Learning to Improvise – Pantomime

Pantomime is the non-verbal communication and action in a scene. You may best understand pantomime by thinking of a MIME, or silent film performer. Mimes create entire works without words. Using their imagination, they endow air with shape and weight. The audience can see the cup, flower, furniture or other object the Mime sees. The trick to creating great pantomime is to further endow the imaginary object with mood and emotion. Seeing how the character feels and reacts to the object sells the illusion. In Improvisation, we create entire worlds using pantomime.


Every pantomime should involve the action of THE STOP. As the player touches an imaginary object, the entire body stops and focuses on the object. In the moment, the body senses the weight and texture of the object. To fully sell the illusion, breathe in an emotion. Happy, sad, blah. All together there is a sense of LIFT.


Before touching the imaginary object, try seeing it first. Similarly, perform a STOP that says to the audience, “I see …” or “I hear” (something, someone). This is also known as a “TAKE”.


At the very core this is really what acting is all about. We believe so strongly in the alternate reality of our characters that the audience goes along for the ride. It starts with breath. Breath becomes emotion. Emotion becomes movement. The stronger you believe the better you audience sees what you are creating right before their eyes.

With practice you will learn to engage the muscles you would need to lift an object as you lift the imaginary version from thin air. Practice picking up every day objects from drinking glasses, plates, furniture, bar/dumb bell weights and more. Study how every muscle in your body moves and tenses to make that activity happen. Now put the real object down and pick up the imaginary. Should feel the same. When you lift even a small weight at the gym, even your toes make minor adjustments to balance, your stomach muscles tighten, you may even hold tension in your jaw, neck, shoulders etc.


As a performer we often get very intense. But too often performers hold tension. We all have bad habits. Everyday we tuck away stress and anxiety deep in our muscle tissue. I suggest classes in Alexander Technique. Sort of YOGA for artists, Alexander teaches us to let go of tension. Through passive stretching and breathing, we find a relaxed neutral state.  Then we re energize with out the tension to find out expanded neutral. Easier to show than describe, but the result is a performers body that can do almost anything. Your body and voice are your instruments. Develop and protect them with great technique and training.

Watch others to see how they hold tensions. How do they manifest anxiety and stress? Watch their fingers, neck, teeth, shoulders, and even toes. Many of us have chronic pain because of how we hold tension.

As an actor, we want to learn to let go of our own habits, so we can take on the bad habits of our characters.


One player enters an imaginary room, pantomimes a task, placing one piece of imaginary furniture (set-piece) and imaginary one item (prop). Player two enters the same room, respecting everything established by player one and adding new items. REPEAT with players 3,4,5 etc. Try this for various rooms, office etc. Put most of your objects on the DOWNSTAGE area so that you do upstage yourself.

EXERCISE 2) Imaginary Ball Toss

Player One creates an imaginary ball. This ball is given weight and size by how Player One handles the space. Player one assigns a color to the ball. “YELLOW BALL” Player One Passes Imaginary Ball. PLAYER TWO pretends to catch saying “THANK YOU YELLOW BALL”. Continue to pass the ball around the circle. The main goal is to maintain the size and feel of the ball. Go for realism. Overacting does not teach your muscles to deal with the imaginary in a real way. Focus!!! After 1st ball is passed a few times. Player One can start passing a new ball. Each ball should have a clear weight, size and color. Make sure you have another’s eye contact before passing….

FURTHER STUDY: Try handling real objects. Get a feel for how the weight makes the entire body adjust. How does the texture effect how you feel? Finally do you have any emotional connection to the object? When you can, take classes from a professional mime. Also classes in dance (especially modern dance), yoga, and martial arts can help you become more aware of your body’s and develop talents of physical comedy performance.


Practice the infamous DOUBLE TAKE: See something. Turn away. Realize what you saw. Look again but this time bigger.


Very dangerous and known to cause neck injury. Overuse may draw attention of Comedy Police!!! LOL

(c) 2012 SGF PRODUCTIONS, LLC  by Walt Frasier – a founding member of Eight Is Never Enough Improv comedy and its divisions LMAO OFF BROADWAY, IMPROV 4 KIDS and IMPROV 4 TEENS.

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