Jonatán Soriano , Evangelical Focus
BARCELONA · 18 OCTOBER 2022 · 18:00 CET
What do you think of when you think of a mime? Perhaps the recurring image is that of a person who paints his face in white, dresses in black and makes gestures on the walkway below the house.
But when you talk to the Spanish mime Carlos Martínez, you discover a whole life dedicated to this art and you perceive that it is something deeper.
Silence and gestures united in the process of non-verbal communication. Ideas and words that are transmitted with the hands, with a look. And much more.
Martinez, who is now celebrating 40 years on stage, has developed his career mainly in Switzerland and Germany.
In addition to giving seminars to pastors on the use of non-verbal communication, his plays are also used in Sunday school and preaching contexts, and at the same time they have an important social content.
Lately, some see his universal language as a welcoming element. "In every performance I do in Germany or Switzerland, there is always an Ukrainian. They don't understand the language and, of course, people wonder where to take them. So they bring them to a mime show", he explains.
To analyse his career on the occasion of his 40th anniversary, Carlos spoke to Spanish news website Protestante Digital in a café, creating a small oasis of silence while everything around him was shouting.
Question. How do you see yourself reaching 40 years on stage?
Answer. I see myself on the verge of retirement (laughs). When you started, you don't think you are going to be on stage for forty years. I was content with four or five years because to be an actor and work on stage was my dream as a child.
We dreamers know that not all dreams can come true, but the years go by and you turn ten, then twenty, then twenty-five….
I remember when I turned twenty-five years old performing. We toured several countries and did more than eighty performances. For me that was already a 'peak'. I wondered what else there could be. But it was never a goal to reach a certain number of years, maybe because drama is very much about the present.
That's why we talk about performing a play, because it's very much about working in the present. In reality, the artist works every day and every performance is about reaching the 'top'. It's not about the years or the number of performances, it's about the present.
If the audience responds, if the actor responds to the audience, if that communication happens, that is the 'peak', the goal achieved.
The years are the goal of the promoters. When I started working in the eighties I had eight mime pieces. Today I have eighty. I have many shows and that is important for my agent, so that he can sell them.
In Switzerland, for example, theatres hire you once and don't call you back for two years. And if they do, they want a different show. The agent can't sell a single artist, but he can sell an artist with many shows.
That part of my art had nothing to do with my dream, but it has made it possible for me to live as an artist. I am aware that without a promoter I would be doing one-off shows and would not keep a regularity of at least sixty to seventy performances a year.
Q. But does an artist ever retire?
A. When I talk about retiring I think about age, but I always say that as long as the body holds out, we will continue. Now we are preparing a plan for the next three years.
I have just turned 67 and we are thinking of reaching 70. After that, we will see. I feel strong.
But it's true that the artist never retires. If I retire from work, I will continue to do mime as a volunteer, giving seminars and courses, or for young people who want to use non-verbal communication. Even for preachers.
Once a year I give seminars on non-verbal communication to pastors in Germany or Switzerland. That would allow me to continue working on the teaching side. There are many ways in which you could continue to work without being on stage.
Q. What have you prepared to celebrate your anniversary on stage?
A. We have contacted theatres in Spain, but it was not possible, I only did two rehearsals with an audience. So far we have performed the show 18 times in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and we will also go to Portugal and Kosovo.
It is more difficult now than before the pandemic. I thank God especially for Switzerland and Germany, because if I were depending on China, Jordan, South Africa or Canada, all countries I have been to, it would be more difficult now.
The show is called Vitamimo, a play on words in which I combine the concepts of life and the art of mime, and summarise the 40 years dedicated to it. The show has a first part of pure mime that lasts an hour. Then there is a break and we use that time to compile the four pieces that the audience has previously voted the most, through a QR code, from a list of 20. In the second part I perform those four pieces, without make-up and telling anecdotes. The goal is to do it at least forty times.
Q. How has your creative process evolved?
A. Many pieces were born out of necessity, because my agent needed to sell (laughs). That forces you to work and turn ideas into something feasible. I've only done one commissioned show, for the Red Cross, but I did it my own way.
I have never felt obliged to do a piece about something specific or against my beliefs or my philosophy. I have done everything because I have liked it.
What happens in life also influences the process. When my mother died, many things changed for me. It touched my soul. My mother was eternal. It was a big shock. Until then, many of my pieces were funny, but then the creative process started to lead me towards mime pieces that were more poetic.
It also changes when you have a stage director. He is like Snow White's mirror, who always tells the truth and sometimes it hurts. But that makes the plays go in one direction or another. There are plays that are great at home but in front of the director they still need more time.
Some of my plays were born to be understood later. For example, I worked for almost three years with a pianist and we always met in the dressing room. Before I met him I had done a piece about the loneliness of the dressing room and when I presented it to my stage director he rejected it.
But three years later, the pianist got sick and died. Then I had to go back to the dressing room by myself. I decided to redo the piece as a tribute to my friend. In that context, the piece automatically changed, even my stage director agreed. Many times I have done a piece without having the time to present it. Creativity is always there, it doesn't stop.
Q: If you could perform one of your pieces for the last time, which one would it be?
A. The Pocket watch. I did it in 1994, when my mother died. That piece represents three generations in six minutes.
It portrays how quickly time passes, but at the same time it allows you to enjoy every moment. Death passes by unnoticed. It's out there, but you don't see it. In the West we think of life as the beginning and death as the end, but in the Amazonian tribes it is circular. In a way, that's what I felt when my mother died. Life goes on and we are part of that circle.
Another one would be The Creation. I did it because a boy asked me to represent God. I thought the only way to do it was through a character who does something with his hands. A god with his arms folded doesn't work. In the piece you see how God creates the earth, the sea, the light, the man, the woman and everything. In just four minutes.
I could be doing those two pieces every day.
Q. What role does your Christian faith play in your artistic practice?
A. First of all, my faith has allowed me to treat biblical themes with respect. It's very easy to make fun of the Bible, or to make a cheap criticism, without arguments. That's why it has been important for me to treat it with respect, even if I give it my artistic touch and my touch of humour. For some Christians, humour doesn't fit in the church, but for me it does.
I remember I was performing for a group of professional actors at the National Theatre in Riga. An actress in the group told me that they had heard that I was able to portray God as a mime. I said yes and she asked me to do it, so that I performed the play The Creation for them.
When I finished it, the actress came to me with other actors and they asked me where they could find that God. They didn't have the idea of a God who is so loving, so kind and suffering at the same time. I put them in touch with a church I knew in Riga and now there are 25 Christian actors in the National Theatre.
The pastor of that church has a special permission to come on Thursdays to pray with them. And all because I represented God with respect. That's what my faith has given me when it comes to dealing with biblical themes.
When I do pieces about human rights or nature, I also show that respect for life and human beings. Humour must be handled with respect, because it is a double-edged sword. You have to be very careful to avoid doing harm.
Humour is more serious than it seems and you have to treat it with great delicacy so that it not only makes you laugh, but also makes you reflect and think. That's the good thing about humour.
Q. In church life, the voice is key to worship, preaching and so on. But you 'preached' to those 25 people without speaking. Some may wonder what a person who doesn't use words can say about God.
A. There are moments for silence. I was born in a Spanish city of the Asturias region and come from a Roman Catholic background. Many of my family still are. What I liked about the Catholic Church was the silence.
When I joined the evangelical church, which is where I came to know the gospel in a very clear and evident way, I missed that silence.
That moment of silence is not a bad thing, rather it can bring much. In many churches, the problem with silence is that we don't let it speak. It seems that if there is silence it is because something is wrong, but the silence of a mime says something, because he uses it to tell a story.
When we don't allow silence to speak, whether through a graphic expression, a painting, a starry night or a sleeping baby, that silence begins to speak to us about our past.
Silence has a habit of reminding us of all the bad things we have done. That's why we don't want it to enter our lives. We try to control it to avoid feeling guilty.
But when silence speaks to us and we let it speak, it can be a real message. I will never say that silence speaks louder than words. I believe in the preacher and everything to do with the voice, but we can't leave silence out.
A very dear musician told me that music without silence does not exist. In other words, silence must be part of our communication. If someone wants to include a bit of silence in the church, why not do it through art?
Sometimes a church in Germany hires me to perform a mime piece before the preaching, so that the preacher can address it in his message afterwards. In Spain, I worked in the 'Call' ministry and my part was the opposite. After the preaching, I would do a summary of everything the preacher had said. Sometimes in mime and sometimes speaking.
Mime is like one of Jesus' parables. There are people who stay only for the story, and there are others who stay because they want to know more.
Q. I recently talked with a pastor who explained me how he tries to use silences to create space in his preaching.
A. On a football field, people can't stand a minute of silence. The thought is very strong, and if it is not controlled, it does not allow the silence to speak. Silence, as such, is rarely seen. It requires training. So we cannot ask a church that has not had that preparation to make use of silence, to keep silence.
However, with a simple artistic representation, it is possible to create a silence that speaks.
When I teach pastors I always tell them not to be afraid of the time it takes to go from their seat to the pulpit. There are some who run because they fear it's a dead time, but it's not.
People watch the pastor as he moves, and depending on how he walks, people are already prepared to listen one way or the other. All the preacher's silences, as the audience watches him turn the pages, are details that can be incorporated without having to mime and are part of non-verbal communication, which is sometimes just as important as verbal communication.
Q. Your career has developed mainly in Germany and Switzerland, but you have always kept a relationship with the church and the audience in Spain.
A. I recently did a rehearsal with an audience in the church I attend here in Spain, and I performed pieces that I have been doing for forty years but which were new to the audience here.
That is the price I have paid for starting to work abroad, wanting to make a living out of this and make it my profession.
There are people in Germany who have seen me work many times. It succeeded there because in the first years I worked in churches so much. I had started in Spain with Youth for Christ. I worked with them, I did mime and gave mime courses. And Youth For Christ in Germany saw my work and invited me to go there.
Then the churches there began to see and value this kind of art. That opened many doors for me. As they hired me there and not here, little by little I moved there.
I always say that in Spain they treat me very well, but they don't hire me (laughs). But there have also been churches here that have supported me, and even signed a contact for me.
In Germany, churches are used to hiring an artist, and they also pay in advance. There comes a time when you get used to that rhythm and when you come to Spain there is a culture shock.
I have worked in churches, but I always had in mind working in theatres. There was a time when I worked more in theatres than in churches. Then we decided to balance it 50/50, because many churches were asking for me. We have tried to keep both types of audiences.
The good thing is that my show has a place both in a church and in a theatre. I don't have to change my way of thinking. Neither in the theatre I have to do only human rights, nor in the church I can do only My Bible. I can interchange it perfectly well.
I was recently in a theatre in Sweden where people could choose the pieces I play. Even in theatres, many people want to see Creation, because it is done in a very human way. It is not proselytising.
A psychologist who has been working with meditation for many years saw the piece and told me that in four minutes she had reached places in her soul that she had only been able to reach in hours.
What is it about The Creation? It is a work of mime in which every gesture is very carefully worked out. I have seen this work valued at a professional level abroad. In Spain perhaps I haven't seen it because I haven't had the chance.
Churches in Spain sometimes invite me to perform and they think it's expensive so that I tell them to invite me to preach. I don't charge for that. Sometimes I preach, but only when I can share my vision of the Bible from a theatrical perspective. If I am forced to do it from a concrete theological perspective, I find it more difficult.
My perspective is that of an actor who reads the Bible. I'm not talking about changing the Bible, I'm talking about changing the perspective. That's the work of art: it makes people look at the same story from a different perspective and consider new things.
That's what mime has given me, and it's something I also do when I give seminars to pastors, even though they are people who know the Bible very well.
I tell them the biblical story from an actor's perspective, and it automatically changes everything. Jesus interpreted two parables, and sometimes I think it is a good thing he didn't interpret the others, because we can play with that. But for the ones he did interpret, we are obliged to be faithful to the interpretation. Even so, we are free to change the way the message is delivered.
Someone once told me that my talent is the mime, but my gift is communication. I can communicate with gesture and words, it's just that it's the gesture that gives me a job (laughs).
Q. How do you experience the typical dilemma of the Christian artist?
A. Especially in the secular sphere, although I don't like to call it that, most people don't even know that I'm a Christian. That helps the representative when it comes to selling, because the word 'Christian', in certain artistic sectors, is badly seen.
On the other hand, when you want to work in churches and you say you are a Christian, they like it, but when you say you are also an artist, they don't like it so much. So an artist who is a Christian is often in a kind of limbo. Saying that you are an artist and a Buddhist doesn't cause the same problems.
That is why we always try to be very cautious. We don't want to make Christianity the banner we use to sell. There were many churches in Germany that hired me because I was a Christian, until I realised it and asked them to hire me for my art. Of course, if someone asks, they get an answer.
I try that people who are not Christians see my show and like it. Just like when I read Saramago's portrait of Jesus, which is heretical and I don't agree with, but I respect him because of how well he writes.
I want to be respected professionally for my work. That's why I like churches to hire me as a professional. They don't need to pay me for sharing my testimony.
My fear has always been that I will be caricatured as the Protestant mime. Not out of shame, but I have always preferred to wait until I am asked to give the answer.
I think of Larry Norman and what he meant when he said that when Christians say that Jesus is the answer, one thinks what the question is. The artist's job is to provoke questions, and when people already have the question, that's when our faith, our biblical knowledge and our experience as Christians can provide the answer. But first you have to get the question through art.
Published in: Evangelical Focus – culture – “Mime is like one of Jesus’ parables”
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