SHOWTIME: Nate Miller's Curtain Call
Even as a freshman — in Marquette's Department of Performing Arts, students don't sit on the sidelines while upperclassmen scoop up the roles — Nate tackled big, complex parts in shows like Waiting for Gidget, And Then They Came for Me and Harvey.
Marquette's Actor's Studio with Nate Miller
What does an audience mean to an actor?
Everything. The audience feeds what the actors do. So often you go on stage and try to be high energy but for some reason it's just not working, you're not giving the best show. Then the audience laughs or gasps or you see someone in the front row leaning toward you because they are so engaged with your character — when that happens I can turn it on and pull performances out of myself that I never expected. I've seen it happen to other actors, too. It just would never happen without the audience.
Is a student audience tougher?
At Marquette, we have Wednesdays as $5 night. All of the tickets are $5 and that's when the students come out. Those shows are so much fun because students love to laugh. They love to be affected. And students at a Jesuit university are open to growing, to learning. Shows with students in the audience are usually the best ones.
How tough is an audition?
It's the hardest thing an actor has to do, to show everything you've got to offer and wrap it into two minutes. You have to present in front of people who've never met you, who don't know your work ethic or your personality. We all wish auditions didn't exist, but they're necessary.
Why was earning a liberal arts degree important to you?
At Marquette University High School, I came to value education — to be in tune with the world and understand things intellectually. I really enjoy that feeling. I want to understand history. I want to be a strong writer. These are all extremely helpful things to an actor. When I did the show The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, I knew the background of the Vietnam era. I understood what the people were trying to do by burning draft records. That's important because an actor is nothing if he's not informed about the world.
College theatre took him places he'd never been before. "This is no longer anything like high school theatre," he says. "It's fun, and we have a great time. But it's not just about fun; it's about putting together a cohesive professional show that's full of talent and hard work that people can respect."
Nate tackled two of the most challenging roles he'd ever attempted. He played the title role of Tartuffe in the university's staging of Moliere's 15th-century comedy, and he played Mickey in Blood Brothers.
"Tartuffe is such a sleaze ball. He's dirty and ugly. I had this terrible greasy wig to wear. I got to eat fried chicken very disgustingly on stage and burp and scratch myself. That all was just fun to do," he says. "But Tartuffe is also a very complex character. I felt lucky to be able to portray him the way I wanted."
"Then I had the opportunity to play Mickey, a character who goes from being 7 years old to 25. It's the biggest range I've ever had the opportunity to play in one show."
"But no matter what role I play, I look for the truth and create a back story to help me understand the character's motivation. It's harder to do with an evil character, to understand him as a person and not judge him. But a wise man once said that if a play isn't worth dying for, it isn't worth writing. I firmly believe that if a show isn't saying something so important that people are falling all over themselves to see it, it's not worth doing. So I try to look at every role for the message it carries, and I do what I can to get the message out to the audience."
The Department of Performing Arts in the J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication has earned a reputation for coaching eager and talented performers like Nate. Alumni are working on and off Broadway and in several of today's most popular television programs, including House, ER, Related and How I Met Your Mother.
Nate hopes his future holds the same kind of acting credits — and loads of curtain calls. But he has an important stop to make first. While in rehearsals for Blood Brothers, he got a telephone call, one that most young actors only dream about. After a competitive audition — including two callbacks — Nate was invited to spend the next four years finessing his craft as a member of the incoming class at The Juilliard School of Dance, Music and Drama in New York City.