Robert Shields just can’t stay still. It shows in his colorful career choices: Mime, actor, dancer, restaurateur, jewelry designer, radio station programmer.
It shows when he’s talking: Via phone during a layover at the Newark, N.J., airport, he breaks into characters, voices and at one point delivers a “social rap” about American obesity.
It also shows in his latest one-man show, “Les Masques.” Shields describes it as “a wonderful mixture of mayhem, divine mischief, masque, stand-up, cirque, pantomime and dance.”
For a little more than an hour and a half, the 55-year-old Shields uses masks to transform himself into a variety of characters, using his skills as a mime as well as elements of comedy and spoken word. The point is to entertain, but Shields also sneaks some social commentary in there.
“I’m an artist, and I’m affected by everything around me,” says Shields.
Issues that have affected Shields lately include his notion that technology such as cell phones has caused people to become less courteous.
“We’re so technical that people forget to smile at one another, they become so unhappy in their skin,” says the performer. “If you smile at another guy, he thinks you’re gay. If you smile at a girl, she thinks you want to pick her up. And that’s terrible!”
On stage, Shields also deals with self-doubt, which he feels plague many creative types.
“You wake up in the morning and your life is going great, but you’re still depressed,” says Shields. “These are tests we have to go through, like minefields.”
Shields, perhaps best known as half (along with Lorene Yarnell) of the mime duo Shields and Yarnell, wants people to know there’s more to his act than pantomime, including (gasp!) talking.
“I’ve been typecast as a mime,” says Shields. “I’m basically a storyteller.” “When people think of Shields and Yarnell, they say, ‘Oh, they’re mimes. We don’t like mimes.’ That was one thing I did at one point, but now I’m doing all kinds of other stuff.”
The “other stuff” has included owning a restaurant, jewelry shop and radio station, all in Sedona, which has been his home since 1987. He also lives part time in Carefree.
Lately, though, Shields has been focusing on his performing act, closing up the radio station and restaurant in late 2001 and his shops in July of last year.
“I wanted to be more free,” Shields shares. “It got to the point where I wasn’t able to do anything but that, I was kind of like a slave to it.”
Shields continues to design jewelry on a oneon-one basis, but the extra time has freed him up to work on other projects, including a kids’ show in development for Nickelodeon (he was a part of popular ’80s PBS series “Zoobilee Zoo”) and more touring. Before his gigs in Mesa, he performed a week of shows in Spain.
“I’m looking forward to going to Mesa, to tell you the truth, and doing something within my own state,” says Shields.