‘That’s how the young Rick Miller understood the world – by listening, hearing, learning and taking on a voice in order to better understand someone else.’
Rick Miller is one helluva busy guy. In 2020, he agreed to be one of the first few actors whom I profiled when all our lives had changed when the pandemic hit. We talked about his work when I first heard of his name in ‘MacHomer: The Simpsons do Macbeth’ at Toronto’s Massey Hall and, in a provocative turn, ‘Venus in Fur’ through Canadian Stage. I also saw him host the Dora Awards.
I last saw him onstage at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre in 2022 in ‘Boom’. I had seen the production at Montréal’s Segal Centre before then and enjoyed it so much. When the opportunity arose to see it again in 2022, I jumped at the chance.
Miller will have just returned from premiering ‘Boom X’ and ‘Boom YZ’ in Taiwan where he has performed both shows in repertory. In 2021, Rick travelled to Taiwan with ‘Boom’ where the production was adored, and the overseas audience response was for the show to continue.
A lot of work has gone into the preparation of the two shows for Taiwan. Miller learned some Mandarin over the last two years he can speak during the show which will also be subtitled.
Amid all the travel and craziness involved in moving the show overseas, ‘Boom X’ arrives at Toronto’s Crow’s Theatre on May 10 and plays until May 28. An east-end Toronto guy, this will be his first time performing here and Miller is excited and proud to perform his work in his home and the neighbourhood which is so very important to him. He wants to give back to the community he knows and loves the opportunity to show those around him what he has been doing in travelling all over the world.
‘Boom X’ is billed on the Kidoons website as: “[Spanning] 1970-1995, this second in a trilogy of solo multimedia performances which collectively with ‘Boom’ spans 75 years of history, politics, culture, and technology on our planet. ‘Boom X’ picks up where ‘Boom’ left off, at Woodstock in August 1969 and takes the audience all the way to 1995 when the internet began to dominate our lives. Miller plays over 100 colourful characters from the days of disco, the oil crisis, Watergate, the Cold War, video games, punk rock, the (second) British invasion and more.”
The form of ‘Boom X’ has altered from ‘Boom’. There’s a lot going on. It’s a busier show, technically heavy, and it’s a reflection of the beginning of the polarizing of the cable news that we started to live in at that time. The show begins that complex reflection of the media of the 1970s-1995 era, and that’s the magic and wonder of the live production that is high performance.
Several weeks ago, I spoke with Rick in a coffee shop in the east end of Toronto and wanted to get caught up with him before he headed to Taiwan. He had just returned from performances in Regina with ‘Boom’ where he had never worked before. The show went extremely well in his words and there’s talk now of bringing ‘Boom X’ there, and Rick loves when that connection is made.
On a personal and poignant note, he shared it was the first series of shows he had done since his mother passed away several weeks ago. Rick plays his mother over the course of this trilogy so he was curious how he would pull it off and how it would feel:
“It felt less sad and more of a gift and honour to be able to tell [my mother’s story] and to share her voice and to play her in the show.”
Rick says it’s hard to describe both the tightrope performances of ‘Boom’ and ‘Boom X’. On the one hand, they’re part entertainment, part documentary and part jukebox musical. Music is key and the heartbeat to these shows. It’s hard to pin down, but what comes across is a celebration of joy, humanity, light and humour. What leads out there is someone genuinely smiling and really trying to please. Artists shouldn’t be shying away from wanting to please and to give to audiences. It doesn’t all have to be introspective.
While Miller doesn’t shy away from serious topics, audiences are looking for and want to be uplifted. ‘Boom’ and ‘Boom X’ are not only a history of the celebration of history, culture, and politics in all its complexity, but they’re performed with great spirit, joy, and humour and people love to see that. It’s a very high performance and Miller gives everything he’s got when he’s performing on stage. He literally lays it all out there in what he calls failure and sweat. The ‘Boom’ trilogy is a unique experience compared to what one can get online these days.
He also said something that I find important as we all return to the theatre. Why bother going anymore? After the last few years, Rick stated the best writing in the world is happening on television and streaming platforms, but acknowledges:
“It’s our responsibility as theatre performers to create something that is different from television and film. Don’t write or film-present a failed tv scenario on stage. That’s not serving the medium. If you want to bring people to the theatre, do something theatrical. You don’t have to spend a million dollars. Just be inventive and celebrate the fact people are in the room with you and create something special and unique.”
Rick is proud to say his shows feel like events that leave an impression. He’s very grateful for this high compliment and praise he receives. He’s not simply a Vegas performer who can do voices. Miller feels he has the kind of skills that can leave an impression on someone’s heart and head. If he can bring something to light or jostle an idea through connection to an audience that leaves them even slightly transformed, that is a magical thing for him. That’s why he keeps doing these shows repeatedly.
What keeps him grounded?
Miller is 53 now and at that age where family responsibilities pull him in one direction and his parents in the other. He’s at that tricky stage of his life as a professional artist in asking the question: “What is the next chapter? or What is the last chapter?”
To keep himself grounded, Rick practices mindfulness and meditation in this workout of his mind along with physical workouts. Essentially, he begins to understand how his brain works as everything is connected generally to well-being. By doing that, he puts all his thoughts, emotions, and craziness of our world into a little bit of perspective where he can breathe, set his feet on the ground, and set himself in the moment wherever he is.
Rick calls himself a theatre performer even though he has done work in film and television. He takes this responsibility very seriously. People have paid good money to see him perform. They don’t want to see Rick do ‘Boom’ for the 400th time. They want to see him perform for the first time and Miller says that’s a huge responsibility on his shoulders.
As we concluded our conversation, Rick mentioned how he is trying to ‘Fail better’, a Samuel Beckett quote. It means trying again, failing again, and doing better. Failure is part of any creative process whether you’re an actor, an athlete, a scientist, or an artist. You must try and fail, and only through that search and that failure do you find anything resembling success as it is fleeting.
Rick doesn’t like hearing someone say they’ve arrived because everything is always changing in that sense. It’s a mindfulness thing. Everything moves on including one’s successes so don’t sit in outrage or exult in your own glory because these will pass.
What’s next once 'Boom X' has completed its run?
Over this coming summer, Miller will continue developing work with his Kidoons partner Craig Francis and then be back on the road in the fall with a tour of ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Jungle Book’. Next year there will be five shows on the road including the three-part ‘Boom’ trilogy.
Boom opens May 10 and runs until May 28 at Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue. To book tickets, call the Box Office at (647) 341-7390 or visit crowstheatre.com.
To learn more about Rick Miller and Kidoons, visit kidoons.com.
To learn more about Rick Miller, the actor, visit rickmiller.ca.