I have always been amazed at the control of the very deliberate movements both of the body and limbs of the mime as well as facial expressions. The age old expression of a picture is worth a thousand words definitely relates to feelings or deep emotions that are developed by the actor. Miming appears very simple, but to be proficient takes dedication and years of practice. One performer that totally amazed me is a French performer, Jerome Murat (sorry about the French but this short video is worth watching) with his facial abilities. mannerisms and ability to make an inanimate object seem real. Just watching him standing still he appears to be a work of art.
From the very early beginnings of the ancient world − long before speech −cave men mimed the actions and movements of the world around them. Gestures were developed andaccompanied by body posture that developed into basic communication. This most fundamental way of learning is still the basis of how babies discover their world today, through imitation. As cave men hunted, they would often wear the head of their kill as a mask or camouflage, in honor of their kill. Possibly this was the first form of a play or drama.
Original refererce to mime go back to the original Theater of Dionysus in Athens where audiences of more that 10,000 would watch plays that honored Dionsysus (God of Theater), which is also considered the birthplace of Greek tragedy. Productions seemed to be centered around the development of a character rather than a plot, the most elaborate being call "hypothesis", thought to be the highest form of entertainment.
The earliest versions mime was as a form of Greek comedy. The first mime performances could be very rude or be satirical insinuations of prominent Greeks as they ad-libbed their performances. In the beginning, the comedy was frank, indecent and sexual. But the action could also be heartwarming or tell a story. The performers could be coarse while using satire or use their talents to depict important contemporary moral, social and political issues.
Briefly, this entertainment flourished in the fourth and fifth centuries BC and when the Romans later conquered Greece they took the art form back to Rome where it enjoyed great success under Emperor Augustus. After the fall of the Roman Empire the church took offense to the theater and thereby closed all theaters and excommunicated the actors forcing the acting troupes into the street. Mime continued throughout the Middle Ages reaching its height in sixteenth century Italy in for form of Commedia dell'Arte. Performers would don masks with exaggerated features to draw attention to themselves and complement this with their acrobatic skills.
Marcel Marceau in 1940's brought miming into the countries awareness, a household name known worldwide, known as the world's greatest mime. Today, Cirque du Soleil went back to the roots of mime as a development of a character rather than a plot, added back in the acrobatics, costumes, dance movements and create enormous productions for international entertainment that would do the early Italian street performers proud.
Hundreds of mime schools and mime theater exist international for training and instruction including story building technique, basic mime illusions and character development. As an art form, nothing compares or clomes close to a miming for entertainment, relating a moral or a story visually without words.