After appearing in the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival with Unspeakable, Melbourne mime artist and physical comedian Rod Lara is treading the boards once more in Last Mime Standing. Rod spills the beans on the art of mime and why vaudeville’s classic acts will never lose their popularity with audiences.
As a "silent comedian" what can audience expect from Last Mime Standing?
Last Mime Standing is a solo show about a mime forced to live in an underground shelter due to a global apocalyptic catastrophe. His only means of communicating with others is through a system called "Buskers Online", which at the same time, is his only means of earning an income. I consider Last Mime Standing to be not simply a comedy show, but an experience. A journey that will take everyone through the Mime's highs and very lows. The narrative that runs across Last Mime Standing isn't particularly a happy one, but the humour comes mainly from the mime trying to amuse himself during his absolute isolation.
I love stories of a guy stuck in a place and going slightly insane!
It's difficult to see a mime artist and not immediately think of great the French mime Marcel Marceau, who can you say has influenced your work the most?
Being an autodidact performer, I have tried to research and learn from as many masters of the craft as I could during these past 15 years as a performer – that's right! I've been at it for a while! So, my influences have been Chaplin, Keaton, Tati, Marceau, etc... I have great respect and admiration for Australian comedians such as Glynn Nicholas, Frank Woodley, Mark Mitchell, The Umbilical Brothers and even old time Aussie vaudevillian Roy 'Mo' Rene.
Since, I also incorporate funk and breakdance into my mime shows, my other influences do include Michael Jackson, Prince and James Brown!
It may sound like a strange mix, but I'm a weird guy so I guess that evens it out.
Believe it or not, I even pay a small homage to Bruce Lee during a tennis sequence in Last Mime Standing.
The art of mime is a somewhat a vintage act, how does Last Mime Standing remain relevant to modern audiences?
Many people will expect a typical mime show from Last Mime Standing, where usually the protagonist is all sunshine and flowers. Whereas the character I developed and perform is somewhat cynical and disgruntled – I believe that makes him much more human. By nature, people usually try to find the humour during bad situations. It's the only way to stay sane!
There has been a recent resurgence of vaudeville within the artistic community ie. Burlesque, magic and variety acts. Why do you think the older styles of entertainment are becoming popular once more?
I love Vaudeville, and can proudly say I'm a vaudevillian at heart!
I contribute this resurgence to the artists themselves. I have been introduced to many magnificent performers who are doing great justice to their particular styles (which many consider vintage, I simply consider them style of performing which, like comedy, if done well will never date)
My personal favourite physical comedian has to be Buster Keaton, what are some of the more elaborate physical stunts you have had to perform in your career?
I absolutely love Buster Keaton! Who's great stone face looks out to the world in complete aloofness and bewilderment.
In my late teens and early 20's, I got introduced to Keaton and Jackie Chan and decided to train in stunts. I slowly evolved my performing styles into physical comedy, but kept my stunt training. Therefore I can make a fall look painfully funny without any horrid consequences (I tend to injure myself more with mundane everyday tasks!!!)
My most elaborate stunts have been diving headfirst from a stage and land safely in the front row of the audience. Also purposely falling a flight of stairs during a show. These stunts may sound like something out of "Jackass", but all my slapstick is highly planned with years of experience and training – so don't try them at home unless you know exactly what you're doing! I'm always going to come up with elaborate physical stunts to incorporate into my shows, I can't help myself!
As well as performing the piece, you have also written and developed the concept. Do you have a preference towards writing or performing?
I simply love the process of creating characters and their respective worlds during the writing process. Workshopping them and coming up with their idiosyncrasies till it's complete and ready for performance. I find the whole engineering of it to be quite stimulating. Last Mime Standing was one of those great processes.
You also work extensively within television and film, how does this compare with live theatre when performing?
Well, believe it or not, I'm very much an introvert and still get very nervous in front of an audience. I tend to feel more at ease on a film set and have always enjoyed the intricacies of filmmaking. Theatre can be quite unpredictable and one can't guarantee that a performance will flow the same way night after night without any glitches, whereas with film and TV one has the advantage of doing multiple takes and edit those perfect takes into a sequence. Although, there's something quite organic about performing live, as well as getting a "buzz" from hearing the laughter and applause during a show.
You most recently performed in the 2013 Melbourne International Comedy Festival favourite Great Debate, with Paul McDermott. Will you be making any guest appearances in the festival gala this year?
Sharing the stage with Paul McDermott on the "2013 The Great Debate" was definitely a highlight. I received the call the night before the filming of the show and simply could not refuse! If they contacted me for the gala, I would be there with bells on! I definitely have plans to appear next year though. Stay tuned!
What advice would you give to any aspiring vaudevillians out there?
Just go out and do it! Follow your instincts and never compromise.
3 Fates Media presents
Last Mime Standing
Venue: Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham Street, Albert Park VIC
Dates: 26 – 29 March 2014 7pm
Tickets: Full $25 / Concession $20
Bookings: 03 9699 3253 | www.gasworks.org.au/buy-tickets