World renowned mime theater calls Wichita home
Wichita State University is home to the world renowned Alithea Mime Theatre, and the company will make its debut performance in Wichita.
“We thought it was time to perform in Wichita,” said Johnson.
The Alithea Mime Theatre was founded in 1990 by Johnson and is dedicated to the perpetuation of single and multidisciplinary mime theater.
In recent years, the mime group has traveled to perform in Warsaw, Poland, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong. In 2006, the group performed before the United Nations.
“We are probably the only mime company in the U.S. that is touring internationally,” said Johnson. “The only other mime company I know of exists in New York and does not tour outside of the city.”
Johnson, who studied under the famous mime artists Marcel Marceau and Stefan Niedzialkowski, saw his first mime perform at age 17 at the University of Arizona. He was instantly captivated.
“Marceau was a great friend of mine,” he said. “He was my teacher and my mentor.”
A late bloomer in the world of dance, Johnson at age 21 began dancing and studying the art of mime. Although at first it did not come naturally to him, he believes if you want something and work hard enough for it, you can achieve it.
“I always dance to be a better mime. Mime was my first love,” he said. “Mime is the bridge between dance and theatre. You have to have the athleticism and body of a dancer and the acting skills to be able to communicate without dialogue.”
Part of his work through the mime theatre is to correct the misconceptions about mime.
“People think that mimes have to be white face, but they don’t,” he said. “That was just Marceau’s signature.”
Because there was no formal mime training in the United States, said Johnson, people began imitating Marceau’s style and over time the art form became distorted.
The signature piece of Alithea, “Angels Rising,” is one of the pieces that will be performed at the Orpheum.
“It traces man’s competitive behavior from the first cell of life, all the way through the Greeks, the Olympiad, into war, the nuclear holocaust, to heaven and beyond,” said Johnson, who created the show.
It was “Angels Rising” that Alithea Mime Theatre performed in front of the United Nations in 2006.
The Alithea Mime group consists of current and former WSU students.
The performers include Johnson and Vasquez, directors, and Lindsey Beebe, Richard Issac, Angela Johnsen, Katy Kaufman, David Kellam, Courtney Mertes, Chris Montiel, Zach Powell, Cody Proctor, Jordan Ryan, Maurice Sims, Alex Stoll and Ryan Squires.
A special performance by Johnson’s 8-year-old daughter, Zoe, will also take place.
As a performing member of the group, Proctor graduated from WSU in 2006. The theater major currently lives in Chicago and is pursuing an acting career. Proctor credits the blend of theater and dance education at WSU as useful in his career goals.
“The one discipline complements the other,” he said.
Kellam, who studied dance at WSU for four years, has been performing with the Alithea Mime group for the past 10 years. A native and current resident of Baltimore, he met Johnson at age 16 at a guest workshop in Arizona.
“Meeting Johnson changed the direction of my life,” said Kellam, who had no prior dance experience. “Returning to Wichita to perform is not a business decision. It’s coming home to family to do what I love.”
Wichita native and dance major Angela Johnsen graduated from WSU in 2005 and has performed with the Alithea Mime group since 2002. She lives in New York and is a professional dancer performing with the Cecilia Marta Dance Company.
Nicholas Johnson’s work “brings out everything that is beautiful about being a woman,” Johnsen said.
For her, performing with the Alithea Mime group is very fulfilling.
“Performing ‘Angels Rising’ in front of the United Nations was a very powerful experience,” she said. “The first three rows had tears in their eyes.”
The word "Alithea" in Greek means truth. To Johnson, his passion for truth in motion would not be possible without the backing of WSU.
“I think we are privileged that WSU has embraced us,” Johnson said. “They give us a home and space here, which isn’t always easy to find.”
Dean of the College of Fine Arts Rodney Miller, and Assistant Dean Wendy Hanes, have been very supportive of the group, he said.
“It’s such an unusual thing,” Johnson said. “We are like an exotic bird that lives here by the good graces of WSU, and I am very thankful for that.”