Ed Miller has been acting in and creating theater works in Philly since the 90s (the new 60s). Or at least, that’s when I first encountered him, sometime in the late 90s. He’s best known for his comedic roles, thanks to his superb timing, and the ability to really tweak a line, gesture, or joke so that it plays on many comic levels. It’s not surprising that he is drifting more solidly into writing, directing, and creating works: even as a performer he seems keenly–and accurately–aware of the big picture, and is constantly trying to push it forward. (I’ve been fortunate to work with Ed recently, particularly on a couple of video shorts about a fictional naturalist/educator named Gary Pierce, which I wrote with Ed in mind. See them here and here.)
For the 2011 Philly Fringe he has teamed up with his Secret Room Theatre collaborators Alex Dremman, Elle McComsey, and John D’Alonzo to produce Wired, a series of scenes, ranging from comedic to demented to serious, that explore what it means to be living in a world that is so wired into everything from our iPods to our energy drinks. For the show, Ed wrote and directed a number of the pieces, and in general he is turning his creative eye (that would be his left eye, he can barely see out of the right one*) towards creating work that is new (both in subject and presentation) and reflective of the world we live in.
Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority: What’s your role in Wired and how did the project come about?
Ed Miller: I wrote and directed a few scenes for the show. Two scenes are from a full-length play I’m developing. I also wrote and directed three short videos. The project came about from the desire to work with my talented friends, John D’Alonzo, Alex Dremman, and Elle McComsey and, of course, find and make new friends in the process.
PPAA: What’s the subject you’re working with, and why did you want to make a work out of it—or did it start more from an idea that just popped into your head?
EM: Popping out of the head is the best way to describe it. Elle McComsey, Alex Dremman, John D’Alonzo, and I were kicking around names for a show and Wired was blurted out. We all liked it because it speaks so much to our current situations. We are all wired to iPods, drinking energy drinks or espresso, constantly on our smart phones and the internet, but are we really more connected to each other? We felt that it offered us a range of topics to develop comedic and more serious material.
PPAA: You’ve been experimenting with video/technology lately in your direction. What has been the appeal for you? How are you incorporating these elements in Wired?
EM: Yes! I’m a huge fan of film and feel it can bring a fuller experience for the audience if it is complimentary to the performances on stage. For this show, the use of webcams and their potential addictive qualities felt like an easy fit for our theme and we found ways to take it beyond a simple video blog. We were extremely blessed to have the very talented Melody Tash help out with some shooting and editing which made our work that much richer.
PPAA: Are you getting more interested in the writing, conceiving and directing of work, rather than the acting? What do you get from it that you enjoy?
EM: Come on Josh, you like playing god too, no? I’m definitely finding myself enjoying writing and creating the most. It’s a rush to develop something that simply didn’t exist before. Having others involved and bringing their own ideas and talents makes it all the better . . . unless we disagree on something.
PPAA: You’ve been doing work in Philly since 1950.** You were in Korea teaching English for 3 years and came back in 2008. What were your impressions of the Philly theatre scene and performing arts scene upon your return? Any changes?
EM: Yes, the 50s were a magical time in Philadelphia Theatre for sure. I didn’t fall into the cool cat musicals of the time and stuck mostly to movement pieces influenced by doo-wop groups.
I would say that the biggest change in theatre was the sheer number of theater companies. It feels as though the number of companies doubled in the three years I was gone.
PPAA: You’ve done a lot of industrial commercial work. What is your approach when audition for a job like that, as oppose to a theater audition? Any tips for a novice?
EM: I actually really enjoy industrial work. I don’t know many actors who would say that. I have a background in business and training so I feel very comfortable being cast in business scenarios because it’s so close to my experience.
In the auditions, I try not to make the fact that it’s a paid job a source of stress, I just try to be as real as I can with the material. I actually don’t do a heck of a lot theater auditions because I’m finding myself enjoying the creative side mostly in that world and I’m lucky to slide in to a couple projects with people who I’ve worked with in the past.
If I was getting work regularly I’d feel more qualified to give a tip, but the best I can say is let the camera find your performance instead of performing for the camera.
PPAA: Can you tell us your strangest industrial work without naming names and jeopardizing your career?
EM: I don’t want to label this as strange as much as interesting. I had a run of jobs with a company west of the city for a series of “tolerance” videos. I played a gay character, then another gay character, and another, and then finally moved on to a transgender role. So I had to do an emotional scene with a blonde wig and wearing a halter top and bra. Oddly, I never worked for that company again after that shoot.
PPAA: What kind of new theatre work are you interested in getting involved in/creating in the next few years?
EM: There is a longer piece stirring around based on some of the work done for Wired this year. It’s a pretty dark piece, which surprises a lot of people who are used to me doing comedy, but I would like to see where this material leads me.
Additionally, I think I want to role up the sleeves, loosen up the pants, and just do a really, really, silly show.
PPAA: What kind of work would you like to see happening in Philly from an audience perspective?
EM: I want to see theatre leave the theater and hit the streets. I want to get on a trolley in West Philly and be surprised by a small theatre event going on. I want to bump into a performance inside the subway concourse in center city, or on a random street corner. And year-round, not just during this wonderful Fringe festival we have each year.
Thanks Ed, and good luck with the show!
Produced by Secret Room Theatre (part of the 2011 Philly Fringe)
Dates: Sept 5 & 8 at 7pm, Sept 10 at 4pm, Sept 15 & 17 at 7pm
Venue: 2nd Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Tickets Tickets Tickets
*That’s a joke, I have no idea which eye is his weak eye.
**This is also a joke, Ed has been a staple of the Philly scene since the 30s.
Published by the Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority