‘Berg Fringe artist spotlight

Miller ‘20 Juggles up some Tomfoolery

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Thomas Miller '20 juggles with rehearsing for "Tomfoolery."

Ahead of the inaugural ‘Berg Fringe The Muhlenberg Weekly is highlighting some of the students whose shows will make up the festival. ‘Berg Fringe will take place throughout campus April 17-19, 2020.

Thomas Miller ’20  is the creator and star of “Tomfoolery,” a devised one-man juggling show which will be performed in the Dance Studio Theatre as part of the ‘Berg Fringe Festival. In addition to his work on “Tomfoolery,” Miller is a Theatre and Art History double major and a performer in the Muhlenberg Circus.

Miller got his start in juggling during his freshman year at Muhlenberg. After being rejected by the Muhlenberg Circus during his freshman year (he auditioned as a clown), he was still determined to get into circus and knew he really wanted to be a part of it. Once he realized that all of the jugglers in the ensemble were seniors who would be graduating, he decided to learn how to juggle so he could get into the Muhlenberg Circus during their spring auditions. He began learning over winter break that year. “It’s the only New Year’s resolution I’ve ever kept,” Miller stated. His efforts proved successful, and he got into Circus that semester. Three years later, he is still just as passionate about juggling as when he started.

As part of the Muhlenberg Circus, which falls within the genre of contemporary circus, Miller is part of one of several creative processes. In traditional circus, a more eclectic selection of acts is present in what Miller describes as a “variety show.” With contemporary circus, the process is more heavily themed. Acts are based around a particular theme; the upcoming Muhlenberg Circus show has a theme of camping. The group experiments with different ways to make the acts reflect the theme. For example, the juggling act, which Miller is helping to choreograph, involves the different jugglers building a campfire using glow rods. “For the ensemble shows, we break off into our little disciplines, and we make stuff, and then we just try to jam it together. Whether it’s clean or not, we make shows and people have fun,” Miller described.

This ensemble-based creative process is quite different from how Miller is currently working on “Tomfoolery.” The circus process is made up of a lot of improvisation and what Miller refers to as “cool or dumb,” in which he or someone on the team comes up with an idea and they decide if it is “cool” and should be kept in the show or “dumb” and should be cut. They try to throw everything out there and see what sticks or resonates. If it does resonate, they keep moving forward with it. Miller explained that the process is all about finding the “little moments” and how they line up with the music, as well as how they fit into what has already been created.

When explaining how he started coming up with the ideas for the one-man show, Miller said, “I gravitate towards story and how you tell different stories.” He changed from simply doing a trick for the sake of making a shape to wanting to say something with what and how he juggles. “That’s what my goal for the show is ⁠— it doesn’t have to be cut and dry or clear of what I’m trying to say, but I’m trying to use representational imagery and gesture to get this environmental feeling of ‘this is about heartbreak’ or ‘this is about finding joy in the little things,’ then making an overarching sequence of that. This is definitely the most thought-through, complicated thing that I’ve done, but it comes from the experimental side while also trying to figure out what the function of these experimental techniques are and how to make them legible and accessible for an audience.”

Music is also a crucial part of “Tomfoolery,” and Miller himself has put a lot of thought into finding the music he wants to use. “If I had to name a mixtape, this would be ‘Thomas Miller,’” he joked. The set for “Tomfoolery” is an abstraction of Miller’s home bedroom, and the central piece is a radio into which different mixtapes are inserted. Miller has been finding music online and getting permission from artists that he likes to use their music in the show, creating an eclectic mix of songs that he personally enjoys listening to. 

When asked about what he hopes audiences get out of “Tomfoolery,” Miller had a profound answer: “Something that I have been pursuing artistically over the past two years is how to represent joy on stage. From my experience as a theatre artist, I think that it is very easy to get stuck in the dramatic, in the gloom and doom. I think comedy is so much harder. This show isn’t necessarily comedic, but I want people to leave it with a sense of, ‘If I’m stuck somewhere, you will move past it.’ Procrastination is one of the theses of the show. It’s going to be a party. It’s going to be fun, a little bit more than just entertainment. Let’s make some beauty.” 

Audiences should be sure to catch “Tomfoolery” as part of the ‘Berg Fringe Festival in April.

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