By Frances Saux
Gambier summers were once home to a different sort of school. For 28 consecutive years, Kenyon’s campus hosted the Goldston School for Mimes (which later became the School for Mime Theatre), a professional mime-training program that grew to embody a distinctly American mime tradition.
Performers Gregg Goldston and C. Nicholas Johnson formed the school in 1980 and moved it to Kenyon in 1981 after Goldston’s artist-in-education residency (through the Ohio Arts Council) in Lima, Ohio. The art of mimicry boomed in the ’70s, and Goldston saw a new need for a professional training program with a focus on pantomime. According to Goldston, other schools at the time generally catered to a wide variety of performing arts.
“Let’s design a school for mimes, rather than a school of mimes,” Goldston said of his vision.
The Ohio Arts Council invited Goldston to open his school in Ohio. Goldston chose to settle in Gambier because of the campus’s beauty, and because it allowed him to partner with the Kenyon Festival Theatre, a professional company run out of the Bolton Theater until 1984.
Though the school eventually opened its doors to amateurs, the original four-week summer program attracted professional performers looking to sharpen their skills. Attendees often signed up after seeing one of Goldston or Johnson’s shows, or based on what they had heard.
Goldston said many were struck and inspired by the quality of the art they saw in performances at the school and elsewhere. He likened his performances to dance in order to distinguish his craft from clowning or theater. In this classic approach, according to Goldston, the school resembled a ballet conservatory.
The school eventually drew the attention of Marcel Marceau, the lauded French mime who rose to prominence in the 1950s. While touring America, Marceau met mimes who had studied at Goldston’s school and recognized the significance of the school’s work. Later, Marceau spent the summers of 1991 through 1995 in Gambier teaching at the school.
“Before we had met face-to-face he caught wind of the level of work at the school and could tell we were different from other Americans,” Goldston said.
Other mimes in America had a clear European influence. Goldston compared them to Marceau, who followed the tradition of Charlie Chaplin’s movies. The Goldston tradition, on the other hand, found its rhythm in modern American culture.
“Our sense of culture was MTV, Michael Jackson, John Travolta, Pulp Fiction,” Goldston said. “[Marceau’s] work was based on the rhythm and intellectualism of silent film. But we knew the audience was thinking much quicker.”
Goldston eventually left the school to pursue other projects. He passed on the leadership to Johnson and Rick Wamer, who ran the school until 2013, when they, too, moved toward new goals. Their American mime tradition now continues elsewhere; all three still teach and perform across the country and internationally.
But Goldston thinks the school had a lasting impact in Gambier as well, though the school stopped coming in 2013. He said he remembers local teenagers approaching him in the Gambier Deli to tell him they had watched the mimes’ summer performances since they were three years old.
“The kids grew up under us,” Goldston said.