Every year, Kalamazoo hosts Gospel in the Park as part of the Black Arts Festival. On Sunday, Bronson Park will be filled with gospel choirs, dancers, guest ministers, and a mime. That’s right—a mime. Progressive churches are using something called Mime Ministry, where silent gesturers act out the words in a gospel song.
“It’s like painting a picture of your relationship with God,” says Kalamazoo Valley Community College student Cer Bolton.
Bolton is a gospel mime. In this Youtube video, Bolton and three other mimes perform to the song “In the Midst of it All” by Yolanda Adams. As they say the words “never let me fall,” Bolton catches a fellow mime.
Bolton says a mime’s facial expressions are what make the show.
“We’re just acting out the relationships with God. And especially with the words of the song as it goes along, that’s the most important thing. But without the facial expressions, we’re not doing the song right,” says Bolton. “It’s more energy and less thinking about the hand movements.”
Bolton has autism spectrum disorder which can affect a person’s social and communication skills. Performing in front of a large crowd is not easy for someone with ASD. Despite this, Bolton has been singing and dancing since he was little and started doing theatre in high school.
“You know people tend to stereotype…they put autism in a box and they expect one thing. But then when they see Cer, it just totally blows them away,” says Bolton's mom Vickie Wooden. “When Cer started miming he said to me ‘Mom, I finally found where I belong.’ And he really excels in miming. And I still cry every time I watch him mime because it is just totally amazing to see him be able to express himself seamlessly through mime. And he is a very good choreographer.”
Bolton recently won the Council for Exceptional Children’s “Yes I Can!” award that honors talented children and youth with disabilities. Bolton says it takes him about two weeks to come up with choreography for a mime. Wooden says when it’s time to perform, all of Bolton’s hard work really shows. And the congregation really loves it.
“They do lots of gestures that compel the audience to interact and move," says Wooden. "And every performance, or every time they are called to minister at church, the congregation is standing. They are very much involved. And once they leave the room, it takes about 15 minutes for the congregation to settle down.”