Don’t give up. There are lessons to be learned even in the most horrendous pain. And you don’t know that when you’re young.
Funded in part by the Metropolitan Arts Council, South Carolina Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Homemade Mime R.I.P.
I’m sitting across the desk from Milton Supman aka Soupy Sales to see about getting my mime company, Homemade Mime, on national television. It seems strange that this once popular kid show host famous for throwing pies in people’s faces is now the head of children’s programming at NBC or maybe it was ABC, but he is.
Soupy flips through Homemade Mime’s black publicity portfolio, as I explain,“We’ve played tons of schools, colleges, theatre conferences, we taped a few segments for the PBS kid’s show, Studio See, and Eddie and I performed at the Theatro Del Nino in Puerto Rico for a week. And we’re funded by the National Endowment and the South Carolina Arts Commission.”
“Yeah, yeah, looks good. Lots of press.” But he looks concerned. “Uh, how do we put mime on TV? People will think the sound’s broken.”
“We use music. We have a piano player.”
“Oh,” the concept dawns on him. “Okay, tell you what,” he says closing the portfolio. “Why don’t you come up with let’s say six scenarios and we’ll see about getting ‘em on the air.”
After my meeting with Soupy, I’m floating down Fifth Avenue in my euphoric bubble so proud of myself. Homemade Mime is going gangbusters. Crazy I know, but the mime duo, Shields and Yarnell, not only have a national TV show, but they’ve appeared on Sonny and Cher, Red Skelton, and even The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. And because of their popularity mime is suddenly cool. This could be it—our big break. This plus the national tour we’ve recently been offered could really skyrocket us.
It’s odd, but a couple of years ago I’d never have dreamt I’d be a professional mime. I didn’t plan on being a mime. It just happened. Mad Mountain Mime, a troupe consisting of three guys, two mimes, and one singer/guitar player, came through the University of South Carolina. They gave a workshop in the theater department which I took because I was curious and it was free. After the workshop, Charlie, the head of the troupe approached me. “Hey, how’d you like to perform with us tonight?” “Really? What do I do?” “Meet us at the Russell House at six. We’ll go over your part. Then you’ll perform with us.” And I did.
I have absolutely no recollection of what I did, but I do remember one piece they did was about being addicted to pills, Timmy, the guitar player, sang Amazing Grace and his voice had so much depth and feeling it was like having a religious experience. And at some point, Charlie did a backward flip in slow-motion where he actually appeared to be suspended in midair. I’d never seen anything like it.
Looking around at the rapt faces of the audience, they too were spellbound. I was so moved by the experience I spent the next two summers training with them at Florida State University in Tallahassee. That’s where I met Eddie, the male mime in Homemade Mime. Eddie is strikingly handsome but not in a conventional way. His features are somehow heightened. He’s also tall with a dancer’s body and has the best mime technique around. He’s always practicing always striving for excellence and I love that about him.
Patty, the other female mime in our troupe was in the theater department with me at the University of South Carolina and also studied with Mad Mountain Mime at FSU. Patty’s petite, full of energy with an amazingly expressive open face and a shock of short wavy red hair. And the three of us put together this mime troupe. Then we added Michael, a classically trained pianist, to accompany us. Michael’s small, childlike, and radiates joy. He looks like an adorable cherub.
And since Homemade Mime’s doing so well I figured why not make some calls and accompany my husband on one of his buying trips for his ever-expanding boutique clothing empire to New York. And that’s how I ended up getting a meeting with Soupy.
Once back in South Carolina I head to the ballet studio we rent in Greenville for a pittance from my friend Rhonda, an ex-prima ballerina with the National Ballet in DC. When I unlock the back door to the ballet studio and switch on the light I’m greeted by the smells of rosin, sweat, determination, and grit. The ballet bars, giant mirrors, and ceiling fans seem to be patiently awaiting my arrival.
I love getting up every morning, going to the studio, and working on the craft. First, we spend a couple of hours practicing our mime technique. We do exercises ranging from isolation work to juggling, which I suck at. Mime movements must be precise and exacting. You’re creating objects out of nothingness. You have to literally train your brain to see the space as three-dimensional and fill it. Next, we rehearse our pieces and work on developing new material. We pride ourselves in being very economical with our movements. None of this outdated flowery Marcel Marceau stuff. We’re pure American Mime.
I’m excited to tell Eddie and Patty the good news. I know they’ll be thrilled and amazed. Once they arrive I say, “Okay, you two, ready? I’ve got great news.” I then proceed to tell them about my meeting with Soupy Sales. Now, I’m waiting for all the cheers, high-fives, and accolades for our good fortune, but instead, I’m met with blank stares. Stares that seem amplified when I look at their reflections in the ceiling to floor dance mirrors.
“Well?” I ask.
“Soooooo we have to come up with the bits?” Eddie slowly asks like he can’t quite comprehend the concept.
“Yep, that’s the deal,” I say trying to ignore his obvious apprehension. And once again I’m met with silence. Patty appears to be biting her lip while Eddie sits cross-legged staring at a scuff mark on the hardwood oak floor like he’s gazing into a crystal ball for the answer until he finally asks,
“What are we getting paid?”
Shoot somehow in all my excitement I completely forgot to ask Soupy about money.
“Oh, um…I’m not really sure,” I stammer, “but I’m sure it’ll be fair and we’ll be on national TV. Who knows maybe we’ll win an Emmy like Shields and Yarnell.”
Another uncomfortable silence hangs in the air.
“Patty?” I ask.
“I’m game,” she shrugs in her nonchalant way.”
“Great. Eddie? What’s up?”
“Well,” he says pausing before adding with a straight face, “I’ve decided to become a ballet dancer.”
“Wait? What?” I say starting to laugh, but stop myself when I realize he’s as serious as a dead man. “Um—Eddie you’re kidding, right? I mean what about the tour? I mean— you’re in your mid 20’s. Isn’t it a little late to be a ballet dancer?”
“Well,” he continues, “the ballet company in Knoxville…” Oh, shit. I should have known. We performed in Knoxville and took a class with the ballet company. The annoying extremely overweight ballet director, in-between scolding her painfully thin anorexic dancers for being fat, had gushed all over Eddie.
“Oh, you’re a natural. Oh, your form’s so precise. Oh, you’ve got the perfect body. Oh, oh, oh.” I should have realized she was up to no good—plotting behind my back. My ears are starting to buzz, but I manage to hear Eddie say,
“They’ve offered me a scholarship to train and dance with the company.”
I want to grab Eddie by the shoulders and shake him. “Are you out of your mind? What’s wrong with you? What have we been doing here? What have we been working so hard for? So you can be an effing ballerina?”
But I’m too stunned. I’m honestly floored. I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around this. I mean it makes no sense. I just want to cry or scream or die. I thought Eddie and I were a team. We were the nucleus of the troupe. Lots of times Eddie and I would work together as a duo. We even went to Puerto Rico together for a week and performed.
Claude Kipnis, another well known French mime, had offered me a place in this company when I did a workshop with him but did I take it? No! No, I didn’t. Because I was committed and loyal to Homemade Mime. For the past two-plus years I put all my time, energy, and love into this troupe.
Every afternoon after rehearsal I’d head to the Metropolitan Arts Council where I’d spend a couple of more hours on the phone getting us gigs. And I never once took extra money for that. We all got paid the same. We were a team. All for one and one for all. We were working, traveling, getting great responses, and making good money. We were thriving. We were going places.
In my stupor, I don’t even remember what else was said. I just remember feeling devastated like the morning after a hurricane’s blown through destroying all your belongings. Stunned I watch beautiful, talented, hardworking, magical Eddie’s silhouette, front-lit by the morning sun, walk out the door of the studio like he’s walking into the light. And just like that Abracadabra Eddie disappears like some magic trick.
Patty, always the cheerful optimist wants to do the tour and the TV stuff. Michael, our piano player, feels he can’t leave his boyfriend to go on tour, but I figure okay we can replace him. But everything is null and void if we don’t have a replacement for Eddie. I put out calls to audition male mimes, but each one is more horrible than the next. Too short. Not Eddie. Too unattractive. Not Eddie. Bad technique. Not Eddie. Everyone we see sucks. I’m so discouraged and sad. I feel such a sense of betrayal and abandonment. I’m heartbroken. I just don’t understand. And all these opportunities we worked so hard for disappear in an instant like some covert assignment from Mission Impossible.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In the beginning, it was just me.
Metropolitan Arts Council, Greenville, SC
I was hired to do workshops in mime, movement, and theater. I performed in the schools, the museum, arts festivals, and the parks.
The photo above was picked up by the AP Wire service and went viral.
Originally consisted of Patty Fenda, Nick Crabb, Eddie Cole, and Jill Dalton. Our first performance, “27 Gramercy Park,” was on January 19, 1976, at the Warehouse Theater in Greenville, SC.
Patty Fenda left the group to form her own company in Florida.
became Nick Crabb, Jill Dalton, and Eddie Cole.
Next Nick Crabb left and we added Patty Clagett and Michael Fauss (piano).
…demonstrated a great amount of originality and spontaneity.
Dean, University of South Carolina
receives grants from the South Carolina Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.
A terrific program.. Artistically presented throughout.
Dance Director, Furman University
Truly delightful and exciting performance of Mime.
Drama Director, Columbia College
An exciting group of young performers.
Drama Director, Fine Arts Center
Fresh, creative young troupe. Enormously talented.
Director, Metropolitan Arts Council
Edgar Stephen Cole and Jill Dalton on our way to perform in Puerto Rico.
STUDIO SEE on PBS
We tried to replace Eddie when he left but found it impossible. Patty and I disbanded and I continued on solo for a year or so but my heart wasn’t in it.
And then there was one.
…captivated the students… Many of them came back for the second and third time.
The lithe, exuberant Ms. Dalton frequently provokes laughter, curiosity, and open-mouthed surprise when she performs.
Pat Berman, The Columbia Record
SPOLETO FESTIVAL, Charleston, SC (1978)
OUTCRY into SILENCE by Jill Dalton
‘Outcry into Silence,’ a masterpiece performance by Dalton…
Skot Garrick, Asst. Entertainment Editor, The Gamecock
THE REAL MAGIC of the night’s performance, however, did not come until Dalton took the stage for a couple of solo mime skits. Her masterful “Toddler” scene was touching and very believable. Dalton played her parts so well and realistically that at times she made her skills look easy.
Skot Garrick, Asst. Entertainment Editor, The Gamecock