Miller's crossing

Tim Miller explores immigration, marriage in Glory Box


Tim Miller is not a happy man these days. "The NEA compared to this was a walk in the park," he says of his current circumstances. "A $5,000 grant compared to the possibility of having to leave my home, quit my job at UCLA, sell the house and leave the country, that's almost like direct warfare by the state on my citizenship."

Miller is referring to his current ordeal with U.S. immigration and marriage laws, which follows by 10 years his decision, along with three other solo artists, to sue the federal government after their grants were revoked on the basis of content. Miller's partner of six years, Australian Alistair McCartney, who lives with him in L.A., has a student visa which runs out in a year, at which time he'll have to leave the country. Their struggle is the subject of his new show, Glory Box.

"Any heterosexual person could meet someone, get married the next day in Las Vegas and the next morning go to the INS and get a temporary green card," he says. "Couples like Alistair and I, who have been together for six years, ... of course have no legal standing in America ... People almost don't believe it when they see the show. They think I'm making it up ... By the end of the year we'll be the only western country without a law respecting gay and lesbian relationships for immigration purposes. Either the law would have to change or there's not hope: People like us are forced to leave. If they force Alistair to leave, I'll go with him. We won't stay illegally."

The title of the piece comes from the Australian word for hope chest. "Alistair and I were moving my mom's hope chest that she had given us from her house to our house," says Miller. "He had never heard the expression 'hope chest,' and I had never heard 'glory box.' I had been drawn to the hope chest metaphor anyway. For straight people, they're nurtured and encouraged to think about partnering, and society rewards them. I'm trying to create my own queer hope chest, seeing what's in this box, sifting through memories and somehow trying to conjure a hope chest, a glory box that Alistair and I need right now, gathering the things we need to keep our family and our life together."

Recent initiatives regarding gay marriage and the Vermont Supreme Court decision put the issue on the front burner. "Making performances about subjects is perilous," he says. But Miller says he deals with the dangers of turning the piece into a diatribe by keeping it personal. Anyone, he says, can identify with the prospect of being separated from the person they love.

The resulting show is his most popular and has garnered the best critical response of any of his performances to date. "I'm really happy with the show because it's doing something really gnarly and challenging. On one level it's my most intense show, but strangely I think it's also my funniest show."

Glory Box opened in Iowa, but has also been to Salt Lake City, Portland, Seattle and all around California this winter and spring. In addition to Atlanta, stops are planned in Pittsburgh, Boston, Minneapolis, St. Louis and Chattanooga.

Last year, Miller was front-page news when he performed in Chattanooga. Demonstrations against him, complete with Confederate flags, took place outside the packed theater where he performed. His detractors may have been surprised to know that during his off hours, Miller spent time at Civil War battlefields in the area.

"I'm a giant Civil War queen," he admits. His experience there will become the basis of a project he'll be working on this fall. "I'm going to be doing a big interdisciplinary ensemble project in Chattanooga using the metaphors of the three major Civil War battles that happened there.

"I actually was paying attention during civics class and still believe it," he says about his commitment to keeping his work political. "Just as white people are oblivious to white privilege, straight people are completely oblivious to straight privilege. They're clueless about the 1,500 special rights they get with marriage that are denied gay people, probably the most significant human rights you get in America. Most people would be more ready to give up their voting rights than the huge amount of economic goodies that come with marriage. I hope that by focusing on one of these special rights, making it personal, I can cut through."

Tim Miller performs Glory Box at 7 Stages, 1105 Euclid Ave. June 15 at 7:30 p.m., June 16-17 at 8 p.m. and June 18 at 5 p.m. $20. 404-523-7647.??

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