Friday, July 10, 2015


Today, the Pan-American Games open in Toronto. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event, and a chance for the city of Toronto to really shine.  The arts community is proudly joining our athletes on the world stage, showcasing some of the best creative talent this country has to offer.

PANAMANIA, a massive 35 day arts and culture festival, runs along side the international athletic competition.
It's a phantasmagorical mix of over 250 free and ticketed performances, including an incredible selection of live theatre, created by a range of luminary Canadian theatre artists, around the theme of Aqua Culture.

On Saturday night, theatre creator, Rick Miller and his co-producer, Craig Francis, along with a team of performers, visual artists and puppeteers present the world premiere of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, their 21st century multi-media adaptation of the famous 19th century work of speculative fiction. I spoke with them about their collaboration and this creation, by telephone,earlier this week.

Miller begins. "2015 marks the final year of the United Nations Decade on Water. The festival decided to use Aqua Culture as a thematic pillar. I had loved the Verne book as a kid. Verne lived in an era of wonder, and, in many ways, so do we. Verne wrote about life on The Nautilus, (the submarine in the book), when submarines were first invented. We've gone for a kind of retro steampunk aesthetic, bringing the past and the future together. Verne was concerned about the life of oceans, and the diminishing whale population due to over-hunting. Those ecological themes in the book still resonate, and were perfect for both Kidoons' platform and a stage production."

Francis jumps in,"I have an online educational company, Kidoons, directed at a family audience. Rick and I are partners in developing projects for the company. We went looking for a story that would work onstage as compelling theatre, and, online, as sustainable creative, educational content for young readers about the science of oceans, water and the environment."

Francis and Miller have co-written the script, and are co-producing the show.

So is this theatre for young audiences? "No." says Francis, "It's not a kids' show: it is for families and their kids. It's great for kids over 10.  You know when you go to New York, Broadway has shows like LION KING that both kids and adults can enjoy?  Rick and I wanted to create something for that audience."

Miller is a legendary solo performer. He spent close to a decade touring MAC HOMER, a one-person version of MACBETH, using characters from The Simpsons. The show catapulted him from the Fringe circuit to international stardom.

Miller also took the stage alone here, earlier this winter in BOOM, his critically acclaimed whirlwind tour of the last five decades of the 20th century.  20,000 LEAGUES... has a cast of four, plus a large crew of artistic collaborators. Why the switch from solo shows?

"Well, even when I do a solo show, I work with a team to create it. I've worked with (Robert) Lepage. He similarly collaborates with a team of artists, whether he is creating a show for one performer, or many. I'm directing, co-starring, and co-producing on this. That's plenty! I love the opportunity to connect with other players onstage.  Working collectively and collaboratively is a theme in the show."

Francis elaborates. "For example, we partnered with the City of Hamilton on this project, which has enabled us to use footage from the wrecks of two sunken battleships for the War of 1812, as part of our online story, and as projections in the show."

Miller chimes in. "There is a character, Jules, in the show, who is kind of living the entire book in his imagination, as I do when I create these things."  He laughs. "Jules escapes into the wold of Verne's book, and takes the audience with him on a voyage of discovery." He stops for a moment, gathering his thoughts.

"The show is about global water issues, and how we are going to solve them. That's something we are going to have do as a community, collectively and collaboratively. There's a talk-back after every performance."

Before Rick Miller became a theatre practitioner, he trained as an architect.  I ask how, or if, this has influenced on his work in theatre. "There are no silos for me. All the things I learned in architecture: about beauty, structure, harmony, contrast, are elements I strive to bring to the construction of my shows.  I think of my plays as buildings I've created, that I inhabit with the audience. A live performance is unique, shared, and experiential."

The video of the show on the website is certainly intriguing. I look forward to experiencing Miller and his team's re-imaginging of Verne's iconoclastic novel, in the world premiere tomorrow night.

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA plays at the DANIELS SPECTRUM THEATRE from JULY 11-15th as part of PANAMANIA 

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