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Beloved champion of Lehigh Valley theater community dies at 60

Bill Mutimer.jpg
Katelyn Morgan
Bill Mutimer in a production of "The Prom!"

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Friends and colleagues of Bill Mutimer said to know theater in the Lehigh Valley was to know him.

"He was everywhere," said Robert Trexler, of Fountain Hill, a former co-star of Mutimer's at Civic Theatre of Allentown.

Mutimer, a beloved teacher, director, actor and popular figure in the Lehigh Valley theater community, died Wednesday of natural causes at his home in Allentown, according to the Lehigh County coroner. He was 60.

"He gave me a home. Now I don't know what to do."
Katelyn Morgan, actress

Those who knew him used words such as "inspirational," "prolific," and "a real force" to describe the longtime theater educator.

Whether you were being directed by him, starring in a show with him, or were one of his students at Northampton Community College, they said, his theatrical impacts were felt across the Lehigh Valley.

Simply put, they said, Mutimer was a good person. Laura Sweeney Riker, of Allentown, recalled moments of kindness fondly.

'Dedicated to building people up'

It was September 2000, and she was in a production of "Nunsense" that Mutimer directed at the old Main Street Theatre in Quakertown. She had a 5-month-old baby, Jon, and was worried no one could look after him while she was in rehearsals.

"He told me, 'Bring the baby!'" Riker said.

And then there was Mutimer, baby in one hand and director's notebook in the other, soothing Jon to sleep while giving Riker stage directions.

"It was the funniest thing," she chuckled.

Riker and Mutimer would go on to do nine shows together in the Lehigh Valley. Her baby Jon, now 23, remembers being directed by him in a production of "Ragtime" at Northampton County Community College in 2017.

"He was dedicated to building people up," Jon Riker recalled. "That extended to his desire to build something new and special at NCC."

Teacher, mentor

After joining the faculty in 2010, Mutimer would go on to launch NCC’s first full summer theatre season in June 2017.

He also directed shows at Cedar Crest College, Muhlenberg College, and most recently, Northwestern Lehigh High School's drama club. Northwestern Lehigh's production of "Mamma Mia!", which is nominated for a 2024 Freddy Award, closed last Sunday, March 3.

"He had expectations for his actors, but always wanted them to be as comfortable as possible," said Katelyn Morgan, of Easton, a professional actress. "Working with him was always collaborative and a good time."

When she saw him glide into the rehearsal space, bearing a matching ensemble of clothes (including a reusable water bottle) and bellowing a signature "Hello," she said, she knew that theatrical magic was about to be made.

"He was a towering figure in our theater community whose dedication transformed students into stars and stages into realms of magic."
Alyson Krawchuck, Northampton Community College assistant dean

Morgan moved from New York City to Easton in 2020, in need of the theater community she tried to find in the big city, she said. Mutimer recognized her talent immediately and cast her in several of NCC's summer shows.

"He gave me a home," Morgan said, holding back tears. "Now I don't know what to do."

katelyn and bill.jpg
Katelyn Morgan
Katelyn Morgan
Katelyn Morgan and Bill Murtimer in a production of "The Prom!" at Northampton Community College.

NCC paid tribute to Mutimer on the college website. His contributions were enormous, friends said.

"He was a towering figure in our theater community whose dedication transformed students into stars and stages into realms of magic," Alyson Krawchuck, NCC's assistant dean in the School of Arts, Humanities & Social Science, said in the NCC tribute.

"His unwavering passion, adaptability, and boundless love for theater ignited countless souls, leaving an irreplaceable legacy. He was not just a director; he was the heart and soul of our theatrical family, and his absence leaves a void that can never be filled." 

Final tribute

Several of his heartbroken students — current and former — opened a production of "The Laramie Project" on Thursday night at NCC's Lipkin Theatre.

There is a line in the play: "You need to do your best to say it correct."

The character who says the line is referring to the careful attention needed to tell someone else's story: in the case of "The Laramie Project," it's the story of Matthew Shepherd, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was murdered for being gay.

How do you tell someone else's story, long after they're gone? Mutimer's colleagues and former students say they're trying to figure out how.

Although Mutimer was gone by opening night, his memory and legacy remains with those who love the magic of live theatre. Staring out into the nearly-filled auditorium at curtain call of "The Laramie Project," the students knew there was a certain empty seat that could never be filled.

They just hoped they said it correct.