★★★  Inter Act  ★★★
with
Les Bubb
Les Bubb
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1
Emma:
How did you first get into mime?
Les:
My drama school (Welsh College of Music and Drama - before it was “Royal”) gave my course a weekend of mime in our second year which, while I found interesting, seemed really old fashioned, niche/specialised and rather dated! So, I didn’t love it immediately … I couldn’t see how it would help me become a ‘proper’ actor.
Emma:
Did you have to do a training or did you just find that you could do it?
Les:
Yes, I did train at a number of schools and courses in London and Paris over three years.

I think you can’t ‘just do’ mime … it would be like ‘just doing’ saxophone or violin, it requires much training to do it ‘properly’ so you have to put your mind and body into it. Like anything worth learning it takes discipline and commitment, but it is fun to learn.

Training opportunities are much rarer now but they can take you in different directions, from the more balletic Corporeal Mime to the classic white faced ‘Marcel Marceau’ type and all that lies in between.

However you can get a good grounding in a group of classes, even via Zoom! Then you can apply these techniques to any branch of the performing arts you’re currently exploring or training in, e.g. for actors, clowns, dancers, singers, puppeteers, etc..
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2
Emma:
What do you love most about it?
Les:
What struck me was how, with a little practice, you can create ‘magic’ right in front of people’s eyes… no tricks and cheats are required to make the impossible appear to happen, just a growing awareness of how the body moves and shifts its weight.

My favourite part is creating illusions which seem to break the laws of physics.

It just goes to show us that not everything is as it seems and I like to create that mystery … and comedy.

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3
Emma:
Do you think that mime is better known and used now than when you were first starting your work?
Les:
Actually NO…. Sadly… In the 1970’s and 80’s there seemed to be a proliferation of mime, partly because of the spread and popularity of Marcel Marceau’s style of mime going back decades. There were (arguably quite BAD) mimes performing on street corners, particularly in the USA, but probably a lot around Europe. I myself started street performing robotics and mime in 1983, in the UK and Paris, and there were definitely more mimes around then.
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4
Emma:
How do you introduce people to the skills needed, if the students are new to this kind of movement?
Les:
I just start getting them to explore how to keep a point fixed in place with their hands and move around it without moving their hands, ALSO where their weight lies and how to move it from different parts of their feet to create illusions.

Sounds weird huh? It can be easier for some people to do by just carefully observing and mimicking me, rather than having me describe everything with words.
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5
Emma:
Have you been received differently by audiences in the countries that you have worked in?
Les:
There is a universality about mime which has meant I’ve been appreciated everywhere in the world. People and audiences have more in common with each other than they might realise, but I do use props and my voice and clowning .. so I am not the white faced purist type of mime.
Emma:
Do audiences laugh differently in different countries?!
Les:
The best audience reactions I have ever had have been in Cape Town and Wuhan, but the reactions are super in Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Japan, Chile, Brazil, Canada, etc., etc, … although my Belgian audiences tended to smile more than laugh, but maybe that was my fault.

Cooler countries can have ‘cooler’ reactions like in Helsinki or Denmark, but not that bad. I don’t want to be ‘country-ist’ ha ha :-)

Britain is one of the hardest countries to play sometimes, particularly London, where they have the opportunity to see the “best of everything”.

Beirut and the Middle East have been a blast too! (No pun intended.)
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6
Emma:
How was 2020 for you?
Les:
A difficult year for everyone - mine was also challenged by beginning to get divorced from my wife of ten years, so not great. On the other hand, I did really enjoy all the good weather in the garden and the enforced lack of work. I ate more cakes and exercised less …. Nothing wrong with a bit of that!
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7
Emma:
Do you see everyone’s activities through a lens of physical movement?
Les:
I used to but not so much now I’ve been doing ‘it’ nearly 40 years. I've more of a holistic view of movement now, whatever you perceive that to be.
Emma:
Do you go home and mimic what you might see?
Les:
If I wasn’t causing offence and it was interesting then I’d try it there and then.

If I’m feeling shy and there’s a new form of movement I want to try, yes, I would do some at home (like some energetic African dance I’ve tried).
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8
Emma:
Would you change the order of anything that you have done?
Les:
I never regret decisions and directions I’ve been - what would be the point of that other than to feel ‘wrong’?

The order of events that have already occurred have been the foundation for where I am now, and I am grateful for that.
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9
Emma:
What has been your most unusual job?
Les:
There have been a lot of weird ones but one unusual one was to hide in the cupboards and wardrobes of the London store “Liberty’s”.

I would then ‘gently surprise’ their shoppers when they looked in and found me - and depending on the severity or levity of their reaction I would pop out to do some mime or robotics for them. Some of my other colleagues had the difficult job of sleeping in the bed department ! Ha ha - Bless the imagination of Richard Stewart Liberty who let us be as crazy and creative as their designs.
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10
Emma:
When we explored your voice I was staggered at your vocal range - have you always had such a range?
Les:
I was an impressionable child and thought whatever I saw or heard I could also achieve. This is not a bad thing as we can so often achieve what we believe we can with a little effort.

In the 1970’s, there was a famous chart hit by the old comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, which saw them singing and also miming to two very different opera singers.

To entertain myself and classmates, I s t r e t c h e d my vocal range at this time (my voice must have been gently breaking) and found over time I could sing all 3-4 octaves, although I had to inhale to get the highest note at the end of the song. Check it out: ‘The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia’ - it’s best with the visuals so watch it!

‘Way on Down’ by Elvis Presley had the deepest note I’d ever heard at the time and I am yet to get that low. A low G sharp is my lowest now, but it takes a little time to get there. In the choir, I usually sang second bass, or subwoofer, if you like - more of a vibration than a projected note.
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11
Emma:
We also spent a fascinating session on overtones. Have you meditated and or chanted at all in the past year, as a calming mechanism?
Les:
YES! I have meditated on and off since my twenties, more off than on in my 30’s and 40’s but now with a renewed sense of vigour and gratitude.

I love making tones which are said to correspond with the various chakra points in your body. When you ‘tone’ (sing a tone on one breath until the end of that breath) you get such a buzz from the vibrations which occur throughout your body. I know it sounds VERY HIPPY but these sounds completely silence my monkey-brain chatter and sink me into a deep sense of peace and at best become ‘pure consciousness’ - that’s my aim!
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12
Emma:
At home, are you mostly silent or vocal?
Les:
OOH, that depends if I am feeling shy … I can get very vocal and ‘improperatic’ where I invent sounds and words in an improvisational semi-operatic style. I think one day, I will try improvising song while I mime stuff - I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first improvising singing miming clown/actor song-story teller … but us humans crave simplicity, as we know where we are then.

I just love to sing and/or harmonise when the mood takes me and I feel free from inhibitions, which is mainly when I stop judging myself and “JUST ENJOY IT” (Lizzie Tarbuck’s dad Jimmy advised me that in the 1980’s).
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13
Emma:
What music do you listen to to lift your spirits?
Les:
There’s so much music in the world it’s hard to know where to start, but Stevie Wonder has a pure joy in his music and he sings like a bird. The trouble is I want to dance too when I hear it!

Where I live in Bristol, a wonderful instrumental (jazz/folk?) band SPIRO are based and they’re on the Real World record label. My favourite of theirs to let my spirit fly is ‘Welcome Joy Welcome Sorrow’.

A lot of funky seventies music which I grew up with are old favourites, so while I am cooking at 6pm on Saturday, I sing and dance about the kitchen to BBC radio 6 with the Craig Charles Funk and Soul show.

I love a bit of Nina Simone too, and a lot of earlier Bowie - I can’t help but sing and dance to ‘Young Americans’ or ‘Golden Years’.
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14
Emma:
What hobbies do you have?
Les:
Hmmm, I would have answered this very differently a couple of years ago when I did regular Pilates and Yoga classes at my local gym, as well as swimming and enjoying a good steam. Perhaps that’s just ‘upkeep‘ of this body that’s gone a bit past its “best before…” date rather than an actual hobby.

I also enjoy a style of dancing called Five Rythms or ‘ecstatic dance’ but that too is a lot less available these days …. :-(

I was with Gurt Lush choir for several years and we enjoyed collaborations with other musicians/singers and did concerts at the soon-to-be-renamed Colston Hall in Bristol. The solos and duets were especially nerve-wracking with friends and family in the audience.

These days, i.e. 2020, 2021, I REALLY enjoy getting to know my local garden bird population, feeding them daily and keeping a few bird feeders on the go, even for the raiding squirrels and wood pigeons. I do feed a few from my hand on the windowsill of my bedroom, now they know and trust me more. I also read and meditate more now and it doesn’t even seem like a chore, if you can believe that, but chocolate, cake and wine are still very good friends of mine :-)
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15
Emma:
I know that you are running workshops and offering coaching online at the moment - what is in the pipeline for later in the year?
Les:
Well, there are a few projects coming up. The first is this: a few years ago, I created new mime/clown performances to a live classical trio (Ashley Wass), as part of the Lincoln Chamber Music Festival. I really enjoyed the challenge and the experience, as did the musicians I worked with. Now Ashley is Director of Music at the Yehudi Menhuin School in Surrey and he’s invited me to create a few more pieces to short classical violin and/or cello pieces, played by their talented young students, which will be performed on July 11th. I’m really looking forward to that and I’m currently in that magical phase of listening to the pieces, to see what images and stories come to mind, as suggested by the music and their interpretation thereof.
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16
Emma:
What suggestions might you have for performers starting out now?
Les:
I would simply say be positive and flexible. Sometimes we have a very clear idea of what we want to do and achieve but this can possibly blind us to the other opportunities en route… try to say YES to many things, so long as they don’t clash with your morals. Don’t over-analyse or self-judge (others will do that for you) and I know it sounds crass but if you can … don’t Google yourself, or take reviews to heart, even the good ones!

As you grow and change, do your best to keep your friends and family close to you. They will be your anchor in the ups and downs.
Les Bubb
It is great to be able to share Les‘s thoughts and experiences with you and I am very grateful to him for making the time to give this interview.

Please visit Les's School of Mime web site, at:

www.schoolofmime.co.uk

and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter:

Instagram: schoolofmime

Facebook: Les Bubb School of Mime

Twitter: @SchoolofMime

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30th. June, 2021