Silent Man: A Life of Bill Bowers


Miming is the most powerful mode of individualism that Bill Bowers knows. The unspeaking art form is an identity that Bowers was born into, an instinctive expansion of his Missoula roots.

“I’ve been a mime since I was a little kid,” says Bowers. “Since I was born, I’ve basically been a mime. So much about me being a mime is about me being from Montana. I was a mime before I ever knew what the word was, or was ever interested in performing it.”

One of the purposes of art is to sponge the dirt and soil of day-to-day life off of our consciousness. Indeed, for Bowers, art is not just a washing, but a reconciling and a cleansing, an opportunity for him to not only narrow the gap between perception and reality, but animate all those slight and not so slight things that compose his – and our own – humanity.

Bill Bowers - Montana2

“My theory is that I’m a mime because I’m from Montana,” says Bowers, a fifth-generation Montanan. “Montana is the classic big, quiet place, and I came from the classic stoic Montana family. There was lots going on in my family, but no one actually discussed anything.”

Add the dimension of Bowers being a gay kid in Missoula in the 1960s, and it’s not hard to comprehend why Bowers gravitated to an art form where reticence reigns.

“That’s a lot of silence to deal with,” says Bowers. “It all combined inside of me.”

Bill Bowers - Montana Mime

While Bowers had a strong inclination of the mime’s career path as a youngster, his relationship with one of the world’s greatest practitioners of pantomime, French-born Marcel Marceau, put in motion a chain of events that have helped put Bowers on a short list of the greatest living mimes.

“About fifteen years ago,” says Bowers, “I was working on Broadway, and I left to work with Marcel Marceau. At the time it was the opposite of a career move. I ran off for three years and studied with him. That was life changing. Working with Marceau changed the direction of my life, it made me a writer, and it made me create my own solo work as a mime.”

Bill Bowers - Montana Mime. Performs in Missoula, MT.

Bowers learned from Marceau that to think creatively, one must be able to look anew at what we others normally take for granted. He also learned that the mine needs to perpetuate the feeling of pure contemplation, and that the mime’s aim should be to represent not the outer appearance of things, but their inner significance.

Since his relationship with Marceau – who died in 2007 – Bowers has enjoyed standing ovations and sold-out performances across the nation and world. He does this by stirring emotions and touching the soul in indescribable ways.

Bill Bowers - Montana Mime. Performs in Missoula, MT.

Indeed, Miming is the expression of Bowers’ joy in labor. That labor is silence. That silence is met with a variety of responses.

“It’s interesting what silence does to people,” says Bowers. “Often, people have very intense emotional responses. Places that are silent – churches, temples, libraries – they are places of contemplation. Miming allows things to enter you a different way. And a lot of people spend their days trying to suppress those feelings. It’s a different experience to not be distracted by the world’s entire stimulus.”

Bowers suggests that audiences treat miming like any other artistic medium: let it express itself to you first. Missoulians will have the opportunity to let Bill Bowers express himself, Friday, June 28, when MCT, Inc presents “An Evening with Bill Bowers;” proceeds of the 90-minute retrospective go toward the Next Step Prep scholarship fund.

Bill Bowers - Montana Mime. Performs in Missoula, MT.

Bowers has been an instructor at MCT’s Next Step Prep since its inception five years ago. Next Step Prep brings students from small communities across North America to Missoula to train with some of the top educators and performers in American theater, dance and music. His principle as a teacher is rooted in the belief that expression is not just about communication; it is also about connecting with people. With some tutelage, students can learn to use their expression to open up, break loose, and build confidence.

“In the arts,” says Bowers, “you have an interest in empathy and understanding. That comes with the territory that we are all in. And as a mime, I like to observe how people do things and I look for stories to tell.”

Gregory Boris, Next Step Prep Managing Director, says that Bowers’s empathy as an instructor is in sync with Next Step Prep’s inclusive philosophy.

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“Performance art is about human connections and personal connections,” says Boris. “That’s the reason we bring people like Bill Bowers in. That’s the beauty of having someone of Bill’s caliber working with kids.”

Fresh off a recent performance at the White House, Bowers will appear at a festival in Serbia and at Scotland’s famed Edinburgh Festival Fringe later this summer; he has his own take on just why the art of miming hasn’t sustained in the United States the same way it has in many other countries.

“It’s hard to learn,” says Bowers. “But more so, our culture has moved toward if you can’t do it in five minutes, forget it.”

Mindful of the fact that nothing in art is ever permanent, Bowers presses on with his thought-provoking skits and themes.

“If I don’t do it, it could literally disappear.”

Bill Bowers - Mime - Missoula, MT

World class mime Bill Bowers performs at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts. “An Evening with Bill Bowers: Stories With and Without Words” June 28, 2013; begins at 7:30 p.m. All tickets $20. Proceeds benefit Next Step Prep scholarship fund. Box office: 406-728-7529. Tickets go on sale June 17 at 9:00 a.m.


Read more of Brian’s stories about the fascinating places and personalities that shape Western Montana in his blog archive.


Brian D’Ambrosio is a Missoula writer, editor, instructor, and media consultant. D’Ambrosio’s recent articles have been published in local, regional, and national publications, including High Country NewsUSA TodayWisconsin TrailsBark MagazineMontana Magazine, and Backpacker Magazine.

His latest book about legendary vigilante screen actor Charles Bronson, Menacing Face Worth Millions, A Life of Charles Bronson, is available for purchase on Kindle. He is also the author of Montana Summer: 101 Great Adventures in Big Sky Country. D’Ambrosio’s next book, Desert Horse: A Life of Marvin Camel, a biography of the Montana boxing legend, will be published by Riverbend Publishing in 2013.