By Keith Tomasek
Rick Miller has worked in five languages on five continents. Entertainment Weekly called him “one of the 100 most creative people alive today”.
His show “BOOM X” is getting rave reviews, most recently in the London Free Press:
“I’ve yet to see a performer on stage with such energy, focus, physicality and theatrical talent. Boom X is not traditional theatre, but it is pure and compelling entertainment that should not be missed.”
I last interviewed Rick for my podcast in 2015, available below, so it was a pleasure to catch up.
1) You were creating immersive experiences long before they became trendy. What inspired you?
Even as a kid in Montreal, I was drawn to imagery and sound, and how they ‘communicate’ differently than words and language.
My French Québécois friends adored prog rock. They couldn’t understand the lyrics, but they were transported by the imagery and theatricality.
Later, in architecture school, I kept trying to balance words and images, and use technology to create new, immersive experiences.
That’s where Robert Lepage came into my life – he came and spoke about his work with Ex Machina when I was in 2nd year at McGill – and my thesis became about his work, and his poetic use of media and technology.
I then spent 10 years creating and touring with him, while also developing my own solo shows. I guess I’ve never lost that child-like wonder of playing with toys, imagining immersive worlds, and trying to recreate them for others.
2) “BOOM X’s” multimedia designer Irina Litvinenko, began working with you over two decades ago. Talk a bit about your collaborative process. For example, how does Irina’s work inspire what the audience sees onstage?
I started working with my co-creator Craig Francis in 1998, but initially through marketing, branding and graphic design. He and our Kidoons executive producer Jeff Lord hired Irina as a talented young designer and multimedia creator, and we’ve been working together for over two decades.
Our first project was the redesign of “MacHomer’s” media, and her work was instrumental in that show’s enduring success. We all work very collaboratively, often remotely, and with a great deal of trial and error.
With the BOOM Trilogy, I usually sketch out a concept on paper or on video, and Irina shares her multimedia designs from her home office in Montreal. Those pieces get more and more refined with time, and some of them keep evolving well into the touring life of a show.
3) The Globe and Mail described “Boom X” show as “emotionally substantial.” Which section of the show resonates on an emotional level most deeply with you?
Because the central story of “BOOM X” is my own coming-of-age, the whole show has emotional resonance to me, and is a tremendous joy to perform.
In Act 2, however, my “perfect game plan” gets severely challenged by world events and personal circumstances. That’s when the 4 main characters I play (Howard, Annika, Steph and Brandon) all push me, provoke me, and guide me to becoming the person I am today.
The section of the show that resonates most deeply with me often depends on what’s happening in the world today. Example: when the video of Tyre Nichols was released by the Memphis Police Department, I was performing “BOOM X” at the Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops. When I get to the 1991 section about Rodney King and police brutality, I could barely make it through the lines.
4) From the October Crisis to the rise of Rene Levesque and the Parti Québécois, the 1970s in Quebec were defined by political turbulence. The intellectual community and artists became politicized. The cultural community grew and gained international recognition.
Growing up in Quebec, how did that impact your youth?
I’ve always tried to be a bridge-builder between “Les Deux Solitudes,” sometimes with mixed results. In “BOOM X,” I tell a story about the 1st Quebec Referendum in 1980, where Montreal was a sea of blue and red posters: blue for “OUI” and red for “NON.”
At my French elementary school, the majority French “OUI” kids would bombard us minority “NON” English kids with snowballs during recess, and it all felt like a game to me.
Because I spoke perfect French, I had as many French friends as English ones. I tried to understand the Québécois identity struggle within Canada, but my heart was always with federalism. By the time of the 2nd referendum in 1995, my personal and professional life were a mess, and it was a very tense time for me. That’s where “BOOM X” ends, and “BOOM YZ (Part 3)” begins!
Since then, I’ve moved to Toronto, but our Kidoons office is still in Montreal, and the BOOM Trilogy was developed in Quebec City with many Ex Machina designers. Those cultural ties remain as strong as ever, and I’m proud that those artists’ amazing work is being seen across English Canada, and around the world.
5) In April, you performed “BOOM X” at the National Taichung Theater (NTT) in Taiwan. How do you prepare and alter the show for international audiences where English is not the first langauge?
Whenever we tour the BOOM Trilogy, we try to adapt parts of the show to reflect the context of where we are, whether it’s New York city, Châlons-en-Champagne, or Taichung. Usually that involves research and integration of information into the multimedia design of the show (like the titles that scroll across when I sing songs).
When “BOOM” (Part 1) played in Taichung in 2021, I performed the entire show in English, except for a short intro in Mandarin. In addition, the entire show was subtitled, the scrolling titles in the media were rewritten with Chinese characters, there were text changes suggested by a local dramaturg, and I even sang a famous Taiwanese folk song!
This time, I had 2 years of Mandarin lessons under my belt, and although I’m far from fluent, I was speaking certain sections to the audience in Mandarin, without losing their eyes to a subtitle screen. That kind of direct connection is one of the keys to making this kind of solo performance work.
I’d like to add that the BOOM Trilogy stories and characters remain Canadian, even when we perform in the USA (BOOM played Off-Broadway in NY before the pandemic). That’s very important to me and to our team: to bring our stories, and the work of Canadian artists, to international audiences. I think the authenticity and specificity of this kind of storytelling is actually what makes these shows resonate more universally.
From each pair below, pick one and explain why briefly with no more than two sentences.
1) Space Invaders or Galaxian?
Space Invaders. Many hours wasted in arcades, with my head in the stars and my hands on a joystick.
2) Howard Johnson’s or Ponderosa Steak House?
HoJo’s. We had one near a favourite family vacation spot in Deerfield Beach, FL. Luxury to me, at the time.
3) Etch A Sketch or KerPlunk
Etch A Sketch. See “architecture student”, above.
4) Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci or Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak
Nadia’s perfect 10 scores! One of Montreal’s biggest stories of 1976. That and the PQ winning power.
5) TV’s “Happy Days” or cinema’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
Sadly, “Happy Days.” I was sucked into that 1970s nostalgia for the 1950s. Hello, “Grease!”
BOOM X The Music, Politics, and Culture of Generation X
Through May 28
Call: (647) 341-7390 ext. 1010