Tim Miller stands with Winthrop students who performed in Body Maps, a performance in which the students bared their souls to the Winthrop community. Photo courtesy of  Leah Smith

Tim Miller touches Winthrop lives

Tim Miller, internationally known solo performer, came to Winthrop for a week long residency and worked with Winthrop theatre students in the collaborative piece “Body Maps,” which Tim described as capturing that “beautifully complex link between our personal lives, our politics, and our identities.”

The residency began with Tim’s solo performance of “Glory Box,” a personal narrative of his experiences as a gay man living in America. Dr. Karen Kedrowski, Director of the John C. West Forum on Politics and Policy, said that Tim’s performance “touched on a lot of important political topics today, not just censorship and free speech, but issue like gay marriage, immigration, free association, bullying, violence, hate crime, and hate speech.”

Kedrowski collaborated with Dr. Laura Dougherty, Assistant Professor of Theatre, to bring Tim to Winthrop with the renewal of Winthrop’s “Liberty-Tree” grant, which only a handful of universities around the country received. The 1st Amendment Center of Vanderbilt University funds the Liberty-Tree grant and Winthrop’s renewal was focused on 1st amendment issues within the Arts.

Kedrowski and Dougherty wanted to bring someone to Winthrop that would embrace this idea but also appeal to multiple audiences. Kedrowski said, “we asked for something else that was kind of edgy, controversial, something that would get people upset as a way of communicating the importance of not having any censorship, having free speech, and having freedom of expression.”

There are a lot of connections between arts and politics and Kedrowski and Dougherty noted the power of Tim’s personal narrative as an effective way of communicating the depth of social issues like gay marriage.

“Body Maps” was a collaborative work with Tim and 20 theatre students was a deeply personal piece in which students based their performances on events that have significantly impacted their lives.

One of the students in the performance, Cecily Bigham said, “he had us do stream of consciousness writing, which ended up being about 90% of the pieces.”

Phillip Calabro, also in Body Maps, commented on the seating of the audience, which was on stage and on the floor allowing actors to perform around and within the audience, “[He] came to us with the idea of the audience. What was left to us was how we wanted the audience to be shaped during our performance. It was this kind of added level of freedom. We molded our piece and molded our space.”

Many of the actors commented that they felt a sense of community with Tim and with the other students during the residency.

Jonathon Long, performer in Body Maps said, “the first thing we did is open up to each other we become this tight knit group of people like within a day.”

Miller said that when working with the students to create Body Maps, “they took this opportunity to talk about stuff that we’re not suppose to talk about and to bring it forward with this huge crowd.” He said that some of his most memorable moments were of the sheer honesty and power of the performances. He said, “as the piece got more intense, they released humor into it.”

Kedrowski commented on the bravery of the students to share such personal accounts of internal strife and explained that “Body Maps was about our scars and that’s what’s mapped on our bodies but sometimes are scars are invisible scars and it’s the invisable scars on our spirit that shape us most profoundly and all the students were very willing to speak about that in a moving way about how their souls and spirits have been scarred and how they have been shaped by that.”

Miller stressed that theatre often plays an important role in politics in that artists can effectively get work done on social issues and communicate to more audiences in ways that politicians are not able to. If the audience made up the House of Representatives after witnessing the pieces from Body Maps, “you can only imagine the legislation that would have come to that,” Miller said.

Personal narratives from Miller and from the students of Body Maps left many audience members wondering why the United States is still the only country to not allow the equality of marriage for all citizens.

Calabro’s piece ended the performance and included imagery using the entire cast of Body Maps and created a literal tug-a-war that illustrated a young man struggling with religion and his true self.

“To see that performed with all 20 bodies and that powerful red light was just o moving. And you know he was not the only person in that room that felt the kind of feeling of being between a rock and a hard place by his faith tradition and sense of who they are. That doesn’t only affect gay people,” Miller said.