Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)
Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.
Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.
We caught up with Amy Miller, Artistic Director of the Transcendence Theatre Company (TTC) with headquarters in Sonoma. TTC is a close-knit extended family of dozens of song-and-dance stars invited from around the U.S.
Every summer (except this year) these stage and screen talents perform outdoor among the stone ruins of Jack London State Historic Park. When the nights cool down in autumn, TTC moves inside to North Bay stages performing energetic scenes from Broadway musicals.
USA Today readers discovered TTC years ago when TTC was voted #2 in the “Best Outdoor Concert Venues.”
ASR: How did you get started in theater?
AM: I started dancing at age five and never stopped. As a tot, I looked up to the older dancers. When they shifted to the theatre in high school, it inspired me to join the theatre as well.
ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?
AM: I was The Jester in Once Upon A Mattress at McAuley High in Cincinnati, Ohio.
ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?
AM: Oh wow! At least 10 regional theatres as well as Broadway and national tours, not counting television and film.
…Our team works hard and believes “The obstacle is the way.”
ASR: When was your present company formed?
AM: In 2009 six of us gathered in Punta Banda, Mexico for a unique and incredible theatrical experiment. Brad Surosky, Stephan Stubbins, Randi Kaye, Robert Petrarca, Leah Sprecher, and I joined with other performers to assess challenges facing the health and wellness of the theatre community. “Project Knowledge” researched a holistic approach.
Later we learned California was planning to close Jack London State Historic Park in budget-cutting. We put on a fundraiser there in 2011 which began the Transcendence model of outdoor shows under the stars. We hoped to do one performance of our favorite Broadway numbers and sell fifty tickets to our friends. Imagine our surprise when we filled the place! Our first season of multiple summer shows began the next year. Since then we’ve raised over $515,000 to keep the park open and deliver arts education to schools.
ASR: Did you anticipate that TTC would become as successful as it has?
AM: Absolutely, I always knew this would serve the world and be very important.
ASR: Does TTC have a special focus?
AM: Transcendence has a focus on musical theatre, inspiring songs, and powerful dance. Our intention is to uplift and empower our audiences to live the best life ever. We hope that when you enjoy a Transcendence performance, you’ll be inspired to spread love and joy well after leaving the theatre. Transcendence has a mission to share the arts as a service to everyone.
ASR: How has the crisis affected your planning for coming seasons?
AM: Planning for the future is always one step at a time. At this moment we are dedicated to our staff, artists, and community more than ever. Our team works hard and believes “The obstacle is the way.”
ASR: How do you envision the future for your company? For the theater community overall?
AM: In addition to our well-loved summer season outdoors, we’re building a network online to share education and performances with the world. We continue to develop new works and encourage artists to grow and excel.
ASR: Assembly Bill 5 presently requires most workers be paid California minimum wage. There are multiple efforts in Sacramento to get performing artists exempted from this. How has AB5 affected your theater company?
AM: We are complying with AB5 and have turned all of our people into employees. It definitely has added more to our expenses which is difficult during this unprecedented time.
ASR: Life in the theater: What are some of your favorite shows?
AM: A Chorus Line, 42nd Street, Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics, and Chicago, of course. I love musicals!
ASR: Which play would you most like to see put into the deep freeze for 20 years?
AM: The Secret Garden.
ASR: Which rare gems would you like to see revived?
AM: Tick, Tick, Boom.
ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?
AM: Stage Management. Stage managers are absolute heroes. What an incredible task they have each day and night!
ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?
AM: I meditate, stretch, breathe, and I have a secret ritual with all the ladies in the dressing room which empowers us to give our best every night!
After a performance, like many artists, I relax by spending time with friends and family.
ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?
1. Take care of yourself and your health and wellness.
2. Have a clear vision.
3. Be a strong leader with kind and compassionate communication.
ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?
AM: Lily Tomlin forgot her monologue in her one-woman show on Broadway, The Search for Signs of The Intelligent Life in the Universe. She told everyone she had to leave the stage and returned after a drink of water.
ASR: The most excruciating screw-up?
AM: At The Barn Theatre in Michigan, I was dancing the tango in Evita with my lifelong friend and Transcendence Artistic Associate, Tony Gonzalez. We were to do a major lift at the climax of the number and he dropped me! We ran offstage both mortified! No grudges held here, as Tony choreographs and directs for TTC today.
ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?
AM: An audience member once ran backstage during the show. It happened during the musical number “The Time Warp” which made it even weirder!
ASR: Life outside the theater: Do you have a “day job?” What are your interests outside of theater?
AM: Transcendence is my day job, and I am beyond grateful to enjoy it as much as I do. My interests are definitely family and friends, my son and husband. I also like photography, as well as watching the sky at sunrise and sunset.
ASR: You have the opportunity to create a 30-minute TV series. What’s it called and what’s the premise?
AM: The Broadway Artist Wine Chat, a weekly Q & A with all artists in the industry sharing stories and life connections with each other and the audience. Think James Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio but at a winery!
ASR: Theater people often pride themselves on “taking risks”—have you any interest in true risk-taking?
AM: I have been surfing and I even stood up one time!
ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?
AM: “A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head if no one gets to see it, it’s as good as dead, it has to come to life…” from Sondheim’s Sunday In the Park with George.