Rick Miller re-connects and re-energizes as host of the 40th anniversary Dora Awards

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Rick Miller

Canadian theatre artist Rick Miller makes a welcome return to host this year’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards show, which celebrates excellence in Toronto theatre, dance and opera on June 25. Miller last hosted in 2007, and his versatility makes him the ideal performer to steer the the 40th anniversary edition of the much-anticipated awards show. This year for the first time, every performance category is gender inclusive: what matters is the quality of performance, not the gender of the performer.

Who better to host this history-making celebration than the multi-talented, multi-award-winning Miller? His skills are vast and his theatrical career prolific, ranging from classical theatre to genre-pushing works. He has performed several of his own works, including MacHomer, BOOM (soon to be a trilogy) and Bigger Than Jesus (for which he won a 2006 Dora Award for Outstanding Performance). And he lives a diverse performance life, having performed in five languages in over 200 cities on five continents!

These abundant talents spill into music, as well as theatre. A versatile musician and vocalist, he fronts the 10-piece Toronto-based band Trainwreck, in which he sings, and plays guitar and harmonica alongside life partner Stephanie Baptist. In fact, following the awards ceremony, Miller will shift gears seamlessly to perform with Trainwreck at the after-party. And we haven’t even touched on his teaching work, whose centerpiece is an interdisciplinary class at the University of Toronto called The Architecture of Creativity.

With such an expansive career as director, actor, comedian, musician, educator and playwright, is it any wonder that his website organizes itself by these capabilities, skipping entirely the “About” section? Combine this abundant talent with his warm and gracious demeanour, and the opportunity to experience Miller hosting the Doras is as big of a draw as the awards themselves. While on the current stop of the BOOMX tour at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, Miller chatted with us about this precedent-setting edition of the Doras, the energy of new artists, and the “off-stage” Rick Miller.

SesayArts: With the continued success of your solo shows and your band Trainwreck, you seem like the ideal performer to host an award show. What is the attraction for you, personally and professionally, of hosting the Dora Awards?

RM: I remember the first time I attended the Doras in 2005. Having just moved from Montreal, it was a real turning point for me. I felt connected to a community in a profound, meaningful way. I did win awards that night, but even if I hadn’t, I would have felt a similar connection. A few years later, I was asked to host, which seemed like a natural step for me as a frequent public speaker/entertainer. To be asked back is an honour, of course. And given how much time I spend on the road – and that many in the community don’t realize that I’ve lived in Toronto for 17 years! – I’ll take any opportunity to re-establish community connections. And the fact that my band Trainwreck gets to play the after-party, even better!

SesayArts: I’m curious to know how one prepares to be an awards-show host. How do you prepare? Do you look at hosts of various award shows (on both sides of the border), and decide, “okay, more like this, and less like that…”? And who is an admirable award-show host, in your opinion?

RM: To be honest, I don’t watch or attend many awards shows, although when I do, I know what I like and don’t like in a host. It mostly comes down to authenticity, I suppose, and if the host feels like they’re speaking words that sound like their own. I’ve always admired Ellen Degeneres for that reason, as I get the sense that she takes ownership in what’s coming out of her mouth. But from a purely performative POV, I think Neil Patrick Harris is terrific whenever I see him as a host.

SesayArts: This will be a return visit as Dora host for you. How will the experience be different for you, this time around (or will it)? Any lessons learned from the last time that might inform your performance this year?

Rick Miller fronting his band Trainwreck

RM: For the last few years, I’ve mainly been touring my trilogy of solo multimedia shows: BOOM, BOOM X, and part 3 BOOM YZ (now in development). These shows combine personal stories with a ton of history, politics, music, and multimedia, all in an effort to understand the last 75 years on our planet. Given that this is the 40th anniversary of the Doras, at the cusp of so much change, it seemed like the right time to bring me back as host – to cope with our past, and hope for our future, but with our feet firmly grounded in the present.

SesayArts: As I already noted, we know you well as a musician and solo performer of many hit shows. Tell us something about you that we will not learn from your resume.

RM: People who see me onstage, usually through explosive bursts of energy and enthusiasm, tend to think I carry that energy offstage. I’m actually quiet and bookish most of the time, and it sometimes takes me a while to formulate opinions, and to take action. I guess I’m a typical GenXer, bred into mistrust and dissatisfaction with the world. That said, I work hard to be hopeful, and I’m trying to use any chance I get to connect with community. I think many of our anxieties about the future – and our kids’ future – can be mitigated through more mindful relationships with the people around us.

SesayArts: What has surprised you the most about hosting an awards show?

RM: When I see the list of nominees, I’m always blown away by how much talent we have in our community, and how little theatre I actually get to see! That’s partly because I’m on the road so often, partly because of the great stories we can watch on screens at home, and partly because I don’t make the effort. What’s been so rewarding these days is that our company Kidoons isn’t just developing my solo shows. We’re also creating and touring multi-actor family shows that allow me to meet and work with a ton of artists. The energy of young artists is extremely energizing to me, and I can’t wait to greet a bunch of them onstage on June 25th.

Image courtesy of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (TAPA)

News You Can Use

What: 40th anniversary Dora Mavor Moore Awards, hosted by Rick Miller; produced by Jacoba Knaapen; written by Diane Flacks; musical direction by Evelyne Datl; directed by Ed Roy

When: Tuesday, June 25, 2019, 7:30 PM

Where: Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto, ON

Info and Tickets: tapa.ca  

© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019

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