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From Bill – A Mentor Passes

September 5, 2012

Paul Curtis walks through a class as students interact within “technical form”

Not long ago, Paul Curtis, Founder of the American Mime Theatre, the oldest continuously practicing mime company and school in the world, passed away. It was days after their 60th Anniversary.

I and the rest of the AMT tribe are heartbroken. The AMT Company continues, and we are all hopeful the art form will stay alive and vital.

For many years, I studied and worked with Paul and consider him one of three mentors that shaped me profoundly. The first is John Pearson, and the theater hall here at 321 E. 4th. St. is named after him. The second is Paul Baker of the Dallas Theater Center, also a mentor of John’s. And finally, Paul Curtis of the American Mime Theater. Paul was an extraordinary artist, and a profoundly gifted teacher. I owe him my creative life. His voice still goes off in my head every day with his guidance– always working on the “greatest lack”;  if we allowed problems to get in the way of our work, we’d never get any work done (or as he’d say it, “someone’s always bleeding from the ear”); or being mediocre is easy, being good is hard, and being great is not really something we have control over. Endless wisdoms to live by, and of course his technique which unites movement and drama in a coherent and flexible form. That gift was like teaching me the language of the stage. At least I could see and hear, speak and make cross-discipline work within a unified aesthetic.

In the mid-1980s, Paul came to Bethlehem and directed the Touchstone Ensemble in Passage of Ah-Lux-Soo, a 35 minute non-verbal work.  Geoff Gehman interviewed him:

July 06, 1986|by GEOFF GEHMAN, The Morning Call

Imaginary raindrops pelt Bill George during a rehearsal of Touchstone’s new mime play “Passage of Ah-Lux-Soo,” which debuts this afternoon at the 18th Century Industrial Area in Bethlehem. Each bead of water produces a flinch or physical jerk. The faster they fall, the faster he tries to swipe them away. Ah-Lux-Soo, the bewildered hunter “who has not yet had a vision,” is discovering the might and majesty of natural forces.

At first, glance George seems to create stylized, almost dance-like movements. A closer look reveals that his reactions are more specific, finely tuned and broadly spread than ordinary dance gestures. After Ah-Lux-Soo dashes to a protective cave and flashes a relieved/cocky smile, one understands that George is acting freely, unshackled by any obvious mime code. Still later, there is the creeping suspicion that his motions are detailed and fractured enough to suggest not mime or acting but an animated cubist portrait.

Paul Curtis, director of “Ah-Lux-Soo,” pauses for a few seconds after hearing the cubist analogy. Circling through Touchstone’s Bethlehem studio, he’s not satisfied with George’s performance and not entirely comfortable with the painting angle.

“The way he reacts to the raindrops – that’s artistic,” says the 59- year-old founder and director of the American Mime Theatre, where George and other Touchstone members have studied. “But when he gets back to the cave and wipes off the rain, you should respond more to him than the lines and movement. You should have sympathy for him or you should say: ‘…He deserves (to be rained on).’ You should have some feeling for him; you should be moved.”

For Curtis, emotions begin in spiritual issues. During the search for kernels of spiritual truth, Curtis and company turn symbols into activity symbols. In “Ah-Lux-Soo” a talking rock, a an emblem for nature’s intimate union with man, is the launching pad for a character, reactions, sounds and form.  Ah-Lux-Soo hits a rock; hears a cry; jumps back, startled; strikes again, this time more curious than frightened; hears another cry; taps the rock, and watches in awe as a creature rises. The hunter learns that all things, even rocks, shouldn’t be abused.


I won’t be able to finish this post, really. I can’t acknowledge the debt I owe to Paul – in the same  way you can’t thank a parent for raising you; not really, other than to live your life as best you can. In that case, with Paul, it means to live my life as an artist as best I can. Thanks, Paul, I’ll keep trying to be the best I can be.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cameron huff permalink
    January 4, 2013 3:39 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful tribute to a truly fantastic man
    I studied with Paul many years ago and while I left theater as a career behind me I have very fond memories of Paul and the rigor e required of his students
    Cameron huff
    Fort Lauderdale fl

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