Delving into the Glory Box
MELBOURNE: Performance artist and writer Tim Miller is bringing a work to Australia created out of his personal experiences of the inequality of marriage laws. He tells Michael Magnusson about his journey and how he will be helping others create a performance out of their own stories.
Tim Miller’s interest in theatre began in high school. After studying with dance legend Merce Cunningham, Miller co-founded performance art venues and developed his own interest in queer performance art. One of his most significant works is My Queer Body which he performed in Sydney in 1993 for Mardi Gras.
“I always wanted to do queer performance that was funny, political, sexy and full of heat that would make things change,” Miller says.
“I have always created and performed my own pieces that explore my life as a queer man. I suck up inspiration and cultural materials from wherever I can, from Broadway musicals to Allen Ginsberg, from Walt Whitman to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Anything that helps my humanity and heart as a queer person move forward.”
“My hope in my performances is that any time we witness one person raise their voice and tell their story, as well as bring our focus to systems of injustice, that it can encourage any of us to find that truth-telling place within ourselves too.”
Miller says his work has been encouraged from social movements, and in 1999 he tackled the issue of immigration rights for gay and lesbian partners of American citizens with Glory Box, a work he has performed around the USA, UK and now brings to Australia.
Glory Box is a very personal work as Miller’s partner of nearly two decades is the Australian born writer Alistair McCartney. McCartney, whose first novel The End of the World Book was published recently, teaches creative writing in Los Angeles and is in the US legally on a short term work visa category available only to Australians. He has not seen his family in 16 years but decided not to accompany Miller to Melbourne.
“Being in Australia without Alistair is going to be pretty heart-breaking for me,” Miller says.
“If he leaves the US he has to go get the visa approved and it could put us in a vulnerable situation,” Miller says.
“Though we have marriage equality for gay couples in nine US states and the District of Columbia, under Federal law we are denied all Federal rights, including immigration rights, because of the Defence of Marriage Act.
“This is what this crazy bigotry in the US does to bi-national gay couples like us.”
Although Glory Box is about the struggle for American same sex partnership rights it is relevant to the Australian situation.
Miller said the title comes from an old Australian expression and has a special significance to him and McCartney.
“‘Glory Box’ is an old school, and rapidly disappearing, Aussie expression for a wooden chest where teenage girls would keep things for their eventual marriage,” he explains.
“In the US we call it a ‘hope chest’, in the UK it’s ‘bottom drawer’.
“Alistair’s mom used the term in a letter to him and I loved the expression, especially in terms of the international movement toward marriage equality.”
Miller says the performance itself becomes a kind of glory box holding the hopes he has for McCartney but also likes that glory box “sounds pretty naughty too,” and not just to him because, at one time, a major US newspaper made a Freudian slip when reviewing the show and mistakenly called the show ‘Glory Hole’.
“Glory Box jumps out of a recurrent nightmare I have about Alistair being unable to get back into the US after going to Australia and then crosscuts to some of the funny, poignant and sexy narratives of how my sense of relationships and marriage was shaped, i.e. fucked up, by the heterosexist culture I grew up in,” Miller says.
“The piece dives into all kinds of juicy stuff from a wild story about asking another boy to marry me in third grade … he beat me up and jammed a Twinkie [a popular American snack cake] down my throat … to the harrowing travails of being in a bi-national relationship with Alistair. The US government beats me up and jams its homophobic laws denying gay partners immigration rights down my throat.
“I think I preferred the Twinkie!”
Miller has been following the same-sex marriage debate in France, the UK and Australia and he thinks it is perplexing why a Labor PM like Julia Gillard is not advancing gay civil rights in Canberra when a Tory PM in the UK has been such an advocate for marriage equality.
“This is such an international moment for LGBT rights. What happens in Paris connects with what Obama says and the vote for equality in British Parliament.
“I know if we had a comparable de facto status as you have in Australia it might change the urgency we feel in the US, but marriage equality is inevitable and it would be good to get cracking so we can move on to working on other things like economic injustice, climate change for example.”
“That said Australia produced the single most powerful argument for marriage equality with the GET UP AUSTRALIA ‘It’s Time’ video that took America by storm.
“I can’t watch it without bawling.”
Miller will also be conducting a free two-week workshop at Monash University during March on creating performance work culminating in an original work called Body Maps.
“Using people’s own hot-button personal narratives as a jumping off point, we will see where a deep sense of personal history creates performance that connects us to the big social texts that live in all of us.
“Danger, humour, sexual sparks, inappropriate subjects and honesty are especially welcome in this work.”
(Image: Tim Miller in Glory Box)
Glory Box, a performance by Tim Miller. 7.30pm, Friday March 22. Alexander Theatre, Monash University, Clayton. Information: monash.edu/mapa or (03) 9905 111