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Solo artist Rick Miller examines the cultural influence of his parents' generation in Boom
How do you measure, measure a year? How about four minutes? That's how long Rick Miller spends exploring each year from 1945 and 1969 in Boom, his multimedia meditation on the baby boomer generation currently running at 59E59 Theaters.
The 49-year-old Miller, who claims he was conceived on the evening of the 1969 moon landing, uses every second to the utmost. Each segment includes headlines from the year, a 30-second snippet of a popular song performed live, TV clips and poignant recollections from people who were there.
"This show is definitely a balancing act between the personal and the universal," says Miller, a Canadian theatre-maker who wrote, directed and performs the solo show. "I want audiences to be able to look at the big picture regarding how culture, politics and technology combined to create that era, and especially how the 1960s influenced today's culture. I studied architecture in college and building things is still important to me; this show is built so audiences can discuss how we live together in time and space. It's a little bit of education, a little bit of enlightenment and a lot of entertainment."
In order to make sure Boom was more than a fact-filled nostalgia trip, Miller interviewed three diverse boomers so he could include disparate viewpoints on that tumultuous era. In addition to inhabiting well-known rock stars, politicians and activists of the time, Miller gives voice to his mother, Maddie, who grew up working-class in Canada with a World War II vet father; Laurence, an African-American resident of Chicago raised by his grandmother; and Rudi, a Jewish man from Vienna who immigrated to Canada, where he found success in the advertising industry. Ultimately, their lives intertwined, and that unexpected journey is what forms Boom's dramatic arc.
"Including their perspectives was so important because it was an interesting broadening of the typical baby boomer story," Miller says. "I wanted to hear about what it was like for an African American to live through the civil rights movement, or how a European felt living through much of this period in a foreign country. In hearing their stories, audiences can see the parallels to the present day; you immediately start thinking about the current rise of fascism or the struggles of minorities."
While the show was originally created for Canadian audiences, Miller says very few tweaks were made for the New York production. "So much of American culture influenced Canada during those years," he says. "Seeing Bugs Bunny in 'What's Opera, Doc?' was how everyone learned about classical music, and the I Love Lucy episode about the birth of Little Ricky was just as huge up north. The fact is, until recently, we had very little homegrown content."
Boom is actually the first part of a trilogy. Last year, Miller unveiled Boom X, which explores his formative Gen X years 1970 to 1995, while Boom YZ, due in March 2021, will examine his children's generation, 1996 through 2020.
"There are a number of reasons all these shows are important to me: First, I am trying to create a unique theatrical experience that can get people out of the house and off Netflix," he jokes. "But the most important thing for me is to get young people into the theatre in order to remind them that history—in every period—repeats itself. When history is combined with personal truths, the result is a really great story."
Rick Miller in Boom. Photo by David Leclerc.