Stories Without Words

Bill Bowers, a disciple of Marcel Marceau, comes to LCC

Bill Bowers
Bill Bowers

“I am a physical storyteller,” performer Bill Bowers says. “I am interested in the study of ‘How would you say something if you couldn’t use words?’”

Bowers visits Lane Community College this week for a residency that includes a free workshop for the public May 27 and a performance of Bowers’ critically acclaimed Beyond Words May 30.

“Words immediately ask us to intellectualize, to interpret, to process information,” Bowers says. “Physical theater asks us to respond more from the heart than from the head.”

In video clips of his latest work, Bowers glissades effortlessly between words and actions. “For Beyond Words I gave myself the assignment to tell stories in images, or what I like to think of as moving pictures,” Bowers says.

After spending much of his early career working in isolation to create new work — “Being a solo mime can be very solitary,” Bowers explains — it was studying with renowned actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith that emboldened Bowers to open the rehearsal room door and invite audiences in to see the process.

“It is terrifying to show a piece before it is finished,” Bowers says. “But I also began to see that it deepened my work. I now always seek out opportunities to show my work to a small, core audience and ask for honest feedback.”

Bowers has an impressive Broadway résumé, and he trained as a mime with the inimitable Marcel Marceau. Yet he was once just a kid in Missoula, Montana, an artsy college town not unlike Eugene.

“Montana is a big, quiet place,” Bowers says. “I am from a big, quiet family. I am also a gay man who was a gay boy growing up in a small Montana town in the ’60s and ’70s, long before Oprah. I was very familiar with not talking, particularly about feelings and fears.”

Bowers continues: “When I was about 14, I learned about mime, an art that is based on not talking. Though I never imagined that I would become a performer — I was quite shy, and still am — I knew that silence was a language I wanted to explore, and one that I understood on a deep level.”

When he was 17, Bowers’ mother bought him a ticket to see Marceau.

“To witness the power of one person performing without a word on a bare stage, holding an audience of a thousand people in his command, completely blew my mind,” Bowers says.

Bowers offers a free “Movement for Actors” workshop 7 to 9 pm Wednesday, May 27, which is also open to the public; to reserve a spot, contact LCC theater instructor Brian Haimbach at
Beyond Words will take place 7 pm Saturday, May 30, at Ragozzino Performance Hall; $10-$20, free for high school students; tickets at 463-5648.  — Rachael Carnes 

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