X marks the spot
Playwright Rick Miller digs into his own history for latest one-man show
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/03/2019 (1242 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Since playwright-performer Rick Miller’s Boom X is technically a sequel to his multimedia extravaganza Boom (seen on the RMTC stage in the spring of 2016), it demands a sequel-ly tagline.
For your consideration: Boom X: This time, it’s personal.
After all, Boom was nothing less than a socio-political-cultural history of the baby boomer years from 1945 to 1969, all enhanced by Miller’s man-of-many-voices talent, honed in the mid-’90s performing his Shakespeare/Simpsons mash-up MacHomer.
But Miller, who just turned 49, is technically Generation X, born between the mid-’60s and the mid-’80s, which means the material of the one-man show Boom X, which begins in 1969, is the stuff of his own life, whereas Boom was seen largely through the lens of his parents.
“(Boom X) is centred on my experience growing up in the town of Mount Royal in Quebec and being part of that strange Canadian identity, of being francophone-anglophone, and an outsider at the same time, with my dad’s Austrian background,” Miller says in a phone interview.
Befitting his more subjective experience of the years covered in Boom X, Miller expanded the number of central characters from three to five, including himself.
“I’m surrounded by four other characters in this show who are all Gen-Xers but cover the gap from being born in the early stages of Gen X, like the mid-’60s, to the early ’80s,” he says. “And because of that, they all have different experiences of their times, and also their backgrounds are extremely different.
“The goal was always to get a bigger perspective on life beyond a middle-class white upbringing in Canada,” Miller says, explaining that one the characters is from East Germany; growing up on the other side of the Berlin Wall, she has a very different perspective on capitalism. Another character, Brandon, is a younger black guy from Toronto.
“And there’s a character from Winnipeg,” Miller says. “His name is Howard and like a lot of my characters, he’s a bit of a mash-up between a couple of people in my life, but has been condensed into one convenient package.”
Miller won’t say specifically who the character is based upon, “because it will make some fun surprises for the audience,” he says. “He certainly brings in a lot of local references that the audience will connect with.
“He’s a real person who moved from Winnipeg to study at university and never came back, so in some ways, he speaks to the home and the desire to move to the big urban centres,” Miller says, adding that he met the real “Howard” in university, where he become a mentor. “In the play, he carries a lot of who he was in Winnipeg through his life.”
Boom X begins with the FLQ crisis and ends with the Quebec referendum 25 years later, but Miller took care to venture beyond Quebec in his show. However, the choice was not an obligatory effort to throw in some local content for non-eastern audiences.
“I was able to slip things in where I could without seeming gratuitous,” he says. “The reality is I’m speaking to people in a room and even though I’m doing a historical documentary, I want to feel connected to the people in the room and I want them to find themselves reflected in the shiny surfaces that I’m presenting onstage.
“The play really does cover 25 years of an identity search for what a country is, and what it means to be independent,” he says. “It’s a search for connection, really.”
Like Boom, Boom X employs the music of its era, but Miller says it’s never in an effort to indulge in cheap sentimentality.
“I know I sing a lot of songs that, for a lot of people, have a nostalgic element,” he says. “But even in Boom, which might have made people quite nostalgic, I made a point of showing often that the happy songs were in contrast to the fear in a lot of people’s heads — anxiety that was being expressed in other forms in the culture.”
“We always tend to think we’re living it for the first time and hence we have this lazy impulse towards nostalgia,” Miller says. “Not that feeling good is a bad thing. I really do want people to love this show — it’s ultimately an entertainment. But it’s never just at the service of nostalgia.”
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.