Monday, May 23rd 2022

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6. Children, Animals and Clowns

"What I'm doing now is pouring the cup into you," Samuel said, as we sat down for the interview. "So, that you may pour it again with the symbols we call words."

A Morroccan-born mime, Samuel Avital has made Boulder his home because "it is a good womb for me to grow in," he stated. Samuel dedicates his art to God for the purpose of giving joy and faith to others after years of study under the foremost masters of the time, Etienne Decroux, Jean-Louis Barrault, and Marcel Marceau. Often penniless and without a friend in a strange land, Samuel has become rich with experience and willing to share what he has learned.

Speaking in uncertain English, his words flow like a river of inspiration, not always in a logical sequence, but often to the point. In this improvisational interview (preceded by meditation), the interviewer decided to leave untouched the spontaneous, thoughts at times, unrelated to the flow of words as the silent artist uttered them.

I. The Mime Workshop "The Laboratory of the Self"

In the workshop, in the beginning, we imitate animals. That's simple. But later on, you have to find that animal consciousness in you and develop it. You find the center of movement of that animal, and everyone will recognize which animal you are becoming.

In the workshop, we isolate different parts of the body physically and psychically to sew them all that the elbow can kiss, that you can hear with the eye or you can eat with your nose, and smell with your mouth. Reverse the whole experience, the total exploration, in order to learn to see not only with eyes, but with the whole body. I'm not a teacher, I'm like a shepherd - just to aim students in the right direction, not to tell them where to go. I like to give individual attention. I must have personal contact with my students. I am not a minister, I am not a doctor, I am not a professor, I am not a PhD, or LSD, or IRT or BMT....It's not at all a conventional idea of a student-teacher relationship. I am there to learn also. I want to share experience.

You have to train intuition. Concentration is being with what you are doing now. If you pay attention to what you are doing now, it prepares you for the next moment. There is not later because the next later is the present. There is no philosophy in my workshop because the people who are gathered together there are vibrating to me what to do. No session is similar to another.

In the workshop, we learn how to express things with one part of the body. For instance, sometimes we practice making half of the face sad and half of the face happy. One hand will be doing one activity, and the other hand will be doing the opposite activity. Or one leg wants to walk and the other leg doesn't move. So, that you find a certain harmony or balance. So you need a lot of control in mime, and it takes time to exercise and practice. Experience is all language. What happens in the class must be experienced, I cannot describe it to you. Please come and experience it. When you find that experience is all language, you begin to discover a whole new aspect of life.

Sometimes I create accidents in class, in order to find out how to prevent an accident. But, after awhile, you find a certain system in you that tells you how to fall and what part of the body to fall with, with what rhythm to fall.

The student has to learn to express one thing by it self, then two, three, four, five, put them together to make up a sentence, a verb. And when I say verb, I am thinking of the movement verb. That is learning to speak with the body - but the body is speaking already, we are just unaware of it. When you see how a person walks, you know immediately who he is. You can see this in anyone, just look. You learn how to mirror the higher self. Sometimes the reflection is so strong, it's unbelievable. I know my audience in that moment.

There are no voyeurs in my classes.....If someone asks if they want to come and watch - no sir. Everyone must participate. We explore sound and ritual dances to find out the root of what is dancing or what it is to speak. We put ourselves in a state where there is no speech and we have to express ourselves in a new language. And it's amazing, people understand. You must invent, but before you do that you must put yourself in a state of perception. To prepare the body to listen to you. It's an instrument. The human body is a map and we have to know every corner of it.

For those who are really curious, who are seeking the truth, they'll find it. That's the difference between the theatre department at a university and my work. Because here I say to people, "enough" - enough Shakespeare and Moliere, now let's be Shakespeares and Molieres. We can. We are ready for that. Which means I want the actor to create and to do his mask, but not with make-up. You become one with what you are portraying. And that's why it's fascinating when an audience is seeing an actor like that, they think he's God. I want to bring theater back to its religious, spiritual root, that's what I'm after. And this needs training.

Your mind controls your body. It sends a little telegram to me to move myself in rhythm. The student has to learn to direct himself - I cannot direct him. He has to develop it himself. For instance, suppose we want to convey dancing to get the whole audience to dance. We're not going to force the dance, we must seduce them to dance. We must first experience the dance, and that experience will sweep the audience into dancing. It's contagious. In order to be contagious, you have to burn with the energy. To flow with water and not be drowned.

For instance, people do not know how to walk. They take it for granted. In the workshop, a student taught me something fantastic. We were talking about walking and he explained that the feet are flat, that they touch the ground evenly, and that a wheel of an automobile is round.

While the round wheel is rolling, the part which is on the earth is always flat. Similarly, while our feet are in motion and not touching the earth, they move in a circle just like the wheel. Any movement that is not circular is not natural.


II. The Philosophy Behind the Silent Art

Every one is unique, and I'm after that. To find that uniqueness, and kick it up and out so that the person realizes it and gives it away to others. Be with me one second and suppose you are walking on the street with a smile on your face. You meet a man and you are smiling and he is smiling, and you both keep that smile and spread it to others. So in the space of five minutes, there will be a hundred people smiling. Children for me are great teachers. Everyone is my teacher. Children, animals, and clowns - in these three things you can find the whole world. I want some day to put on the stage the man who dies laughing. He is laughing so he is not dead. So tragic.

My philosophy is to eat only when I'm hungry, to drink only when I'm thirsty, and to forgive quickly anyone who harms me. These are three things I have based my life on.

I'm just simply mirroring things from observation. Many things from my repertory, for instance, "The Banana Man," were suggested by little children. After a show, I asked some children, "What do you want me to do for you now?" They said, "Oh, eat a banana, fly to the moon and walk on it." (By the way, the moon walk is a mime technique - we had it in mime before they ever got to the moon). The children teach me and I give it back to the audience. I am mirroring the gluttony which is in us.

If you walk and you feel fear, it is obvious you will be attacked because your rhythm of walk is different when you are sure of your self. You should not let the rhythm of the city sweep you up like a downstream river.

When I performed "The Insect" in New York, some people came backstage and stared at me. And I asked, "What's happening?" And they said, "We just wanted to check if you are really and insect or a human being." I asked, "What do you do?" and they said, "We're psychiatrists."

When alot of people are focusing on you on the stage, it's holy. The more you give, the more you are rich. God is an experience and you cannot talk about it.

When I sit down to interview people, I am discovering the whole world. People are pouring into you. We are trees, this is a Cabalistic conception. But the roots are up. But they're hidden. Look at a drawing of the human brain, the little veins and nerves, it's like a tree.

Today we cannot lie anymore. My theater is not just a physical theater, it's psycho-physical. My grandfather once told me, "You know when a baby is born, he is given a certain amount of words to use in his lifetime. When you learn to talk to people, you begin to use these words. So every word you use is out of the total. So if you speak too much, one day you might find your self mute. So be economical with words. That influences my art-form, that story. Speak only when necessary.

In our Jewish culture in Morrocco, we have days that we don't speak. We fast from speech. Once I worked in a camp and I introduced this to the kids in the camp, a very noisy camp, and we all had one day of silence. And they got excited about it. You should have seen that camp. People walked so peacefully and they wanted to prove to themselves that they could do it. It was a beautifully quiet day.

I was in Ohio....where I was staying at a friend's house and after dinner I went walking and suddenly found my self in darkness. So I went looking for the light switch. All at once I found my self in emptiness, in open space and I let my self go. I surrendered and relaxed. I rolled down 25 or 30 wooden steps, but I didn't realize it at the moment. I totally relaxed. Once I got to the bottom someone turned on the lights. "What are you doing down there?" they asked. I said, "I just got here." "Are you okay?" they asked. Only later did I understand what happened, that when you find your self in total emptiness of space, surrender, relax, because whatever is going to happen will happen.

This story I once told to my students, and when you convey stories to people sometimes things happen. One day a girl came and knocked on my door with great excitement. She told me that this is what had occurred: "I had a party at my house and the people are still there but, I came running here to tell you this. I was leaning on the railing of my balcony and suddenly it collapsed and I fell two stories to the grass. At that moment when I fell, it passed through my mind to totally relax and I did." She didn't suffer even a scratch, though all her friends panicked. (This happened a year and a half after she heard Samuel's story)

I will tell you one experience in Paris one day. My hair was long before the hippies because I didn't have the money to go the the barber and if I had any money, I would go and eat and give something to my stomach so I could survive. So one of those days, I had been really hungry for a few days and I was sitting on a Champs-Elysees bench, very tired and sad. A blind man with a cane came by, tapping with his cane on the ground. And a crippled man went by. The an old woman with a wheelchair passed, and a child with paralyzed legs. It was a parade prepared for my eyes. I don't know how long I stayed there. Suddenly, I got up and I walked down the street and I thought, "There are people who can't see, and I see. There are people who can't hear, and I hear. There are people who are crippled, and I am full, total." So, I got to be happy. The stomach will be filled, don't worry.

I was walking like that, and I got to the Montparnasse and I came to a bakery. I saw this cake in the window (I wrote even a poem about that cake) and I looked at that cake with such alarm, I was thinking, "If only it would come into my stomach..." with such seriousness. Suddenly, there was a hand on my shoulder, and a man who I knew vaguely said, "Hey Samuel, come on, come on, eat some croissants and take some home." I said, "No, I don't need it." and he said, "Take it, take it." I didn't have any words in my mouth, so I said, "Thank you," and he went. And I walked out of the store eating the croissant, and I looked at the cake, and I smiled such a miserable smile......that was one day in my life in Paris.

Recorded by Scott Gibbs

"Samuel brings awareness to the soul of people and gives the artists who work under his direction the need, dedication, and love for the world of silence and the beautiful art of movement."


- Marcel Marceau, BIP 1961

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About LCDS

LCDS is an independent school for self-discovery through the human Arts.  The school offers seminars and workshops teaching the concepts of Theater, Mime, and Movement.