Writing in the Sand: sex, violence and a one night stand for the archives
"I wonder sometimes if critics and audiences have ever gotten beyond the sex and nudity in the play," says Frank Miller. "I teach Fortune and Men's Eyes in a freshman-sophomore international drama survey, and many of the students can't get past that, which tends to reflect continuing prejudices and misconceptions about homosexuality."
Miller is preparing for what the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) is billing "a fundraising one night stand." Miller's Writing in the Sand is a one-man performance based on the journals of Canadian playwright John Herbert, author of Fortune and Men's Eyes. "The real connection between Writing in the Sand and Buddies is that the piece I'm doing was actually read by John Herbert at Buddies in the space we'll be using at a benefit for the theatre," says Miller. "We actually considered other spaces, thinking Buddies would be unavailable, but when Robert Windrum approached them about doing the benefit there and splitting the proceeds, it was just too perfect. I'm very excited to be performing Herbert's works where he originally read them."
As well as being an accomplished actor and director, Miller is the senior lecturer in theatre at Georgia State University, chair of the Communication Department's theatre program committee and advisor to performance majors. He is an enthusiastic promoter of Canadian theatre and, as well as championing Herbert, Miller lauds the works of Sky Gilbert and has a not-so-secret crush on Canadian theatrical-heartthrob Don McKellar who is, unfortunately, straight.
"There was nothing in the journals I hesitated to present," says Miller of his creation of Writing in the Sand. "The piece I'm doing is one of two chapters he completed for the presentation at Buddies.The first chapter, which I'm performing, seemed perfectly self-contained and something that, despite numerous local references, would make sense to audiences anywhere. Herbert is a very entertaining writer, and I've tried to capture that in this performance. The piece's emotional core - his love of drag, his excitement at the pick-up, his anger over his mistreatment in the prison - is something audiences can identify with easily."
Miller believes that, "It's my job, as an actor, to personalize all of the details so the audience understands what everything I'm talking about means to Herbert." Even the more salacious details, "In re-creating the description of the casual pick-up that leads to Herbert's arrest, my original director, W Keith Tims, urged me to explore the sexuality. Then the first night I performed it at Georgia State, to a largely student audience, I realized that I was presenting myself (through Herbert, of course) as a sexual being, something faculty, or at least gay faculty, rarely does."
Miller feels he has to be as blunt, honest and sexual as Herbert was, "Fortune and Men's Eyes still maintains its power to shock, I think this is one of the first plays to deal forthrightly with homosexuality as a form of sexual expression, not just through the rape and other descriptions of prison sex, but through Queenie's frank sexuality. That and the association of sex with violence are pretty powerful."
And a visit to Toronto has added perks, "I've already visited the CLGA numerous times. I viewed Anton Wagner's excellent documentary on Fortune and Men's Eyes, which will be available at cost at the benefit, and read through their Herbert Collection. They have the typewriter on display, and I took a picture of it for the desktop image on my iPhone. The moving force behind this performance is RM Vaughan. He and I became friends when I directed his The Monster Trilogy several years ago, and I've shared DVDs of my work, including Writing in the Sand, with him on occasion. When he saw the DVD, he told me I had to do it in Toronto."
Writing in the Sand is on Sun, June 1 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. clga.ca, buddiesinbadtimes.com