Swiss mime artiste Markus Schmid’s travelling production troupe Andrayas has performed across the world, addressing social issues and finding stories of hope

French writer Jean Giono’s story The Man Who Planted Trees, tells of a young man’s meeting with an old shepherd. Through their conversation, the shepherd narrates his life story of hardship, of losing his family and home to a great fire, yet striving to fulfil his life’s one goal: the single-handed creation of a large forest. The tale ends with the shepherd having realised his dream.

For Swiss mime artiste Markus Schmid, the story forms the script of a play he’s performed 150 times in the last year and a half, across three continents to audiences in jungles and hills, with his travelling family production troupe, Andrayas

Resonating themes

Markus performs The Man Who Planted Trees in Kochi on March 19 and in Kannur on March 20, both in association with Helen O'Grady, an international organisation advocating theatre for children, and Back2School, an after-school learning programme in Kerala.

Markus says the play’s themes of resilience and daring to dream mirror the story of his family. “Eight years ago, we had an idea: to leave Switzerland and travel the world as a family in a non-touristy way,” says Markus.

“We spent six years planning, preparing two plays, went to Argentina first and have since been to Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, South Africa, several countries in South-East Asia and we’ve been in India from January,” says his biologist wife, Maria Gomez.

Family affair

The couple travel with their children Felix (12) and Leo (10), who are currently home-schooled, and manage the sets, props and stage design of Markus’ 45-minute acts. “Mime is a universal language. I use practices from the circus, puppetry, film and theatre, blending projections, shadows, body language, music and visual tools to tell a story. The plays - ‘Enki’ based on the Sumerian mythical god of fresh water, and the forest planter’s story - address environmental issues that are universal too,” says Markus. From nation to nation, responses to the acts have differed, but always sparked conversations about local struggles.

In Laos, for instance, their scripts had to clear censorship boards before performance, but the audiences resonated deeply with the themes because these were strong political issues there.

In India, Andrayas has travelled across the metros and covered many cities in Tamil Nadu, and is soon headed to Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The greatest benefit from this nomadic way of life has been to be “connected with people at the grassroots who work for and believe in change,” says Maria.

Above all, it has been an education in the cultures of the world.

“In Peru, we performed at 4,000 m above sea level. I could barely breathe. Entire villages came running out to watch us at the call of a megaphone. In South Africa, people danced with me when I wore masks. In India, they clap every time something good happens,” adds Markus.

“All of these countries are often portrayed in the media with so much despair. But everywhere we went, we met stories of hope.”