The students hold black fedoras up to their heads while Israel Lopez, 31, the day’s “music director,” cranks up Beat It on the sound system.
The students become the band. Zachery Hatcher, 25, excitedly slides his fingers up and down the neck of an air guitar. William Mason, 23, slams invisible drumsticks against a nonexistent snare. Several students moonwalk across the floor. Once the song is finished, the group bursts into laughter, faces flushed.
The bi-weekly workshop for adults with Down syndrome, now in its third year, gives students who seldom have a public platform a chance to share their talents on stage, parents of the participants say.
Parents of children with Down syndrome often hear teachers and employers underestimating their children’s abilities, says Brenda Bearden, a volunteer at the Down Syndrome Association of Houston (DSAH), which hosts the class. Her daughter Kristan, 25, has been enrolled for the past two years. The program provides a rare chance for the students to be part of something—but more than that, she says, “it has built my daughter’s confidence so much.”
Mime is also building Kristan’s and her classmates’ communication skills, and for those whose verbal capacity is more limited, it also provides a means of expression. These classes suggest that the much-maligned art of mime may still be good for more than just a game of charades.
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It may seem easy to laugh at silent green-faced Central Park performers dressed as the Statue of Liberty, but Garrett says miming is deceptively complex, requiring the performer to achieve a difficult balance in which the brain and body are in sync.
For the last two decades, Garrett has introduced miming to some of Houston’s most vulnerable communities. He spent most of those years collaborating with his now ex-wife, Eva Szego, a licensed art therapist and psychotherapist. Naming their professional partnership “Breaking Barriers,” the two brought pantomime to therapeutic settings such as a women’s shelter and Szego’s own private practice. Recently separated, the pair are now working independently to see how silent performance can have a profound effect on people not often given the chance to express themselves creatively.
Garrett first met Szego in 1994 at a community event for Central American immigrants, where she was speaking about overcoming loss. It was a vivid topic for many of the immigrants who had left family members behind in their home countries. Szego spoke of her own grief over the recent death of her father. Garrett, who had recently left Mexico with the hope of forging a career as a traveling mime, was moved—his father had also just passed away—and approached Szego afterward. When she found out he was a mime, Szego asked Garrett if he could perform at one of her lectures the following day.