US and Them
Gay performer Tim Miller visits an intolerant America.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Being queer in America isn’t a crime, but for gay performance artist Tim Miller, it’s getting pretty close.
“We have a nut in the White House who wants to amend the Constitution to deny gay people rights permanently,” Miller says. “[It’s] something none of us would have ever imagined anyone would be psychotic enough to try to pull off.”
Miller performs his latest piece, US, at the CSU Monterey Bay World Theater this Wednesday, October 27.
An exploration of the impact that Broadway musicals have had on Miller, US is more than just a campy send-up of the medium. For Miller, a confessed “show queen,” listening to recordings of musicals like South Pacific taught him early on about societal ills like racial intolerance. (When the show toured in the 1950s, it did not make it to the south because of the interracial love story.)
Miller is one of the “NEA Four,” a group of artists who in 1990 sued and won after right-wingers pressured the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to withdraw funds from their productions, due in part to sexually explicit content and other subjects perceived as controversial. Since 1981, he has performed 10 one-man shows with titles such as “Fruit Cocktail” and “Glory Box,” which focus on gay issues. Miller also teaches dance at UCLA and is co-founder of the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.
Despite the intense nature of his work, Miller can also make fun of himself. He once appeared as himself on the mock talk show, The Larry Sanders Show, where his risqué monologue set off a firestorm. As he confides to the audience in US, South Pacific also taught him that “you could fight bigotry while being surrounded by hunky, naked sailors and drag queens.”
Prancing around the stage through a sea of well-worn musical record album covers, Miller dishes up Broadway musical history with his own slant on the meaning of the plays. 1776 taught him that hypocrites carping about human freedom (most owned slaves) founded America. Fiddler on the Roof shows how you should marry for love, even if it means disobeying your parents. Miller claims he learned everything he needs to know about politics, love and his country from these musicals.
“Forget Marx and Engels, I had Rodgers and Hammerstein,” he says.
As a young man growing up in President Nixon’s hometown of Whittier, Calif., in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, the performer also benefited from the gay-friendly climate of the era. Miller, 46, was “out” in high school and had a boyfriend. Even his Republican parents looked the other way.
“I was the youngest, they were tired,” Miller says. But, the times have changed.
Today, Miller isn’t even sure if he and his longtime partner, an Australian native who is not a US citizen, will stay in the country—primarily because they can’t get married. Predicting a Supreme Court decision in the next ten years that will once and for all settle the gay marriage issue, Miller has no hope things will go his way if the current administration gets another four years—especially if any lifetime appointments to the high court are made by W.
“If Bush is re-elected, it pretty much kiboshes any hope for me that long-term I’ll be able to remain in the United States, because he’ll appoint a couple of freaks that we’re all going to have to live with for the rest of our lives.”
Tim Miller performs at the CSU Monterey Bay World Theater, Sixth Avenue, Seaside,
Wednesday, October 27, at 7:30pm. $20; $17/groups; $17/students. 582-4580.