The local paper in my hometown in Connecticut is almost beyond parody. It's a weekly called The Newtown Bee, and it features stories on escaped hogs, sewage commission meetings and church raffles, besides its folksy gossip column and prizewinning Little League coverage. Despite any inherent comic potential, The Bee takes itself very seriously, and positions itself as the cornerstone of our quaint New England community. Naturally, this makes them the perfect target for a Grade-A media prank.
My friend Paul called the Bee to tell them he was a member of a traveling mime troupe called Rapproachment (which means peaceful relations between nations after wartime, a name we picked randomly from the dictionary) and that the troupe would be rehearsing in the Town Hall gymnasium. The troupe would be preparing for a local tour in the spring. Hooked, their Arts Editor agreed to meet us at the town gym that afternoon for a full story and some photographs. My friends, Paul, Jim, Josh and I were thrilled. Quickly, we secured the use of the gym and began searching for black turtlenecks and berets.
Understandably, we were more than a little nervous when we showed up to the gym an hour before our ace reporter did. We snuck off to the men's locker room and covered ourselves in whiteface, both to cement our "image" and to help conceal our real identities (we'd all been photographed in the Bee several times in our "straight" lives). Unfortunately, theatrical whiteface is not all that easy to come by in a small suburban town, so we settled for white lipstick. The stuff was painfully thin; we ended up having to squeeze out the whole tube just to make it work. I only succeeded in looking like Cesar Romero's Joker from the "Batman" TV show, as the whiteface was too thin even to cover my stubble. We added some eyebrow pencil around the mouth and eyes to round out the look, with Jim etching himself a tiny black tear for extra pathos.
Our "act", which had about twenty minutes worth of rehearsal time, consisted of various pretentious performance art pieces like "The Egg", by which three of us would form a circle (the egg) and the fourth would step inside, crouching, pushing and then slowly emerging as the new baby chick, who would then celebrate life by dancing with us. This was our piece d' resistance. We also just pranced around ridiculously, attempting to play "Mime Basketball" on the gym court.
Shortly the Bee's Arts Editor, a pleasant woman in her late forties, arrived with camera in tow. Jim was our chosen spokesperson as he had the least difficult time keeping a straight face, so while the intrepid reporter took snapshots of us dribbling and dunking an imaginary basketball, Jim filled her in on our history. She didn't even blink an eye when he told her our mime heroes were "Marcel Marceau and Simon LeBon, the great mime who was persecuted by the Catholic church during the Middle Ages."
"Sometimes people confuse us with clowns, but let me tell you, we are not clowns," I said.
"No, no, what you do is different," the reporter replied.
"Exactly. If we're doing comedy, it's not just to be funny, it's to approach a higher truth," I continued.
"I mean, don't get me wrong," Paul chimed in, "some of our best friends are clowns."
Jim lied his way through a convincing story about the history of the art form ("Mime began in ancient Greece, and resurged during the Renaissance after a long period of persecution") and went on to explain that our new show, "An Immigrant's Tale" would debut soon, and that we had long wanted to do a series of vignettes on "The Melting Pot". Just HOW silent actors intended to portray the friction between various cultures was never really explained.
To insure the preservation of our true identities, we chose fake names. I became Larry Wilcox (you may remember him as "Jon" from "CHIPs"), Jim became Geoff Holland, Paul was Quentin Crisp, and Josh identified himself as Wendell Maas, a character from a Thomas Pynchon novel. Post-interview, the Bee's reporter took a number of photographs of us, sort of mime versions of the U2 "Unforgettable Fire " album cover. We said our thank yous and goodbyes to the reporter and went on to fall on the floor laughing for about fifteen minutes. Then when we went to pay for the rental of the gym, the Town Hall people refused to take our money because they were so impressed with our dedication as mimes. Unbelievable.
Several weeks later, right smack in the middle of Enjoy! (The special Bee arts supplement), was our full-page article, complete with a great picture of the four of us posed like the tender and sensitive artists we claimed to be. The profile was entirely straight faced, and best of all, the reporter hadn't checked any of our facts. She dutifly reported that we had won third prize in last year's International Festival of Mime (held annually in Ottowa, Canada), for our piece entitled "The Ashes of Tianamen Square". Apparently, our faux performance art sounded as bad as the real thing.
We were so impressed with the scam that we briefly considered performing as Rapproachment somewhere in our town. Thankfully, we didn't carry it through. Our fifteen minutes of mime fame had been enough, and it had satisfied our restless boredom. We had sabotaged the Bee right in its own pages. To this day, though, I can't flip through the arts section without thinking, "this can't be true...can it?"
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