Those were the days
Playwright-performer paints a big picture of the baby-boom generation
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/04/2016 (2304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s worthy of note to any audience member who ventures into Boom, Rick Miller’s “living history” of the baby-boom years, that the playwright-performer does not himself technically qualify as a baby boomer.
Miller, born in 1970, identifies as a member of Generation X (although the parameters of each generation do not seem to be written in stone). That means Miller wasn’t present for the succession of events depicted in the multimedia show, bracketed between the big boom of the atomic explosions of Hiroshima/Nagasaki in 1945 to the thunderous explosion that preceded the Apollo 11 moon launch in 1969.
“In some ways, (the baby-boom years) were the DNA of my culture,” he says during a phone interview from Vancouver. “I’m trying to understand where my parents came from, but I think in the larger perspective, I’m interested not just in how we were then, but where we’re going in the future.”
What’s more important about Miller is that the Toronto-based actor is up to the task of giving voice to dozens of the iconic figures of that era. Miller may still be best known for his play MacHomer, a one-man performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in which every role is voiced by a character from The Simpsons. In Boom, Miller’s vocal mimicry explodes with impersonations of just about every significant person from the era, from Winston Churchill to Elvis.
In a more comic context — such as Miller’s famed crackerjack performance of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody by “25 of the most annoying voices in the recording industry” — impersonations are just for fun. In Boom, he says, each impersonation carries more emotional weight.
“These are characters that people have pretty strong emotional connections to, whether it’s Janis Joplin or Martin Luther King,” he says. “That’s a huge responsibility, but that’s my job.
“I don’t just dick around with impressions. I really do try, if not necessarily to sound exactly alike, to try to give the feeling and the sense of what it might have felt like to be in the world at that time.”
Miller asserts Boom isn’t just an exercise in ingratiating itself with the baby boomers that constitute a large percentage of the theatre-going demographic.
“A lot of people may be a little skeptical about a kind of stage documentary about the baby boom,” he says. “They may think, ‘Oh God, it’s just going to be a lot of nostalgia,’ but it’s not that.
“I wouldn’t say the concept allows me to go deep on any story, but it does allow us to paint a very big picture of a generation in a way that baby boomers feel they understand themselves better after seeing the play,” he says.
“I didn’t make this play for any audience in particular,” he says. “But my favourite audience is when we get three generations of people in the same room together, sharing stories with each other that they had not told before. That to me is the ideal.”
The show has been touring across Canada for more than a year on a set that projects an array of photographs and film footage on and around a transparent column at centre stage. But despite the intricacies of its technical components, Miller says he has allowed himself some wiggle room to adjust each show to the city in which it is showing. Indeed, he says the show has changed “about 30 per cent” from its first formal performance 18 months ago.
“I really do try to connect with each province’s audience,” he says. “So when I’m in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre, I’m dealing with a lot of people who I realize are quite close to power and politics and have their own take on many different things, as opposed to Vancouver, where the draft dodgers’ story has a very different resonance.
“So I try to make the play alive in the spaces where I can bring it to life,” he says. It helps that Miller’s efforts aren’t restricted to the stage.
“After the talk-back that happens after every show, I’m out in the lobby gathering people’s stories on a camera and posting them online to expand on the range of stories that are covered in Boom,” he says. The videos are posted on www.encyclopediacanada.com.
“I truly love when I’m creating something that connects with people, whether it’s onstage or online,” he says. “It’s exhausting but it’s exhilarating.”
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.
Updated on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 4:55 PM CDT: Video added.