BWW Interviews: Bill Bowers at Centenary Stages
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by Gregory G. Allen
Centenary Stage Company will present the amazing Bill Bowers in his one man show UNDER A MONTANA MOON November 15-18. Mr. Bowers is a busy man traveling the country with his multiple shows, but Broadway World was able to speak with him about his career and this show.
Bill, I'm so glad to get a chance to talk to you since it has been a while since I last saw you. You continue to get critical acclaim for your different shows. Can you tell us how you go about creating these plays?
Bill Bowers: i have been interested in the subject of silence for most of my life.....so that is the frame I use. I look at the experience of silence, in nature, in human interaction, in society, in politics. And of course, I begin with my own experiences of this, and look for universal themes.
You are so open with sharing your life stories. How therapeutic is it writing and performing these works?
I try hard to keep my "therapy" separate from what I put on stage. I hope to find the truth in my own experiences and from that I look to dramatize that truth in a way that is meaningful and resonates to an audience.....beyond my own personal stories. but I have really learned a lot about myself as I continue to write. And since I was a quiet kid and still remain a fairly shy person, it is fun to have the opportunity to express myself.
You always utilize your love of mine in your shows. Where did that love originate?
I grew up in Montana, and the BIG QUIET of the West is in my bones! I am also a gay man, and was a gay boy in a small town in montana, in the 60's, before GLEE! These experiences of "knowing silence", internally and externally really shaped my view of the world, and of myself. When I was about 14, I learned that there is an artform about silence called Pantomime. I knew it was for me. So I began to teach myself what I thought it was. That led to high school drama, college drama, grad school, nyc.......to performing all over the world.
You have done TV, film, Broadway - how did a boy from Montana end up in this world?
I basically have always followed my heart, to be cliche. I came to graduate school at Rutgers University and that is what led me away from Montana. Then NYC was a natural next step after that. I worked in regional theatre for 10 years before getting my first Broadway show....and have just tried to always do the "next right thing." Gratefully, I have had people who have believed in me all along the way, and have encouraged me to keep going on this path.
You originated a role on Broadway in The Scarlet Pimpernel which must have been a thrill. Can you share a little about that experience?
It was fantastic. I am not trained in musical theatre so I was really intimidated by the musical talent around me. I got cast in this show because I am a physical actor and Scarlet Pimpernel requires Period Style and stage combat, both of which I had studied at Rutgers. I learned so much about how to show and pay attention, and really listen as a singer. I met my husband at Scarlet Pimpernel, and many great friends.
For a non-musical person...you went into another great show - playing ZaZu in The Lion King - did your mine training really come into play in that show?
I got the audition for Zazu because I was a mime. 90% of the audition was physical improvisation. And of course to do that role for over a year is a real workout, so my physical training helped with the endurance needed to do 8 shows a week.
I notice in Under A Montana Moon there are no words. What made you decide to present this show in this fashion and how long have you been touring with it?
UNDER A MONTANA MOON is my first solo show. It began as a "concert" at Harvard University in 2000. I was invited by Anna Deavere Smith to be part of the Institute on Arts and Civic Dialogue, and I was investigating the role of silence in our culture. From that I expanded the show for an Off Broadway production at Urban Stages in 2001, and then began touring it in 2002. At this point, I have performed UNDER A MONTANA MOON all over the world.....more than 30 states, Romania, Macedonia, Japan, Italy, Norway, Germany......this show has been my ticket around the world!
That is wonderful! What themes in this show can New Jersey audiences except to experience?
I look at 3 questions: What is it like to be silenced? To remain silent? To silence someone else?
I can honestly say that you put your heart and soul into each performance and your feelings are palpable. Audiences are in for a real treat at Centenary Stages. Can you tell me anything new you are working on now?
Thank you, Gregory. I have an ensemble play called HEYOKAH that has been produced several times, most recently at the Edinburgh Festival. Inspired by the Lakota "contrairie clown", the Heyokah, which translates to "the one who walks backwards." The play looks at the idea of being "different". What is the experience of the one who is opposite the norm, the one who transgresses? What is the role of the "Heyokah" in our world today? I am also beginning work on a new solo work.
I can't wait to experience that one as well. Thank you so much for taking time to chat. Theater-goers can get full information on Bowers' performance schedule at the Centenary website.