“Do you have five minutes?” my boss’ boss asked me late in the workday Monday.
“Actually, I don’t. I’ve got a mime getting ready in the bathroom, and he’ll be out any minute,” I replied, straight-faced.
It might have been the most absurd statement I’ve ever uttered to a superior. And it was entirely true. As Durango mime and man-about-clown Ben Dukeminier told me, any day that you encounter a mime is going to be one to remember. Mimes are always anti-monotony.
I had the pleasure to welcome Ben to DGO Headquarters this week, first for an interview as himself and then for a video interview of Ben as Jacque, his mime alter-ego.
I’ve known Ben since January and recently performed alongside him – or Jacque, rather – with the Imaginario Circus. In that time, I’ve discovered a peculiar thing: While I am legitimately and absurdly afraid of clowns, I kinda like mimes. In my experience and in my imagination, clowns are so aggressive in everything they do: aggressively happy, aggressively eager for everyone to have a good time and aggressively loud with their horns and various honking accoutrements. Their movements and behaviors are unpredictable and exaggerated. It’s all rather unpleasant.
Perhaps it’s because I know Ben with makeup and without, but mimes – well, this mime at least – seem so harmless. I like Ben, and when Jacque gets to come out and play, it’s always a treat. He’s like a toy where any question you ask it, you’re going to get a little performance.
Not all in the office shared my mime-enthusiasm. After the interview, Ben as Jacque hung out in the office for a bit, clowning around. The next day I overheard an affable, mild-mannered colleague discussing how viscerally upset Jacque’s physical proximity had made him. My colleague said that if Jacque had come any farther into his personal space he didn’t know what would have happened. I theorized that the discomfort stemmed from the fact that the office is like a station wagon and we’re all on a long road trip. And suddenly there’s a mime riding with us and getting out of the car is not an immediate option. Understandably, some people need a clear escape route when it comes to mimes.
Just as my colleague was surprised and taken aback by his response to Jacque (“It says more about me than it does about him,” my co-worker said), I’ve been equally surprised by my comfort around Jacque, given the whole clown thing. Ben helped me understand it, citing a range of clown-mime distinctions, most coming down to clowns being more active, instigating protagonists, while mimes are more passive and reactive to their audience.
“I feel with clowns, the participant is the butt of the joke,” Ben said. “With a mime, there is no joke. The mime is the joke. And I just want you to play. I’m not making fun of you or anything. I’m just trying to have a silly time and make you have a silly time.”
Ben explained his method acting approach to Jacque. When in costume, Ben IS Jacque. And he’s so good at it that it’s so easy to believe, easy to forget the actual person underneath it all.
As I escorted Jacque out of the building, I realized he’d been walking behind me for a bit. I looked back and saw him laboring to carry the gym bag full of Ben’s clothes, dragging it along as if it weighed a hundred pounds.
“Even if nobody’s watching, I’m still doing something,” Ben had said earlier.
I actually had the real impulse to walk back to help with the bag. That, of course, would have been absurd.