Bill Bowers re-joined Next Step Prep for a second year of guest instruction, and we are so lucky to have him back. He spent three days with us and we loved every minute. Bill is a Montana native, world-famous mime (he studied with Marcel Marceau...how cool is THAT!?!), and just all around fantastic person. He also has impressive credentials and travels all over the world, not only performing, but also directing and teaching in arts education and enrichment programs. Spend some time on his website (click HERE) and you'll see just what a treasure he is to our program.
(An apology to Bill...his blog post didn't make it on here from last year, so when this year's summer program is over I'll be doing a little retrospective from 2009 and include those images because they are fantastic. There were a couple other posts missing as well so stay tuned).
Bill is one of those people who makes people feel better just being in his presence. What a wonderful perspective on love of life, love of people, and love of his craft. Sometimes the lessons the students learn in class are not spoken, and Bill's interaction with the students is a prime example of this. The students came alive in his class and the amount of laughter shared STILL makes my stomach hurt. This was a fun couple days to photograph, I assure you. Even the quiet moments were packed with photo opportunities.
But first, the shoes...the students really liked them. Bill really liked them. He's had them for years. He wished he'd bought several pairs when he found them. They are pretty cool, I'll admit.
Bill started off the first day with an exercise where the students moved at random around the room, filling the entire space. They were then directed to walk together in random pairs, then in trios, then small groups, until finally the whole group formed a big circle. Let class begin...
Creating shapes...this is an "O"...
The letter "G"...we had some lower case letters, too...
The big group...it's always really fun when all the students are in class together.
In building off Erin Ortman's class the previous week, Bill helped the students stay present in their bodies, being aware of their balance, their alignment, and their subtle movements. They then played a really, really fun game where they made "scenes" (they had to make airplanes, submarines, elephants, JELL-O....jello???, the "Spirit of 76", and finally, that all-time favorite, "High School Musical"...
Spirit of 76...
Charlies Angels... Oh yea...a bowl of Jell-O...
And the student favorite...High School Musical...
Bill gives feedback on the students' work. I just have to share that Ana has the best laugh. I think I've mentioned before that she's one of our returning students, coming all the way from Hong Kong for her second summer in Missoula. She'll be entering her senior year at the Hong Kong International School this year.
Another great warm up involved the students standing in a large circle. On the count of three, they had to look at someone else in the circle chosen at random. If two students looked at each other at the same time, they were out. We try to encourage the students to take what they've learned and apply it in "real world" settings...I'm thinking this exercise might be extrapolated, for instance, into one's audition tape for "Survivor"??? Or not.
The circle started off big...
...and dwindled... (editorial note...this photo shows that at Next Step Prep we have no height restrictions...hahaha....sorry, I couldn't resist...and I can say that because ol' shorty there is my daughter...my apologies for passing along the shallow end of the genetic gene pool, Maddy...)
and finally...victory, sweet victory....sorry, Sierra...we don't have a million dollars for you, though. But maybe Greg can commandeer some of those Next Step Prep cookies as a consolation prize (as long as you share with your photographer friend).
Next the students worked on "filling space" in a scene. One students started off with one position, then the next student added to the picture, and so on and so on. Dane jumps into this one and helps complete the look.
Once they worked through how to fill a scene, the students then had to create "tableaus", where one idea or thought was expressed. The goal was to make it as clear as possible what the idea was, using iconic images that are widely recognized in our culture. This was an interesting lesson to watch, learning that mime techniques focus on the use of icons as a way to tell their story.
The students were given five minutes to prep their tableaus... Blake...it's not nice to go "neener-neener" to Mikaila (haha)...
I'll let you try to guess (answers at the end, if I can remember them all..this 40-something brain sometimes doesn't fire on all cylinders...if I can't remember I'll ask the students to remind me!):
Tableau #8:I'll give you a closer look at that one...
Tableau #10:Check your answers at the end and see how you did!
After each tableau, Bill worked with the students, giving feedback and eliciting ideas from the group on how the tableau could be made stronger. The students identified the iconic images used and brainstormed about what substitutes might work better.
The next class assignments built on this previous task. In this one, Bill let the students use their own knowledge of history and their creativity to create three historical events. The students split into groups and got to work. This is Part Two of your pop quiz....
Tableau #13 (this one's a tricky one):
Off to another movement exercise. Bill talked about how each movement needs to show energy. He suggested that every time a limb moves it should look like jolts of energy were moving it. Here the students do an exercise shopping for "specks" in a speck-grocery-store (where else?). They need to find a speck, bring our attention to it, give it size, weight, shape, texture, interact with it, and then move on...some specks, you will see, were quite heavy or stubborn to come off their respective shelves... (this exercise, incidentally, might come in handy for MCT's auditions of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Next this fall...I'm just sayin'....)
Bill walked around during this exercise, calling out suggestions...he is an incredibly encouraging teacher (as are all the instructors at Next Step)...
Now...sometimes those specks get a little stubborn, making it hard to get to them..
And sometimes those specks can get downright onery (we are in Montana...and onery is sometimes expected)...so when they get picked up they release their energy, carrying the pickee on a wild ride...
That was fun to watch. Especially because the only sounds in the room were the squeaking of shoes on the floor, or the "whoosh" of a passing whirlwind student. No words were needed.
Using a technique called "Eiffeling", the students work on balance and shifting of weight in all directions...they start in a straight standing position, feet flat on the floor, eyes straight ahead...
The start to lean. Bill...maybe this exercise should be called "Pisa-ing"...but I guess Marcel Marceau was from France, so Eiffel makes more sense :)
Using the Eiffeling technique, the students then learn how to walk, mime-style..
Now, having camera in my hand, I didn't try the mime walk, but I assure you, it is NOT as easy as it looks. Bill made it a point to let the students know that he practices these techniques EVERY DAY...proof positive that hard work, determination, and preparation pay off when opportunity comes their way.
"Walking" like a mime involves the subtle shift of weight, the brush of the foot away from the body, and the trick of making it all look fluid...Bill demonstrates...
Then works with the students...
Bill also taught the students the subtleties of using tiny little movements to make their mime work more realistic. Here he shows how tiny exercises with fingers and hands can be done to build strength and make a performance more expressive...
The students learned how to "move" things, such as imaginary strings and ropes. This was an interesting exercise. While the students were working individually, they as a group began moving a universal string around the circle, as their movements became more synchronized. They didn't even know they were doing it until Bill pointed it out.
In this exercise, the students built a "machine", complete with sound effects, starting with one person and adding people as "parts". This was HILARIOUS. As the machine worked, Bill called out suggestions for how to change the mood of the machine by changing the sound (for example...this is a machine in love...this is a German machine...this is an old, tired machine...you get the picture...the students were INCREDIBLY creative during this)...
Each day Bill gave the students a little mime performance. Here is a scene from his show, "Under a Montana Moon".
Now, let me share something that is true not only for Bill, but also for ALL the guest instructors here at Next Step Prep. During breaks and at the end of class, Bill just hung out and visited with the students. These were times for students to get a picture with him, or to ask questions, or to just get to know him. But Bill is not an exception. ALL the instructors at Next Step take the time to really invest and give information to our students. They are genuinely interested in being here and imparting their knowledge as well as their collective wisdom. Yes, they are instructors, but seriously...our instructors have so many choices about where they can go and what they can do, and they choose to come to us. The summer program is not pretentious at all. It's honest, it's real, and it's professional in a relaxed environment. Our instructors wear shorts and t-shirts (you might have noticed this, but if you haven't take a look at the other blog posts). It is a comfortable environment to learn and grow. How fantastic is that? As an adult in mid-life looking back, I think some of these students will look back on this program and think "WOW...I got to work with Bill Bowers" the same way Bill Bowers shared, "WOW...I got to work with Marcel Marceau". Think about it.
And now for the pop-quiz answers:
Tableau #1: wedding
Tableau #2: parade
Tableau #3: surgery
Tableau #4: Thanksgiving dinner
Tableau #5: luau
Tableau #6: zoo
Tableau #7: I have to ask the students and get back to you on this one...
Tableau #8: dentist (LOVE Nicky's dental assistant pose in this one...go back and look)
Tableau #9: courtroom
Tableau #10: heaven
Tableau #11: Crucifixion of Jesus
Tableau #12: Assassination of Lincoln
Tableau #13: extinction of the dinosaurs
Tableau #14: Iwo Jima
Tableau #15: Boston Tea Party
Tableau #16: Washington's Crossing of the Delaware River
Tableau #17: Um....I can't remember this one...stay tuned
Tableau #18: King Tut/pyramids
Tableau #19: Tiananmen Square
Bill, we can't thank you enough for a wonderful three days together, and we can't wait to have you back.
Obligatory mime pose :)