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It's over for MacHomer; Miller heading out to Sea

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RICK Miller, the creator of MacHomer, has turned off his D'oh-maker after 17 years.

The Toronto actor/impersonator made a global name for himself with his one-man Shakespeare/Simpsons stage mash-up that he performed for about 500,000 people in 165 cities on five continents. He has also stopped touring all his other shows, including Bigger Than Jesus and Hardsell, both of which were staged at the RMTC Warehouse.

"I have no tour dates ahead of me, consciously, for the first time in 17 years," says Miller.

He was in town this week to confer with local collaborators on his next venture, a stage version of the 1870 Jules Verne science-fiction novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that is scheduled for its world première at the 2015 Pan-American Games in Toronto.

As has become his habit in the development of new works, he has come to Winnipeg, where the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre debuted Bigger Than Jesus, and MTYP, where he premièred an updated MacHomer and a Tolkien homage called Into the Ring in 2003. Winnipeg has become his creative home away from home.

"I continue to come back to Winnipeg because I think it's a great place for me to incubate shows outside the distractions of home," he said during a chat at MTYP this week. "It has an audience that knows me and indulges me for shows that are not necessarily finished but are a work in progress."

MTYP will host a workshop of 20,000 Leagues, which he has dubbed the 20 K Project, in February with a Winnipeg cast. Miller hopes the audience will include invited Canadian theatre artistic directors interested in getting in on the action. His cross-country creative team includes two locals, filmmaker Deco Dawson and puppet-maker Shawn Kettner. One of his favourite partners is MTYP's artistic director Leslee Silverman, who has experience in bringing a new play to a major sporting event -- MTYP premiered Rick: The Rick Hanson Story at the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad in 2010. The company financially supported 20,000 Leagues' first workshop in Toronto.

The arts component of the Toronto Pan-Am Games is called aqua culture and will be staged on the city's waterfront. The idea is for artists to investigate water issues from various vantage points.

As a teen, Miller was a huge fan of the Verne classic that focuses on Captain Nemo, who forsakes all land forever because of the harm that humans have done to it. He designs and builds an incredible submarine, called the Nautilus, and escapes into the wonders under the sea.

"I don't want it to feel like an issue play," says Miller, a frequent collaborator with the renowned Quebec director Robert Lepage. "I want those things inherent in the entertainment. I want people to realize that water conflicts will be, if not the most, one of the major global conflicts in my kids' lives. It's an awareness-raising thing."

His challenge as one of the creators is how to create a great 19th-century adventure story but have it resonate with people now.

"The mandate I've given this play is to design and build a bold and beautiful machine that will travel 20,000 leagues, like the Nautilus, dazzling audiences of all ages around the world," he says.

Miller can only dream at this point about 20,000 Leagues having the global reach of MacHomer.

"Hopefully I won't be solely remembered for MacHomer," he says. "It may be just that, so be it. It was a fun ride."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 G3

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