“I was fully body painted with mime abs, pecs and moustache shaped pubic hair!”
Elegant fantasy, edible curiosity…Pi the Mime is one of those wonderfully mercurial performers who can light up a show with a simple and invigorating flourish.
As you’ll read, Pi has been performing for much of his life – his story is filled with charm and endeavour. He’s a hard working fellow with a big boast of talent to boot.
So in his own words…
Ladies and Gentlemen, Pi the Mime!
How did you get started in arts/performance and cabaret?
I’ve been a performer since before I could walk, and grew up in music, dance and theatre classes so a degree at Drama School was the clear choice for me. I studied European Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College, which has a compulsory year of study abroad (I went to Madrid and had the most sensational time!). It was there that I discovered and started training in mime, a lot, because I quickly realised that I didn’t have a high enough level of Spanish to partake in any of the other classes on offer. As a newly birthed mime artist I created a show for Mimetic Festival, a celebration of mime AND cabaret. And that’s where the rhinestones and feathers began.
What acts do you have and how long does it take for you to create them?
As Pi the Mime I have created and developed multiple acts that highlight my training in mime, clown, dance, circus and, as of the last few years, drag. I have also another character, Mercury Presents, who is a singing, hosting character to allow me to continue using the vocal side of my training and my love of music. My signature act is probably ‘Nine to Pi’, an act about breaking free from a life you’re unhappy in, putting on your glad rags and heading out for a good time. This act was actually quite quick to create as I was in a part time job I hated at the time, so inspiration was everywhere. Other acts take me longer. Some years in fact!
I saw you perform at Cabaret Roulette [maybe a couple of other shows too] back in 2016/17. Your acts were very good then, so how have you and your acts evolved in the last few years? And how do you keep yourself as a performer feeling fresh and new?
Thank you very much. My acts are always evolving. There’s always room, I believe, to develop an act. Make it clearer, improve the costume, tighten the choreography, perfect the make up etc. Those acts from 2016/17 may likely still look the same, except the high kick is higher, or there are more rhinestones on the corset. Other acts are good but don’t quite sit right. Those often contain an idea, a seed, which grows into something completely different. One of the acts I created for Cabaret Roulette has been taken apart and now is the storyboard for a full length show. It’s this constant growth and development that keeps me feeling fresh. I am always training and adding elements of whatever I’m doing to my acts, be it performative or aesthetic.
What’s the maddest or strangest act you’ve performed on stage?
Each show is so completely different. Sometimes I’m a surprise birthday present and other times I’m an atmospheric character at an adult party. I think the maddest act I’ve ever done on stage has to either be my duo strip with Phil Ingud [where we stripped each other but the clothes got stuck] or my Fully Naked M&S act where I was fully body painted with mime abs, pecs and moustache shaped pubic hair!
Fine suits, women’s clothing, I’ve always thought that your costumes were well designed and with a lot of thought put into them…do you design and make them yourself? If so, how much time and effort do you have to put in?
Thank you. Aesthetics are something I put a lot of time into developing as I’m not naturally from a design background. Working closely with Felicity Furore has made me very aware of the importance of design (she is an expert on this) and as time continues I try and refine make up and costuming. I do make certain pieces myself, but I am quite an advocate for recognising ones own strengths and weaknesses and collaborating with others on things they excel at. Rhinestoning and embellishing can take hours and hours in front of one boxset or other. As for costume, I come up with most of my own concepts (I also illustrate) and then will work on the construction with a designer. The whole process can often take years. I’ve been working on a Pierrot costume which started with me making and sourcing a costume, sketching the pieces I liked alongside some dream additions, and then taking the ideas and pieces to an expert who will make the finished creation. The first parts started in December 2017.
It looks like you’re regularly involved with quite a few collectives/shows etc (that’s a rough description). Which shows and venues do you enjoy performing at the most? And which show/event has been the most challenging or creatively rewarding?
All the time. I am a solo performer, but I thrive on collaboration. The Party Like Gatsby tour has been an incredible experience, taking me and Mercury Presents on a world tour and performing for audiences of 2000 people. It’s been a real challenge to upscale me as a solo artist in the corner of a bar to a character that can hold the attention of thousands at a gala, and I’ve loved every second of it. Every show comes with its own challenges, all of which are creatively rewarding. Each audience responds to something different, and finding your own way of creating that which they’ll enjoy whilst staying true to yourself can be really tricky. Some audiences want to think about things, others want to forget and have a giggle, and some are ready for something a little more ‘in your face’. Finding my way of fitting these shows is really interesting. Currently I am having a fabulous time playing as Pi at Rumour Mill with some of the most astounding performers on the scene. It’s such a fun show and thoroughly rewarding. Et Moi, a full length clown show with Kiki Lovechild, and The House of Q: Silhouettes, an evening of immersive film noir cabaret-theatre that takes the audience on a physical journey around a space we created trying to solve a mystery, also stand out as shows that were a joy to create and perform.
Tell us about the House of Q Cabaret – where can we see it, who’s involved, and what is the idea behind it?
The House of Q was founded by myself, Neil Kelso (a musical magician) and Felicity Furore (a burlesque showgirl) in 2015 after we all appeared in the incredible musical These Trees Are Made of Blood. Whilst working on the show we discovered that we shared a passion for high quality and accessible cabaret and variety theatre, and began making exciting plans for collaboration between us. Shortly after, we got a studio at Theatre Deli, where we’ve been ever since, who supported us in working out how we fit together and what we wanted to say. Since then, the cast has expanded and changed but the core remains the three of us and our vision – high end, challenging, theatrical, fun variety shows. Some of these have been just that, whereas others (such as Silhouettes) are more narrative and sees us creating material to tell a collective story.
If you had an unlimited budget, what kind of show would you create and who would you ask to perform?
I think about this all the time, and the answer is constantly changing. Right now I’d love to take Queerstory The Musical, which I wrote alongside Maxim Melton, to the big stages, with a full orchestra, dancers, projection and more. To be able to tell audiences about queer history on that scale and with that budget would be sensational. I’d also love to take Silhouettes and The House of Q to a PunchDrunk level of immersive theatre, to take over and redesign a building and fill it with exciting, interactive cabaret acts that help tell the mysterious story of Silhouettes. There are so many artists I admire and would love to work alongside. For Queerstory, Sasha Velour, David Lynch and Dickie Beau are cabaret artists who’s work I see very much fitting with the vision for the show, whereas I can see Meow Meow, Ulrike Storch and Gateau Chocolat inspire me when I imagine Silhouettes on a large scale!
What other forms of arts/performance are you involved in away from cabaret?
I’m the sort of artist that crosses discipline in everything I do. There’s always cabaret in what I do, just like there’s always dance, circus, music, theatre and immersive events. For example, These Trees Are Made of Blood, a musical about the Military Junta of Argentina, strongly relied on my experience as a dancer and performer of burlesque, whilst Princess Charming, a cabaret on gender identity for families, embraced my circus and music training. I love fusing performance styles. I believe each has strengths and weaknesses in the way they engage audiences and relay the story or concept, so why not use a combination of them to make your performance even more evocative for those watching.
How often do you get the chance to direct performances? If often, feel free to say more about them:
I’m very fortunate. I love directing, movement directing and providing choreography for other people’s visions and find it incredibly inspiring to my own practice. Recently, I have worked with the astonishing Neil Kelso as movement director on his show I Draw Clouds, choreographed a number for the creators of LADS and acted as director/dramaturg on Kiki Mellek’s Law of Attraction which went to Edinburgh fringe. Both of these shows and performers have inspired me to be more adventurous in my own projects, and to consider elements of projection, magic and puppetry within the shows I’m working on for myself. With my love of collaboration, I relish the opportunity to use my expertise and the skills I’ve picked up from my own training alongside others.
What are the main challenges for an arts or cabaret performer in 2019?
In London, where I’m based, there are always venues closing or changing. The biggest challenge facing a performer currently is the pace at which you need to be able to adapt, create something new and connect with an entirely new team of people as one show closes and another venue opens. You are not solely a performer, but your own agent, marketing team and designer too!
What is next for you this year?
Big Plans! The House of Q has been made Associate Artist of Theatre Deli and we are entering the next phase of our creative journey, with full scale shows, regular events and large scale spectacles in the pipe line. Pi is working on a series of new solo shows that embrace my love of the roots of clowning and mime, as well as a photography project in collaboration with hundreds of people, and shall be popping up at all sorts of shows including Rumour Mill. Mercury Presents shall continue touring with Party Like Gatsby, appear at the incomparable Gin House Burlesque and continue the development of Queerstory The Musical, an original musical on queer history that made its debut at the end of 2018b to a sold out audience and a selection of very exciting venues and investors who have shown interest in joining the rhinestoned revolution and pushing it to the next level. I am personally also writing another musical in collaboration with a sensational composer, looking at the longevity and development of Princess Charming and, hopefully, making a start on some illustration work I’ve been wanting to begin for a while. So 2019 looks like it’ll be busy!
Where can people see your work?
I like to keep up to date on where I’ll be on my social media platforms (Pi the Mime, The House of Q and Mercury Presents) and post snippets of my work and the projects I’m developing. I also perform a selection of parts of all my projects alongside Neil Kelso and Felicity Furore at The House of Q’s monthly shows at Theatre Deli. These shows are a free taster to the work we do and dates can be found at thehouseofq.co.uk. We like to see it as our monthly gathering where we put on a show, enjoy a couple of cocktails and say hello to everyone that’s interested in all the work we do. Although mainly London based, I shall also be appearing around the UK and Europe this year, so do look out to see if I’ll be bringing anything your way.