Miller brings equality to Kleinau stage

By Jake Saunder

An internationally-known performance artist is now in residence at the Kleinau Theater.

Tim Miller, a performance artist from California, has been working with college students for 25 years. He has come to the university to produce a unique vision through theatrics while also presenting his own work to empower not only students but the community as well. Miller’s workshop culminates in a new production he will premiere with students.

“The biggest piece of the residency is working with the SIU students on creating their original performance piece on Friday,” he said. “Several hours a day, each day, I am here and what we do is actually…through the workshop process to see what’s the most urgent terrain, things going on in their lives what’s the things that they need to make the performance about.”

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While the new production is the centerpiece of Miller’s residency, he also performed pieces of his own work, concerning performance around identity and social change, during a show Wednesday night. Miller said he’s been working with marriage equality issues for the last 15 years.

“My own work in a way has been around personal narratives of my experiences in life as a gay person,” he said. “Not just around the political landscape, but human stuff and love and connection.”

Miller said he uses a specific story to engage his audience in his social change activism.

“I tell a funny story in one of my performances about asking a boy to marry me when I was nine years old,” Miller said. “He beats me up and tells me to “take it back”. I do “take it back” –that I wanted to marry him– but I cross my fingers behind me before I do! Maybe that was the beginning of my activism! That gave me at an early age the basic dissatisfaction with stuff that just isn’t fair. I keep trying to stay close to that little nine-year old who knew that it just wasn’t fair that he couldn’t marry another boy!”

Miller said he encourages students to engage the material with their own stories and knowledge of the world around them.

“It’s putting that prompt out to (students) and they just engaged such powerful, interesting, charged landscapes of what’s going on in our country this week and what’s going on in their families and their love lives and hearts,” he said. “It was just really moving and beautiful and funny and intense.”

Miller said he has received encouragement from artists in the theater community and hopes his performances embolden viewers.

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“My hope in my performances is that anytime we witness one person raise their voice and tell their story — as well as bring our focus to systems of injustice — that it can encourage any of us to find that space within (a) truth-telling place within ourselves too,” he said.

Andrea Baldwin, Kleinau Theater publicity director, said Miller has worked with university students on several instances already. Miller comes every other fall semester, previously in fall 2011, to perform and work with students, she said.

“It’s a huge honor for us and a great opportunity for our students – he’s really just wonderful to be around,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said participation in the workshop is both highly coveted and a great opportunity.

“I was able to participate in it 2 years ago and it was, to be cliché, life changing, she said. “It was a great experience to work with an internationally known artist. So part of it was being a little star struck but the other part was that I learned so much about myself and the things that I can do on stage and the way that other people communicate during that workshop.”

Ashley Beard, a graduate student from Los Angeles, said she has worked with Miller in the past and is excited to work with him again.

”This is my second time working with Tim, and I really love the way he goes about his performance,” she said. “He really has a way of getting people to be comfortable in their own skin…and always within a creative space and all of it is built around empowerment.”

Tim Miller will perform with students Friday at 8 p.m. in the Kleinau Theatre. The performance is free to the public.

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