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Wednesday, April 16,2014

The Blake effect

Williamston native steps into new role at Peppermint Creek

by ALLAN I. ROSS

Blake Bowen realized Hollywood wasn’t for him at an audition for a fast food commercial in 2010. The Williamston native had been living in Los Angeles pursuing an acting career when he had an epiphany.

“I’d driven an hour and a half to go 10 miles and wait in a room with 50 guys who looked like me, but better looking,” Bowen said. “They wanted me to bite into this imaginary hamburger, look into the camera and say ‘so good’ three (different) ways. I was given direction like ‘this time really HONOR the hamburger.’ All of a sudden I realized how silly it was. It was so far away from what I started doing theater for. This was not my world.”

That experience, combined with his desire to marry his girlfriend and start a family, prompted Bowen, 34, to move back to Michigan in 2011 after a 13-year absence. Since his return, he’s become a fixture in local community theater, acting in or directing shows at Peppermint Creek Theatre Co., Riverwalk Theatre and Over the Ledge Theatre Co. Last week that fixture status was made concrete when he was named Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s associate artistic director under the company’s founder, Chad Badgero.

“Now is a good time for Blake to come in help us push our boundaries,” Badgero said. “Blake and I are similar artistically. We both believe very strongly in the idea of (theater) being an entertaining experience but also creating a dialogue and raising questions and issues for our audiences."

Bowen felt the call of the stage at an early age. He started acting in school, and once he got his driver’s license he’d make the haul from Williamston to downtown Lansing to take classes at Lansing Community College and with the professionals at BoarsHead Theatre, which closed in 2010. He’d also do shows at Riverwalk, which is where he met Badgero in 1997 when they were both performing in a production of “Sweeney Todd.” Badgero told him about his idea to start Peppermint Creek, and they collaborated on a show for the fledgling company before Bowen left for college in 1998.

“I was there from the beginning, so it’s interesting how it’s come full circle,” Bowen said. “Chad and I both believe in the importance of community, theater, but we’re opposites as well. He’s very structured. I work best in a free form. I like to say he’s good at drawing lines and I’m good at coloring them in.”

As associate artistic director, Bowen will help assist Badgero in picking out scripts, choosing directors and casting shows. He will also continue to act and direct; he’s directing Peppermint Creek’s “Clybourne Park,” which opens next month. But he said it’s important to him to continue working with other companies as well.

“When I left, the Lansing theater scene was very fractured — there was no communication going on between the different companies,” Bowen said. “I’m happy to see that’s changed. You see the different artistic directors talking now all the time. I want to continue that. I say let’s work together and support each other.”

He said a unified theater community is just part one of his three-part goal. Part two involves reaching out to LCC, MSU and local high school students to create a practical theater education system in the area. Part three is reaching out to the community and attracting new audience members. He said he knows theater can be intimidating, but he’s come up with a novel solution to break the ice with theater virgins.

“If you’ve never been to a show before, write me an email, say you saw this (story in the paper) and I’ll get you in for free,” Bowen said. “Your first one’s on me. I want to get your butt in the seat and I’ll do everything in my power to get you there.”

You can reach Bowen at blake@peppermintcreek.org. Paul Wozniak contributed to this story. 

Blake Bowen

Associate Artistic Director for Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.

Born: West Germany. Lived in Virginia, Hawaii, moved to Williamston age 6 Education: MFA in Performance, Film and Theatre; BA in Secondary Education Works: Student services at Lansing Community College

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