“I want the audience to feel as if they’ve stepped into a time machine, gone back to 1912, and are sitting on a Charlie Chaplin movie set, watching the actors,” says Alice Wilson of her brainchild the Marvelous Unspeaking Troupe of Entertaining Scoundrels (M.U.T.E.S.).
Inspired by the silent film era and vaudeville, these actors dress in black, white, and grey and adorn themselves with the makeup typical of actors of this period and genre. Founded in April, they perform original skits, relating stories without benefit of their voices. True, also, to silent films, they use caption cards to aid their tale telling. These entertaining, comedic shows are all written by the troupe, both solely and as collaborative efforts. Exaggerated expressions and movements are used to communicate. “In this era, they didn’t have the technology to pick up the sound of speech, so the actors had to depend on what their faces and bodies could do,” says Wilson.
This group of 8 has performed at a variety of venues, including shows with the Brew City Bombshells (burlesque troupe) at Stonefly and Club Garibaldi, the Vic Milford benefit show at the Hilton, and Bloomin’ Days in Kenosha. “Sometimes we’re ‘roving’ entertainment at festivals. For those, we literally run over and gesture to people to get them to come over and watch us,”says Wilson. “We are able to tweak our skits to be bawdy and adult or we can remove all of that and make them family-friendly. We tailor our act to fit the audience we think we’re going to have,” she says.
What’s the difference between M.U.T.E.S. and mimes? “We really act and use props, we don’t just pretend things are there,” says Wilson. Also, the mimicking behavior of mimes is not this group’s style. “Sometimes they (mimes) invade peoples’ personal space, and that’s not the idea,” according to Wilson.
There is also an element of audience interaction that keeps things interesting. “It’s so much fun to work with the audience, you just look at one of them (audience members) and wink or something, there are a lot of situations where they’re ‘in on the joke’,” says FJosh Redbeard, one of the troupe’s newer members.
“I think that silent films are a wonderful medium because actors had to rely only on expression and movement. We’re trying to resurrect the era by breathing new life into this style, trying to bring this type of acting to a contemporary audience in a contemporary way,” says Wilson.
Upcoming opportunities for you to see these scoundrels in action include the Artbeat show at the Hide House in Bay View on 9 October.
For more information, check the M.U.T.E.S. myspace page, www.myspace.com/themutesmke.