Mime, the silent art form, is a language the whole world understands.
The fun and wonder of this ancient entertainment, which has been around since the first Neanderthal men pantomimed the experience of the great hunt, is being taught this year to intellectually limited young adults enrolled in The Sky is the Limit Musical Theater Program.
Sponsored by the Baltimore County Recreation and Parks Office of Therapeutic Recreation, the special workshops (which will continue through June 14) are being directed by professional mime Don Mullins, who participated in the Marcel Marceau Seminars of 1987 and 1988 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Under his tutelage the students become flowers blowing in the wind, "Star Wars" robotic figures and circus tightrope walkers struggling to keep their balance high above the crowd.
"Talking without words, using the imagination and body to convey innermost ideas and feelings . . . mime is a game everyone can play," says Mullins, who was preparing to conduct a class recently at the Berkshire Recreation Center.
The Sky is the Limit program was established four years ago by Debbie Meyer, director of creative arts for Therapeutic Recreation Services, to acquaint the intellectually and physically limited, age 18 and up, with the arts through the study of music, dance and drama.
Courses in these subjects are conducted at Berkshire, the Ruxton Center, Rolling Road Center and the Church Lane Center pTC from fall to late spring. All four venues stage a full musical each year.
More than 100 people throughout Baltimore County are participating in the current mime courses.
Mullins was one of nine artists chosen by the National Mime Association to showcase his talent at the International Movement Theatre Festival in 1989.
Originally from Grenville, Ohio, the artist now lives in Westminster where he directs projects, performs, writes new shows and teaches under the auspices of his company, "Motions of Mime."
"I was not at ease until the fourth class in the Sky is the Limit program," says Mullins. "It is hard to leave your prejudices at the door."
"Now I am feeling comfortable," adds Mullins, 25. "I am communicating. The students are very responsive. I have to be pretty flexible with these classes," he adds. "The ability range varies so. I give the young men and women things they can do to instill in them self-confidence and esteem. Everybody participates in some way."
The enthusiastic young people attending the workshop -- Lisa Fowler, Laura Terzi, James Bolling, Anita Jacksits, Lynn Stein, Lisa Bressi, Luann Reisig, Bonnie Forsyth, Cathy Kresmont and Sandy Anusewski -- announce in unison, "We're the greatest!" (an example of Meyer's positive attitude policy).
Clad in a black sweat shirt and black pants, Mullins asks the students to gather in a circle. The eager participants gaze in fascination as their instructor puts on the "white face" of the traditional mime.
Dusting his face with powder and painting his eyebrows and lips black, he explains, "I want my face to look more like a mask. I am no longer Don but whomever I want to be."
Pulling on white gloves, Mullins proceeds to enact the mute story of "He and She" using his hands as symbolic male and female figures. The two hands move gracefully with languid motions, flirting and floating in a dance of love.
The onlookers giggle but sit transfixed. They see Mullins' hands flutter and transform into small birds that suddenly fly away. A look of puzzlement and loss crosses the mime's face.
There is much applause. Mullins puts the group through a series of mime exercises, then introduces a new piece in which he is trapped in a box and frantically tries to escape.
Each individual takes turns performing a mime piece of their own choosing. One imitates a car, another a robot and another a bird. Anita Jacksits remembers Mullins' new bit and emulates the act down to the last detail.
"These kids are wonderful," Mullins says. "They absorb everything. They have a natural affinity for this art form. I want to give them a feeling of accomplishment without being condescending. If they get discouraged they turn you off. I don't want that.
"Then it becomes just one more thing they feel they can't do because of physical limitations. I want them to be involved in a positive way that will help them with other aspects of their lives."
For information about The Sky is the Limit program and the mime workshops call Debbie Meyer at the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, at 887-5370.