By Maddie Orton
The show Beyond Words has several sets — flying, even a horse. But playwright and performer Bill Bowers, currently at Hamilton Stage in Rahway on his international tour, travels light. He’s a mime.
“I knew very early on that I had an interest and a familiarity with quiet,” he said.
Bowers grew up in a quiet town in Montana with a quiet family. He says there was also a kind of quiet that came with being a gay youth in the 1960s.
“I had watched Charlie Chaplin and Danny Kaye. I liked that idea of nonverbal clowning. And then I had a high school teacher who got a sense that I might be good at that, and he kind of directed me that way and showed me some books to look at and I just began teaching myself,” he said.
He also got to see one of the greats when Marcel Marceau toured through Montana.
“And it was a huge theater filled with people and you could hear a pin drop. It was just so powerful, and funny and moving. I just felt like he brought a whole world to this little town that I lived in,” Bowers said.
Bowers would go on to take lessons with Marceau toward the end of the legend’s life.
When asked how he got the connection with Marceau, Bowers said, “I called him on the phone. I like the idea of two mimes calling each other on the phone, don’t you?”
He says working with Marceau was challenging and inspiring. In fact, for Bowers — who was a working actor with Broadway, film and TV credits — it was life-changing.
“He said, ‘If you don’t do it — if you don’t pass it on — it will disappear. It will just go away.’ Because mime is a temporal art. And I really took that to heart, and I was writing my first piece by the time I left him,” Bowers said.
When he’s not touring with his shows, Bowers teaches, too. So I hopped onstage for some Miming: 101.
“Basically, two big rules are fixed points and fixed space. A fixed point is anything stronger than you. See the dot right out there? You’re going to see the dot and you’re going to grab it, and it’s stuck in space. It’s fixed right there. So, I’m going to do a move and you mimic me. You’re going to use that dot to pull your body, and then I’m going to push away,” Bowers explained.
Bowers says he’s been called a “post-modern mime.” He’s not entirely sure what that means, but he thinks it has to do with ditching white face paint and performing monologues intermittently with classic mime. But, just like Marceau’s performance back in Montana those years ago, the audience is with him — and, when he is silent, you can hear a pin drop.