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What Is Pantomime?

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  • Written By: Melanie Smeltzer
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2014
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Pantomime is a form of dramatic entertainment that uses facial expressions and body movements to communicate, rather than speech and dialogue. Performed in many different locations around the world, this theatrical spectacle is often done during Christmas and the New Year season and is sometimes accompanied by background music. This form of physical expression has its roots in ancient Greece, but is now popular in many different locations in theaters, street performances, and dance studios.

The term pantomime is often used interchangeably with the word mime. Both words can be used to describe either the performance or the performer himself. In general, though, the word mime is most commonly used to describe the performer, while the word pantomime is used to define the performance. Regardless of which word is used, performances are often placed into two style categories: the narrated story or the silent story.

Narrative stories require the performer to silently act out a scene presented by a narrator. In these performances, the actor may be required to contort his face to express the different emotions described by the narrator, or he may have to use his body to depict movement in a variety of environments and settings. Silent stories are similar in the way the actor performs, but may require extra movements by the actor or audience interaction, as there is no narrator to express what is happening in the story.

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Some of the earliest known versions of pantomimes were introduced by the Athenians in the sixth century B.C. During this period, pantomime was a small portion of a large production that also included music and paintings. Dancers were frequently used as the physical interpretation of a song. To do this, the dancer would mimic the lyrics through dramatic gestures and facial expressions.

Over time, pantomime gained and lost popularity, but became a staple piece between operatic acts in England during the 1600s. Despite this, modern pantomimes did not come into existence until some time in the 1800s. Early incarnations were considered a lowly art form that was largely improvised. Over time, these theatrical productions developed a number of loosely followed conventions. For example, women often play male roles, while men regularly portray female characters, the audience is encouraged to participate, and members of the chorus may be seen playing multiple characters in addition to their musical duties.

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