Boxed in by the pandemic: Tufts mime group shares enthusiasm for live semester

HYPE!, a student mime group that is returning to in-person rehearsals and performances this fall, is pictured. Courtesy Sofie Lasko

How do live performers continue their work during a pandemic? A live performance’s ability to affect the viewer hinges on the viewer and the performer being tangible to each other — meaning, most of the time, in the same room. That kind of energy does not translate well to Zoom.

Now, imagine being a mime during a pandemic. How does that translate to a virtual experience? In short, it doesn’t.  

“We weren’t able to have any performances … we just couldn’t,” junior Ruth Greenfield, member of HYPE!, Tufts’ own mime troupe, said of the group’s effort to keep the miming scene alive on campus this past year.

Tufts’ mimes were left with little ability to silently make people laugh. COVID-19 related restrictions made performing and even rehearsing difficult.  

“Once meetings had to be virtual in the fall (or rather we weren’t allowed to meet in person) it [became] super difficult to meet and block things without having a space to do so,” HYPE! mime Natalie Green wrote in an email to the Daily.

The mimes considered different ways to continue the miming tradition during the pandemic, including video sketches and solo performances. Still, they could not find a way to recapture the energy of a live performance and had difficulty tackling the question of how to handle pandemic-related restrictions, especially given the mask mandate. 

“Your face is kind of important when you can’t talk,” Greenfield said. 

HYPE!, however, made the most out of the difficult situation, managing to recruit two new members and teach them the basics of miming last year.

With the new school year, and the vaccination requirement for on-campus students, the mimes of HYPE! now face the prospect of finally being able to perform again.

“It’s going to be something special with the three of us on stage for the first time together,” Green, a sophomore, wrote.  

HYPE!’s membership has dipped to a dramatic low in the pandemic. Greenfield is the only current member of HYPE! who joined and performed before the pandemic.  

“In some ways, I have no idea what to expect,” Green wrote.  

With the new year, though, comes a renewed push for recruitment. According to Greenfield, HYPE! always tries hard to recruit at the beginning of the year, and the group’s performance at the Comedy O-Show is key to that effort.

Greenfield shared that planning a performance is one of the most fun parts of being a HYPE! mime.

“Everybody comes to our long skit day with a couple skits written out, and then we’ll vote on them. It’s a fully democratic process,” she said. “Then all of them have to pass unanimously to get through.” 

Greenfield explained that beyond the democratic structure of the group, creating silent mime skits is simply a fun, creative outlet, and HYPE! is a great group with which to do it.

“Sometimes we’ll just have a day where we come up with an entire skit that we didn’t originally propose, and those are some of our favorites,” she said. “We will goof off during rehearsal but still, you know, create something that’s actually really cool.”  

But even for Greenfield, the O-Show is new; she has never been part of the group while it had the opportunity to perform at the O-Show. According to Greenfield, the mimes are looking to the group’s large Youtube archive for inspiration. The group’s channel contains sketches dating back almost a decade, with the first video dated February 2012.

The mimes are optimistic that the O-Show will attract plenty of incoming freshmen and returning students to the group. They’re hoping to bring in people to HYPE! with the kind of laid-back atmosphere that attracted them all to the group in the first place, as well as the off-beat and silly medium of mime.  

“There are theater groups that are very much like ‘We are actors, this is what we’re doing,’” Greenfield said. “I don’t take anything seriously enough to be into that, so [HYPE! has] been the perfect amount of seriousness … it’s not a very serious group of people, as you might imagine.” 

“Mime also requires a deep trust between performers,” former HYPE! performer Tessa Barlow-Ochshorn wrote in an email to the Daily. “[HYPE!] stands out as a deeply creative, joyful, and safe community space … I love my fellow mimes so much — we moved together, and created in our own language. It was definitely a home for me and a lot of the theater principles that I now hold to would not exist without it.”

That kind of experience is what Greenfield and the rest of HYPE! are relying on to attract new mimes this fall. With a slew of fresh faces, and assuming COVID-19 restrictions do not tighten over the course of the semester, perhaps HYPE! will finally have more opportunities to be seen but not heard by the rest of the Tufts community this fall.