Hi! My name is Tanja, and I am a deaf-mute girl. I’m 27, and I have been deaf-mute since I was born. Even when I was just a small child, I was always struggling with everyday problems that people like me have, as well with many prejudices that other people have about us.

So, when I finished my studies for special education, I wanted to change something, especially for youngsters. One day, in my leisure time, that I spent mostly by my own, I came accross one very interesting, but somehow marginal art form, pantomime.

I was visiting children’s play in the local puppet theatre, and later that evening I already had some ideas how to help deaf-mute children, like I was, to better understand their environment, to learn faster, to express themselves to others, and maybe find an interesting job in their near future.

I was thinking about starting my own school of pantomime for deaf-mute children, here in Bjelovar, where I was born and lived for many years.

Bjelovar is the headquarters and the centre of Bjelovar-Bilogora county. It originated in the 18th century after a decision by Empress Maria Theresa, and has been voted the third most beautiful city in continental Croatia.

Known as the city of cheese, it is a leading agricultural and livestock region in Croatia. The agricultural event of Bjelovar Fair brings together the largest producers of seeds, livestock breeders and producers of agricultural machinery in Europe. Throughout the year, the city holds a number of sporting and cultural events such as the Crni mačak, BOK-fest and Terezijana, a multi-day tourist event which consists of sporting events, unusual records, fashion shows, concerts and a theatrical event depicting the arrival of the Empress to Bjelovar.

Bjelovar and its surrounding areas offer numerous recreational facilities. There is walking or cycling, jogging on the fitness trail at Borik, swimming in the town pool, riding in one of the equestrian clubs and hunting in the forests that are rich with game. Kamenitovac, a mountain refuge on Bilogora at 242 m above sea level, offers a beautiful view of Bjelovar and the surrounding areas. (Discover Croatia @ Croatia.hr)

Tanja: Good morning children, how are you today?

Here in our school we use special sign language, considering the fact that we are working with deaf-mute children, and most of them are like that since the day they were born, so they don’t understand our common language, like most people do. Also, and for educational purposes, we are using modern computer equipment, with big screens, so that children can see everything that we are showing them, and thus learn quicky and with more interest.

Tomas: When will we go to Zagreb, I am very impatient.

Sanja: I think we will never go there. How will we learn all of that, and how will people see us when we perform in their big children’s theatre. I don’t think that there is any use of learning pantomime. What is it used for?

Tanja, realizing that the children are impatient and losing motivation, she decides to tell them her life story.

Tanja: You know, no matter how we perform next week, you have to be happy that you are a part of one interesting and joyful experience called pantomime. I don’t think that you will be so bad when you go out on the stage of Trešnja Theatre in Zagreb.

Trešnja Municipal Theatre (in Zagreb) has come a long way, starting from its amateur days to being one of the best and most prominent professional children’s theatres in Croatia. It started off as an association called Naša djeca (Our Children), whose theatre-inclined members founded a children’s theatre ensemble, and on 8 May 1954 premiered their first full-length play, Vladimir Nazor’s Little Red Riding Hood, directed by Neda Kubinek. Following the success of the production, the ensemble becomes Pionirsko amatersko kazalište (Pioneer Amateur Theatre) based at the Maksim Gorki Cultural Centre at Mošćenička Street 1, in the exact spot where the Trešnja Municipal Theatre we know today was built 30 years later. The Pioneer Amateur Theatre had been extremely successful from the get-go, and at the first Children’s Festival in Šibenik in 1958, Timpetili, grad bez roditelja received an award for the best play. The first full-lenght children’s ballet, Pinocchio, with the music commisioned from Bruno Bjelinski and choreographed by Silvija Hercigonja, who went on to raise generations of young dancers at the Trešnja Theatre. Apart from drama, the theatre housed dance and music groups, and educational aspect has remained an essential part of the Theatre’s activities to this day. (A Short History of a Tiny Theatre that Grew Big @ Kazalište Trešnja)

Tanja: When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be somebody special, to achieve something in my life that my parents, my friends and relatives could say that this little deaf-muted girl is really worth of something. I hated the fact that people always bullied me, mostly because I couldn’t speak or understand what are they telling me, and I was always a slow learner.

Such a way of life, full of prejudice, followed me until I finished my studies in special education at the University of Zagreb. Then, one day something changed. I remember, I read an article in the local newspaper, in Zagreb, about the children’s show in the small local theatre, a play that used pantomime to express feelings and tell the story in its own peculiar way.

So, I decided to visit that theatre play.

After watching the show, and seeing smiles on faces of the children that were sitting in the theatre and enjoying themselves, I knew that I have to know more about it, about the pantomime. So, I visited my old friend, an artist, who recommended me to a friend Marko, a professional mime actor, working in Croatian National Theatre. It was a strenuous exercise, but after almost a year of training with him, I was ready to try the life on stage for the first time. I wanted to work as a mime actor. But I needed to be in a theatre group. So, I joined one in my own town Bjelovar.

In the UK a Pantomime, or “Panto” as it is usually affectionately called, is a form of interactive theatre, performed around the Christmas season for the entertainment of millions of families.

Many of the stories are based on popular, even if slightly skewed, Fairy Tales. Children love to see their favourite stories and characters played out on the stage, they particularly enjoy the physical comedy and the over the top characters. Everyone is encouraged to “dress-up” as their favorite character, and if there is one thing kids love, it’s dressing up in costume! The adults certianly get enough innuendo and double entendre of the “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” variety to keep them rolling in the aisles. Panto is guaranteed to give the whole family a rolicking good time. To the uninitiated, however, the humour, insane plot and the cast with the extremely silly character names may leave you absolutely flummoxed as to what on earth is going on. It is difficult to describe in words what Panto is all about. The origins of Pantomime, date back to the middle ages. Panto blends the traditions of the Italian Commedia dell Arte with British “Old Time” Music Hall. “Commedia dell Arte” was travelling street entertainment, which came from Italy in the 16th century. It was a very energetic type of theatre that used dance, music, tumbling, acrobatics and slapstick comedy. The troupes performed in fairs and market places. Often the troupes were made up of family members who would inherit their characters, costumes, masks and stories from their parents or grandparents.

Audience participation is probably the most important part of British Pantomime tradition. Even the most serious and mature members of the audience, suddenly become uninhibited in their enthusiasm to join in. The audience is actively encouraged to cheer and clap for the Hero, and to boo the Villain whenever he or she enters. Heckling is also encouraged and can lead to some hilarious ad-libs from the cast. Here’s a typical example of involving the audience:

Ugly sister: “I’m much prettier than Cinderella”
Audience: “Oh no you’re not!”
Ugly sister: “Oh yes I am!”
Audience: “Oh no you’re not!”

This happens frequently with a variety of lines throughout the show and it is up to the Actors to decide how long to keep it going before they go back to the script. No Panto script is complete without the “It’s/he’s/she’s behind you!” moments. Either on stage or “front of tabs” (in front of the curtain), the children are asked by one of the main characters to let them know if a ghost/spider/gorilla or anything else appears. There follows a classic scene where gradually each character is frightened away until only the Dame is left with the monster. The monster always ends up being scared off by the Dame – you have to see it, to understand it!

The Pantomime plot is very simple: A girl, who is actually a girl playing the part of a boy (the Hero), is the son of a man, who is actually playing the part of a woman (the Dame), will fall in love with a girl who is playing the part of a girl (the Heroine). The girl dressed as the boy will sometimes be assisted by one or two men (or it could be women) dressed up as a cow, or a horse or any other animal the scriptwriters dream up. Are you with us so far?… (What is Panto? @ The Laughing Stock)

Tanja: But I never knew that it would be much harder than I expected. Since the first day I arrived at our own small city theatre in Bjelovar, I found out that other actors, that were the part of that small theatre group don’t like people that are different, and especially somebody like me.

Whenever I was preparing for the exercises, I could hear in the back room “evil tongues” of some of my colleagues, saying that I’m no good, how will I perform on the stage, being deaf-mute, how will I understand them and how will they understand me.

Sometimes, I would be so furios on their constant rivalry and playing bad jokes with me, that I would go running back to my dressing room crying, and swore that this was my last day in the theatre. I would collect my things and head for the exit doors, never to come back again. But, some strange small voice inside me would always tell me, wait a minute, you wanted to come here, to practice and to perform.

Why did you spend so much time practicing pantomime with Marko in Zagreb, if you will just give up now?

No, I must go back, and try again. Who cares about them, these amateur actors, it is me who wants to be a professional mime actor, and this is my first struggle. I don’t need to stay in this theatre, but I want to see how the first show will look like, and whether I will do well in it. I have to stay.

So, I stayed for a couple of weeks more, even do I hated everything, the people, the stage, and especially the leader of the group. That internal struggle was increasing every day, but I managed to withstand all of my problems.

I started to study social psychology, to understand how to cope with problems like that, and with other people in my group. I also wanted to understand how to peform in front of big audience.

Social psychology is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, intentions and goals are constructed within a social context by the actual or imagined interactions with others.

It therefore looks at human behavior as influenced by other people and the conditions under which social behavior and feelings occur.

Baron, Byrne and Suls (1989) define social psychology as ….

‘the scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behavior in social situations’ (p. 6).

Topics examined in social psychology include: the self concept, social cognition, attribution theory, social influence, group processes, prejudice and discrimination, interpersonal processes, aggression, attitudes and stereotypes. (What is social psychology @ Simply Psychology)

Discrimination is defined as ‘unfavourable treatment of members of an (alleged) group on account of their membership in that group’. Discursive discrimination is such treatment carried out by linguistic means and within the frames of a discourse. The treatment is unfavourable compared with how members of the group carrying out the discrimination are treated. That a group might be ‘alleged’ means that people themselves may not agree to being classified in a particular category; this classification is done by those who discriminate. Discrimination may consist of different social practices and appear in different fields (work, the judicial system, education, housing, etc.). Discursive discrimination, as a form of social practice, is usually intertwined with other forms of discrimination.

“It is impossible to lead a group of hearing impaired in the gymnasium merely using speech, rather one must resort to simple natural gestures. The teacher must stand facing the group and speak slowly and clearly. … In races the hearing impaired have to see the starter, hence that person must not stand behind the group. … When officiating ball games one should observe … that, as a referee, one cannot only officiate with a whistle but you have to use natural signs.” (Discursive discrimination against the ‘deaf‐mute’/‘deaf ’ and the importance of categorization in 20th century Sweden @ Taylor Francis Online)

Tanja: The more I practiced, the more others realized that I am not so bad as a performer, even do we still had a lot of problems in communication, due to the fact that the actors didn’t know how to use sign language, so after sketching my ideas on the pieces of paper, I started to use pantomime to express myself, which the group started to like more and more, that helped me to adjust to them with less obstruction to the preparations for the big show.

Finally, after all that torment, the big day “knocked on the door”. Last preparations were over, the time has come to perform in a children’s show in our theatre. That was my first show, and you can only imagine how nervous I was. Just a few minutes before I had to step out on the stage, I was trembling like never before.

Public speaking is said to be the biggest fear reported by many American adults, topping flying, financial ruin, sickness, and even death.

The fear of public speaking or performance, often called stage fright, exacts a huge toll on self-confidence and self-esteem and causes some people to leave school or a job or pass up a promotion. Many, including seasoned professional performers, suffer in silent terror. And because they feel embarrassed, people try to keep their fear a secret, even from a spouse or other close family members or friends.

Try these 10 tips to reduce your stage fright:

  • Shift the focus from yourself and your fear to your true purpose—contributing something of value to your audience.
  • Stop scaring yourself with thoughts about what might go wrong. Instead, focus your attention on thoughts and images that are calming and reassuring.
  • Refuse to think thoughts that create self-doubt and low confidence.
  • Practice ways to calm and relax your mind and body, such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation.
  • Exercise, eat well, and practice other healthful lifestyle habits. Try to limit caffeine, sugar, and alcohol as much as possible.
  • Visualize your success: Always focus on your strength and ability to handle challenging situations.
  • Prepare your material in advance and read it aloud to hear your voice.
  • Make connections with your audience: Smile and greet people, thinking of them as friends rather than enemies.
  • Stand or sit in a self-assured, confident posture. Remain warm and open and make eye contact.
  • Give up trying to be perfect and know that it is OK to make mistakes. Be natural, be yourself. (Conquering Stage Fright @ Anxiety and Depression Association of America)

Tanja: To cut a long story short, everything went well. First few minutes, I was a little bit confused where to stand on the stage, but then, when I started to perform my pantomime act, I felt as if some heavy stone had “fallen from my heart”. The rest of the show was marvelous, and I was so amazed by the colorful lights on the stage, costumes, acting of my colleagues and above all, by the active participation of children in the theater who watched the play with admiration and smiles on their faces, the same expression that I got while sitting in that children’s theatre in Zagreb one year ago.

So, you see children, there is nothing you must worry about. Things will go as they are destined to go, no matter what you say or think. The only thing that is important to know and understand, is that you have to have a strong wish and goal in your life, and one day, no matter how long you have to wait, it will come true.

And, before we continue with our preparations for the forthcoming show in Zagreb, I will tell you one song, as it is usual to recite a song at the end of the pantomime performance. Instead of using a voice, I will do it with my hands:

Everything is great, everything is grand
I’ve got the whole wide world in the palm of my hand
Everything is perfect, it’s falling into place
I can’t seem to wipe this smile off my face.
(Life’s A Happy Song from The Muppets Movie)

“The pantomime finale is the glittery ending to an epic adventure. It usually involves a lot of energetic dancing and the balancing of many large headpieces worn by various members of the cast! I love to put a song just after the walkdown and the final rhyme. It really helps the audience go out on a high. Then at the end of the number, the curtain can touch down and fly back up again to make the most of the applause.” (The Best Pantomime Finale Songs by Alex Jackson Pantomimes)

…This story is of fiction-documentary content, and to make it like this, I had to use facts from two big areas of science and art; Social Psychology and Mime acting. You can read more about them on the following links:

Social Psychology

Mime artist

This is the third story that I made here at Libertas Nova, using combinations of science and art (other two being Titan, Here We Come! and Dreams of Africa).

Other useful video links where you can find out more about social psychology and pantomime acting:

What is Social Psychology? An Introduction

Introduction to Social Psychology

Prejudice and Discrimination

Learn Social Psychology Fundamentals (video series)

What is a pantomime? Iain Lauchlan explains all

What is a Pantomime? – History, Traditions and Culture

What is Pantomime in theatre

I learned how to mime from a pro — it’s a lot more complicated than you think

Kids Meet A Mime

(Cover Image & Source: Four mime actors by yanguo1648819332 @ Deviant Art)