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Mime’s coming (mum’s the word)

Mim Mikael Rudoph performs to help fulfill his late father’s dream: a planetarium. - Courtesy of Mikael Rudolph
Mim Mikael Rudoph performs to help fulfill his late father’s dream: a planetarium.
— image credit: Courtesy of Mikael Rudolph

Mikael Rudolph’s show will raise funds for a planetarium honoring his father.

Mikael Rudolph always wanted a theatrical homecoming.

On March 16 – without saying a word – he’ll take command of a Bainbridge stage for the first time to honor his late father’s passion for the planets. Architect and amateur archaeologist-astronomer John Rudolph died of cancer in 2003.

“His fingerprints are all over the island,” said Mikael, 47, a professional mime who resides in Minneapolis. “Dozens and dozens of (the homes he designed) are here....(but he’s) more so a civic and social presence.”

The elder Rudolph created the original master plan for Battle Point Park, helped shape its Edwin E. Ritchie Astronomical Observatory and designed numerous parks. From creative fund-raisers to the impromptu Scotch Broom Parade, he was a local landmark who dreamed of having an observatory on the island.

Now the Battle Point Astronomical Association’s John H. Rudolph Planetarium Project is under way. Kicking off the fund-raising effort is the younger Rudolph’s one-man show and a performance by the Intensely Vigorous Revolutionary Volunteer Dixieland Band, the group for which his father played trombone for 36 years.

The project is “sort of insane,” laughed Rudolph. “An observatory in one of the cloudiest places on the planet?”

Yet, he said, “The project really clearly personifies his true spirit, an important moment. Over time, I think, people are realizing the severity of the loss.”

Rudolph loves sharing stories of growing up under the tutelage of a man who was fascinated by the world, from lightning-damaged trees to ancient rock carvings. He imparted his knowledge and zest for life to each of his three children.

“He was a wide-eyed wonder scientist, interested in everything,” said Rudolph, the middle child. “He taught me how to learn and how to figure out.”

Having been the class clown and involved in productions since the first grade, Rudolph seemed destined for a theatrical career. As a pre-teen watching Marcel Marceau perform, he was transfixed and Marceau became one of his heroes. For a Halloween party, he wore white face and a sailor suit and didn’t speak all night.

“I discovered a fun character,” Rudolph said. “It was sort of the start of my career.”

Later, he studied movement, acting and some ballet and did independent film work, plays and commercials, mostly through mime work. He continued acting classes in college in the Seattle area and, after two years, transferred to Whitman College in Walla Walla. Dramatic events shaped his life: he switched his major from history to theater, his girlfriend was murdered and he took a mime class.

“I did my first performance there. I asked $50 apiece and three of the five elementary schools in Walla Walla took me up on it,” he said.

Rudolph applied for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship work and needed three letters of recommendation.

“Three for three they all told me, ‘You want to be a mime artist. Go do that,’” Rudolph said. “It was the best rejection I ever got.”

At that point, he combined his art with his faith and became “a recovering evangelical.”

Two years later he moved to Minneapolis and, at age 26, went to mime school. It was a college graduation gift from his dad, who told him, “I never would have guessed you’d do this for a living, but I sure am proud of you.”

The younger Rudolph gave himself four years to make a go of it. He joined EPPIC Ministries International, a mission organization based on mime performance, and traveled to Australia and New Zealand to give serious evangelical shows in public schools and colleges.

At a summer session at Kenyon College in Ohio, he studied with Marceau, whose method is to direct and co-write with students. He is “most known for the real technical illusion,” said Rudolph, who took the teachings to heart.

After a second turn with EPPIC, Rudolph returned to Minnesota for his “tent making,” jobs that allow time for mission work. His tent making job was mime. After two years he made enough money to call it a career.

His big break came when he got into the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in 1987. After 10 years, he moved on to churches and schools. He plays bigger venues now, and positions himself in the world of artists, rather than variety performers.

“Jugglers, magicians, they do the same shtick. I have original material. My show is always evolving,” he said. “There’s more to explore to be an artist. I’ve got things to say. I just don’t want people to laugh or be impressed.”

Rudolph no longer has the need to get that attention.

“The original reasons why I got into this have long since expired. ‘Why am I doing this?’ is the big question over the last few years. It’s starting to tie together,” he said.

For his Bainbridge audience, Rudolph will bring “all my best stuff without being too indulgent: physical comedy and mime illusions (with) some magic illusions mixed in,” plus audience participation and dramatic pieces, most of it set to music.

“Some of my best work is religious in nature. I always challenge...We all need to keep in balance freedom of expression.. what are your goals as a performer or as an evangelist,” he said. “I don’t want to alienate anybody. More Bill Cosby, less Eddie Murphy.”

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