Saying the Unsaid

Spring 2014 artist-in-residence Bill Bowers

Spring 2014 artist-in-residence Bill Bowers and students in a beginning acting class take a break from their workshop to mug for the camera. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

You’ve seen them at street fairs and boardwalks: those white-faced, stripey-shirted imps who silently pull themselves along invisible ropes. Their silences are golden in Europe, where they’re part of a respected performance tradition, but in America, the very mention of their name can elicit giggles and groans.

We’re speaking, of course, about mimes. But, says Artist-in-Residence Bill Bowers, there’s much more to this art form than many of us know.

Bowers is a mime—more specifically, an award-winning pantomime-mime hybrid—who is sometimes silent, but has a lot to say. He’s also a longtime Broadway, film and television actor with an MFA from Rutgers University and an honorary Ph.D. from Rocky Mountain College. He  teaches at New York’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, and his recent one-man show earned a coveted Critics’ Pick endorsement from The New York Times.

The celebrated performer came to Dickinson last week for an artistic residency that included a discussion of the relationship between personal identity and creativity, acting workshops, a reception with students and professors and a performance at the nearby Cubiculo.

“I was fascinated by his way of thinking about the body as an instrument and using mime and pantomime as a way to speak out without having to speak,” said Holly Kelly '15. “Thinking about performance in this way will be extremely useful, because so often in opera, you have to use only your body to accentuate the music.”

In between sharing tips culled from his decades-long career in New York, Bowers also spoke about key moments in his life, growing up gay in small-town Montana and finding his voice in silence while studying with the legendary Marcel Marceau.

“He’s had quite a remarkable life, and he told his story with such good humor, creativity, honesty and grace,” said Laura Colleluori '14, a theatre arts and Italian studies major who plans to work in theatre education and community-building.

Learning by example

Bowers' approach to arts education—a method that combines traditional instruction with practical advice from the trenches—is familiar to Dickinson students. He is just one of the celebrated arts professionals who visit campus each semester to work directly with students in and out of the classroom.

Last semester’s resident artists included a Grammy-winning vocal quartet and Pulitzer Prize winning composer, a renowned artist-activist and a world-traveling taiko musician. The spring artists-in-residence include a Guggenheim and Pew-funded stained-glass artist, a trailblazing string quartet and a Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

Jeremy Lupowitz '15, a theatre-arts and French major, said that experiences such as these are invaluable. He was moved both by Bowers' resilience and his commitment to communicate more deeply through art.

"I learned that there are a lot of ways we can transmit our thoughts, feelings and ideas to one another—verbal communication is just one road on the map," said the aspiring director. 

"And just because there are some things that our society can’t or won’t talk about, it doesn’t mean that we won’t find other ways of expressing ourselves, until eventually, society feels a little more comfortable discussing those issues,” Lupowitz continued. “That’s a lesson I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”

click to view view Bowers photo gallery

Published February 5, 2014