Angels We Have Heard On High


The spotlight is still waiting for you. It takes just a word or two to start you off. I realize even as I say this that there’s probably at least one of you, that has a response similar to a beloved nephew who liked to say with great glee when I asked him to tell me a story: “Once upon a time…the end!” But, see, even that could become a terrific performance. Think about it.

In the meantime, back to the title of this post and the subject matter of angels.  It must be the time of year that made me think of devoting a post to angels. The angels I’m thinking about have more to do with the angels in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (winged guides to misguided human beings) than with the ones in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (bell-ringing visitations to momentarily befuddled human beings), but either kind will do for what I have in mind.

What do angels have to do with solo performance? Well, it just so happens that much of Tim Miller’s Rooted involves angels. So, since I wanted to flesh out my response to Tim Miller’s October performance at Dixon Place in more detail, I thought I would use angels as my segue.

And I thought what better way to draw the daily blogging portion of this blog to a close (the sabbatical semester is at an end and soon I will be traveling to Denver to spend several weeks with said beloved nephews to be followed by full-time teaching again so daily blogs will be replaced with more intermittent ones) than with a reflection on angels, solo performance and Tim Miller.

Plus, as you no doubt gathered from the blog posts outlining Miller’s body maps workshop (or will gather if you have yet to read those posts), I do think of him—and especially the teacher part—as angel. That Miller might just be an actual angel became even clearer to me when I finished another, very different, acting workshop with two established directors of classical theater over the month of November. Their approach was much more along the lines of patrolling a line of superiority that no one could possibly cross than with helping folks realize the possibilities of performance. Also, their approach never carried over into the time outside of class, the workshop participants were never encouraged to create a bond with one another (I never learned anyone’s last name until the last day), and the actual information shared with us about how to make the words on the page come alive felt a bit arbitrary. The point here is that the second acting workshop in November made me realize what an other-worldly gift the Miller workshop was.

But back to the real subject which is how angels work in Miller’s performance of Rooted. In his performance, Miller tells us many things that are mostly autobiographical. He tells us about finally being able to marry his long-time partner Alistair, about coming to terms with a family’s history of heart disease, about negotiating Homeland Security and immigration law when your long-time partner is from another country, about researching a family tree, about being a synchronicity queen, about the civil war, about a theater named after a cemetery and about a whole lot more. Standing before his audience dressed in black cargo shorts, black t-shirt, black socks and black sneakers, nothing about him looks like an angel. He’s just a regular guy coming before his audience to tell us some stuff about himself. Lest you get the idea from my description of his casual appearance and wide-ranging subject matter that might be likened to “stuff,” that the performance is casually put together, let me jump in immediately to say that everything is meticulously pieced together. The black cargo shorts are meticulously chosen? Yes, they are. We learn that they are a descendant of the pair worn on the day of his marriage ceremony. And a wedding ceremony the day after the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been overturned has exactly what to do with the Civil War? In the case of Rooted, angels provide the links (“roots”) that transform seemingly disconnected thoughts and subjects into one cohesive narrative.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post in which I delve into how various angels – Angels in America, Billy Angel, Angel Lopez– guide us through Rooted.

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