“Mime Explains String Theory” Explained by Mime

Hanging from balloons

“Really, it’s all in the names,” longtime director, author–and mime–Sheila Kerrigan confidently explains. “When we’re born we start out pure essence. Then we get to a certain age and we start receiving conflicting messages about growing up. That makes us addled essence.” Kerrigan waits as the listener connects the elliptical dots. Addled essence. Adolescents. Oh. “And after a while, the essence just kind of goes, and then we’re just addled. Thus, addl’ts.” Adults. Huh.

Brainy wordplay like that provides the first clues that you probably shouldn’t expect a lesson in quantum mechanics from the latest in Kerrigan’s series of rare public performances, a work that uses mime and puppetry–forms most often associated with children’s theater–in a show written for adults. Fair warning: In a show that pushes against convention, the mime talks. “It’s a mime performance that doesn’t look like a mime performance, in a solo show that isn’t one.”

But why String Theory? “It’s my underlying theory that explains everything,” she says of a work that explores what she calls “the 13 stages of woman,” from before birth to after death. In it, the central character “accidentally uncovers the meaning of life. Then she struggles to communicate it, despite the forces that conspire against her.”

Kerrigan candidly describes the origins of the work. “My father died in 2005, just before Christmas. Then in 2006, my mother died just after Christmas. Nine months later, I had a dream about their dying: what it means, what dying and death is like–and what it might look like from another view.” The unexpected result? A “pretty silly” piece, Kerrigan laughs, in which “belly buttons have a very important place.”

More seriously, Kerrigan refers to String Theory as the culmination of the work she’s been doing for the last 40 years. And the strings she keeps referring to aren’t just the standard invisible-tug-of-war fare that mimes have mined for decades. “The stage is populated with a number of characters,” she says. “And as is the case with so many relationships, there are strings attached between them. Sometimes you see them. Sometimes you don’t. Just like in life.”

The venerable Jef Lambdin directs a work whose whimsy walks hand in hand with human insights more profound

Byron Woods, Independent Weekly, November 3, 2010

Photo by Steve Clarke

Workshops and Residencies

Sheila Kerrigan portraitSheila teaches workshops and conducts residencies for students from grade 3 to graduate school and for professionals.

For College Students & Professionals:

  • Collaborative Creative Process for Performers
  • Community-Based Performance; Where Art and Activism Intersect

    Overall, this has been one of the best classes that I have taken at Duke! Sheila Kerrigan has created a class that holistically builds up each student and combines the arts, social issues/analysis, leadership, and personal/group development.

  • Community-Based Art for Social Change

For High School & College Students &Professionals:

  • Movement for the Actor
  • Body Language and Non-Verbal Communication

For Adolescents

  • Creating Original Performance
For Teachers:

Thank you again…! Each time I attend, I learn several new strategies that I can apply to my teaching at UNCW.

The Games We Can Play session, led by  Sheila, was very valuable, because it taught us how to use movement to help children conceptualize and remember math and science content. The teachers in our group were lots of fun and very willing to take risks and participate in this hands on workshop!

  • Integrating Theatre Arts, English & Social Studies in Grades 4-8
  • Creating a Cooperative Classroom Through Drama in Grades 4-8 (Developed through the Kennedy Center)
  • How Drama Elicits Details and Elaboration, Figurative Writing and Poetry, Grades 4-8
  • Creativity: What Is It? How Do I Recognize It When It’s Happening? and How Do I Teach It?

“This was one of the most passion-filled, personable (or personally honoring) & pragmatic workshops/conferences I have attended.”

Sheila is a founder of the Southeast Center for Arts Integration, which conducts professional development sessions for teachers and teaching artists. For more information about the scope, theory and practice, go to:

Southeast Center for Arts Integration

For Teaching Artists:

  • Integrating Your Art with the Curriculum
For Adults and Children over 9 years old:
  • Mime
  • Juggling
For Students in Grades 4-12:
  • Collaborative Creative Process
  • Mime
For Students in Grades 3-5:
  • Communicate! Cooperate! Mime!
  • Mime & Poetry Writing
  • Mime & Narrative Writing
  • Exploring Figures from Local, State, or National History Through Drama

In November, 2009, Sheila team-taught a mime-and-writing residency for fourth graders at Winget Park Elementary in Charlotte, NC, through the ArtStart program. One teacher she worked with wrote:

“My students are adding more details to their written work. They are reading with more expression….My students were highly engaged in the activities…, I did not have any misbehaving in the class…I had 100% attendance during my artstart residency for the majority of the time.”

(photo by Steve Clarke)

The Performer’s Guide to the Collaborative Process

chrystal alex & leilaniIf you work in a group to devise original performance, you need this book! Across the country, dance and theatre professors and teachers of community-based performance require it for their classes. It describes multiple approaches to the creative process, from how to come up with an idea for a performance, to how to create material, to how to organize and structure the material, and how to cut it. It also treats the collaborative process–paying attention to group process, creating group guidelines, communicating peacefully, managing conflict, and giving effective, rigorous peer critical response to work-in-progress.

“i am a free lance Mime and Actor, and want to tell you how much i LOVE your book. i have been creating devised work in recent years, and have gotten such great inspiration and concrete information from your writing.”–Bill Bowers

Photo by Steve Clarke

Site designed by Steven Durland


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