinction by noting that pantomime, unlike mime, is not necessarily silent.

“Mime is even more narrow,” Klechot said. “Mime is more clownish. I'll say their vocabulary is very limited. Pantomime, you can speak, you can make gesture, you can use symbolic things, metaphoric things, you can even use music and Et cetera.”

Kletchot has a similar skill set to that of a mime, but his performance goes deeper and has more substance. In discussing his craft, he often uses the late mime Marcel Marceau, his good friend of 40 years, as a point of reference and to further clarify the difference between mime and silent acting.

“Marcel Marceau is a completely different technique, a completely different philosophy, completely different acting,” Kletchot said. “He is more in clouds. I am more in Earth inserting my roots here. When I imitate things it is almost like naturalistic things, but of course it is not. But it is more appealing I would say and more understood.”

Kletchot is also quick to note that his performances are not just one persona, but a series of different characters.

“Marcel Marceau is Bip [the Clown], the same as Charlie Chaplin was The Tramp in different situations,” Kletchot said. “I create different personalities. Every time I come on stage it is a different person, a different characterization, different philosophy of life, different acting, even the movement doesn't repeat, if repeated [it is] in a different form.”

Kletchot learned his craft at a conservatory in Poland. After 10 hard years of work he earned his diploma in silent acting and joined the award-winning Theatre Pantomima. After working with this large group for 15 years he co-founded the five-person ensemble Warsaw Mime Theatre. With the change in size of the company, so changed the size of the stage.

“You have big stages, big theaters as well as chamber stages and chamber theaters and some how silent acting appeals more with limited audiences instead of huge audiences
because you can't amplify your voice,” Kletchot said.

Once again to emphasize his point he uses Marcel Marceau.

“I saw him [Marcel Marceau], on a huge stage,” Kletchot said. “It was probably 3,500 seats and the stage was big. Instead of putting the light on him, limited and simple and the rest black, they completely put light on the whole stage. He was tiny. He lost so many expressions. Therefore you need to be very careful where you are performing, but of course this is money.”

While touring with Warsaw Mime Theater in the United States in the 1970s he met his future wife. This would bring him to America where in addition to performance and direction he began teaching at several universities including the Yale School of Drama.

Perhaps his most successful achievement as a teacher was at Sinclair Community College where he put together a show with his students that made it all the way to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“He brought them up to the level of being professional and yet none of them had background or training in theater,” Mayerson said. “These were teenagers who came to a community college and yet he was able to mold this production into the highest level of polished performance in a matter of months.”

Although Mayerson never got to see this performance live, he did see a tape of the show.

“I'll never forget we were sitting in his den or something and he turned off the VCR and said, 'Well what do you think?' and I said 'Ah crap, you are really good' and he said, 'Of course I am.'”

Following his wife's death, Kletchot took a break from performance because he could no longer “put everything together,” but you cannot keep a good artist down for too long. Soon the stage was calling to him again.

“Life has limitations and I still have a lot of things to do and to express a lot of things, to create a lot of things,” Kletchot said. “And this is the thing, maybe 10 or 15 years from now I can teach, I can talk, I can write a book.”

But that time has not yet come. As long as he is physically able, Kletchot will continue to perform because it is his primary means of expression and there are still things to be said. Even when a single word is never spoken.

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