Tim Miller assesses the ’Lay of the Land’ (and his own controversy)
Actor-writer Tim Miller, who has toured his one-man show "The Lay of the Land" in 30 cities, comes to InterAct’s Outside the Frame- Voices from the Other America Festival this week. Miller returns to Philly after a twelve-year absence "with a bang" he said, referring to the fallout from Villanova University inviting, then canceling his scheduled program of performance workshops in tandem with the run of the play. Fortunately when Villanova dropped him suddenly, he was immediately invited to teach the seminars at nearby Bryn Mawr College.
Monday, Miller was fighting off jet lag, but was otherwise very focused on moving on with the programs as he relaxed in a visiting artist apartment studio Philly’s gayborhood. Over coffee we spoke briefly about the Villanova episode, which he feels is as just another symptom of the current fevered homophobia in America. Villanova, he recalled, famously staged "Angels in America" just a decade ago. "A play which has graphic simulated sex. Clearly they could never do it now," he observes.
But they knew what they were getting since Miller has academic bona fides at several other colleges where he has been treated with the utmost respect as a teacher and artist. Miller was initially invited by the Villanova for its ’performance studies’ program, and the workshops were designed to help students explore their own creative journeys. After canceling Miller, Villanova issued a statement about what they termed as Miller’s "graphic sexual content of this performance ... that led to this decision."
He takes the high road instead of just being mad at the sudden turnaround. "If you are running a university and crazy people screaming about me and telling lies... they made a ’cover your ass’ decision. They thought it was best to avoid a highly visible gay artist at a Catholic University," he explained.
But, he assures that it is a deliberately false claim. "They already knew I wasn’t performing. All I was doing was teaching. That’s what makes this dramatically worse. It wasn’t my voice they were shutting down, it was their own students whose voices were going to be silenced. Maybe they didn’t want their students to talk about their bodies, sexuality or their experiences growing up. Sometimes that honesty brings up cultural truths."
Miller hardly considers himself a provocateur, (even though his performances have led to that tag) and has been invited to teach and perform "over 500 college engagements, I’ve never had a university behave so shamefully...it’s quite bizarre,"
In fact, he adds " Most of my work for the past 15 years has been about marriage equality. If anything, you could make a stronger critique, which so people do, that I was way too mainstream. Not the radical he was, that sort of thing. But if you are going to start telling lies, it doesn’t have to have any mooring."
Marriage equality :: a matter of time
He has been touring "The Lay of the Land" since 2009 in response to Prop 8. which directly impacted his 18-year relationship with writer Alistair McCartney, who has Australian-British citizenship but has all but exhausted his work visas to remain in the states much longer. The couple have a home in Venice Beach, CA.
He thinks marriage equality is just a matter of time, but reminds that "31 states have amended their constitutions to deny rights to gay people forever. Not that we aren’t making progress. In California we had marriage equality and then had it taken away after five months; it’s a very high drama story. That was such a profound body blow for me and Alistair."
Contemplating gay identity
Miller just builds this experience into the larger scenario of his show which contemplates 30 years of gay identity and his take on the ’State of the Queer Union.’
"As I made this piece responding to another instance of queer bashing, as Prop 8 was; How these things are a shared identity and have been a part of our lives since we were kids. The rubric of my work that uses humor and political perspective to figure out how where we come from as queer citizens of this country," he said.
Miller keeps his eye on the work he was doing and is thrilled that a dozen students from Villanova are still going to be able to participate in the workshops off their campus.
"Bryn Mawr has been so great through this. And who knows what will come out of this for the students. And that is ultimately the most important."
Tim Miller’s Performance Workshop continues through April 15, 2012. He performs "Lay of the Land," April 12 - 15, 2012. At the InterAct Theatre Company, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. For more information, visit the Inter Act Theatre Company website. For more about Tim Miller, visit Tim Miller’s website.