- 1923 - 2007
- Metteur en scène
Marcel Marceau, also known as Mime Marceau, founded the eponymous Compagnie Marcel Marceau and created a series of now-canonical mime dramas and pantomimes : Le Manteau, inspired by Gogol, Le Joueur de flûte, Exercices de style, Le Matador, Le Petit Cirque, Paris qui rit, Paris qui pleure.
In this early stage of his career he made the acquaintance of one of the greatest stage designers of the post-war period, Jacques Noël, who would soon be recruited to create all of the décors and sets for the company’s performances.
In 1952 he joined forces with Pierre Verry, a fellow disciple of Étienne Decroux, and the two toured the world, introducing each number with their famous hand-written signs. Adriano Sinivia replaced Pierre Verry in 1980, for the inauguration of the Venice biennale at the legendary Fenice.
Between 1969 and 1971 Marcel Marceau founded and led the first international school of mime in Paris, housed at the Théâtre de la Musique, formerly known as the Gaîté-Lyrique. Pierre Verry later succeeded him as director of the institution. It was around this time that he began to work with the Chilean artist Alejandro Jodorowsky, who had already used mime in his first film Fando et Lis.
Marcel Marceau took the art of mime to stages all over the world, breaking down language barriers and restoring the cosmopolitan, popular sheen of this major art form. As he put it: “In my mimodramas and pantomimes for the theatre, I can recreate the world the way I’d like it to be, highlighting the division, the pain, and not responding with despair but with a cry of hope. I believe in the redemption of humanity through the theatre.”
This open-mindedness led him to accept a seat on the Honour Committee of the Mimos Festival, alongside Jean-Louis Barrault, Jacques Lecoq, Bob Wilson, Kazuo Ohno, Maguy Marin and later Josef Nadj. This gathering of exceptional figures, all very different from one another, illustrated the creative heights to which mime had ascended.
Permanently decked out in white flares pulled up to his navel, a sailor’s shirt, a grey cardigan with big round buttons and a beaten-up old hat adorned with a red flower, accompanied by his instantly-recognisable make-up, over the years Mime Marceau became one of the most well-known French artists in the world. His American tours ushered in a genuine theatrical revolution in the 1950s, not least thanks to his “walking against the wind” sketch, the original inspiration behind Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk.
Twenty-seven years later, in 2005, the Ecole Marcel Marceau finally closed its doors as a result of cost-cutting measures by the City of Paris, which had chosen to create a new structure in its stead (this new institution would become the ESAD in 2007, directed by Jean-Claude Cotillard).
Marcel Marceau died on 22 September 2007 in Cahors (Lot). He is buried in Paris’ Père-Lachaise Cemetery.