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The art of silence, from the mouth of a mime

April 27, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
Being a shy, gay man from Montana, Bill Bowers says he knew about silence from early on. When he heard there was an art form devoted to being silent, he knew he had found his calling. Bowers offers his Brief but Spectacular take on being a mime and making room for quiet.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask people to describe their passions.

Tonight, we hear from artist and performer Bill Bowers, who teaches mime, a theatrical technique that uses gestures, instead of words. He’s at New York University.

BILL BOWERS, Mime: I am from a big, quiet family in Montana. I was an incredibly shy younger person.

I am also a gay man, which the word gay didn’t even exist back then, but I knew about silence early on for all of those reasons. I got older and learned that there was an art form about not talking. I thought, oh, my God, that’s perfect. I’m in.

I loved mime once I learned more about it. When I had a chance to put my focus on being a mime performer, I really went in that direction.

A story came on the news that Marcel Marceau was embarking on his 80th birthday world tour. And I thought, I have got to study with Marcel Marceau. I sought him out. I was intimidated by him. He was a very famous, very old French mime. And all of that came into the room with him.

He talked about himself in the third person a lot. He said: “People say Marceau is genius. I say, no, Marceau is not the genius. Genius is where Marceau and the people meet.”

A lot of times, what happens for me, especially performing in the U.S., is people hear that it’s a mime show, and they don’t want to come. I mean, if I heard there was a mime show, I probably wouldn’t come.

(LAUGHTER)

BILL BOWERS: It’s actually not about you as the performer. It’s about the connection you make with an audience. And the space between you is where this thing can happen.

What I find really interesting with audiences for my show is that, if you sit in silence, something happens. A lot of people end up feeling more than they ever imagined.

I think mime provides this quiet space that’s harder and harder to find in the world. And if you sit with yourself for any period of time, you’re probably going to feel something.

And I think a lot of the world right now is putting stuff in front of actually feeling. Maybe if we sit and let — silence is right now, just together.

My name is Bill Bowers, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on silence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How often do you hear silence on television?

Well, you can find more of our Brief But Spectacular videos online. That’s at pbs.org/newshour/brief.

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