Rick Miller returns to Theatre Calgary with BOOM sequel, solo show BOOM X
The production revisits defining moments and music of generation X
Rick Miller is part of generation X, but he didn't know exactly what that meant.
Miller said he decided to make a one-man show about about gen X as a way to understand what music, moments and people define the experiences of that demographic group.
"I wanted to understand what the heck was going on," he said. "The baby boomers is my parents generation. Now my kids are gen Z … [but] what is gen X? X is, in a way, undefined."
Miller's new show, BOOM X, picks up where his 2016 show, BOOM, left off — at Woodstock in '69.
Time travels by way of multimedia up to 1995, featuring classic characters from BOOM (including Elvis, John Lennon and former U.S. president Ronald Reagan). But the focus shifts from Miller's mother's story to his own, following gen-Xers as they navigate the world.
"I play four main characters, including myself as a narrator, kind of looking back at the four ... gen-Xers that have played a big role in my life — one of whom is my wife, and one is my mentor," he said.
"I interviewed these people, and I played them on stage. So they provide the kind of personal stories that fuel the show in a very similar way to BOOM … trying to tell a bigger picture than just my own little world."
Miller said not much has been written about generation X other than "stereotypical slacker anxiety," and he wanted to delve into the history of what was actually happening while he was growing up.
"But also the bigger picture connected with the previous and next generation," he said.
'Cycles of history'
In researching the project, Miller said he learned how rooted today's political polarization is in the early '90s.
Miller said fashion and pop culture fads of today also got their start in the '90s.
"Young people [are] in these cycles of history, and fads and fashion that come back to the mid '90s," he said.
"That kind of Friends, Seinfeld, Titanic era. … Grunge was one of the manifestations, but also coming to a world of tabloid trash, in a way."
He said he likes to focus on those connections to other generations, rather than the differences.
"Yes, we have phones and computers in our pockets now, but other than that, it's a very similar anxiety to what we're feeling today about politicians, and about the world and about the environment," he said.
Varied experiences within gen X
Miller said after doing BOOM he realized that even people in the same generation might have a different recollection of what went on, and he wanted to explore that too.
"Someone born in '63 or '64 is the early gen X years, and yet, even them and me, born in 1970, have a completely different view, because I don't remember Watergate, or the Pentagon Papers or the oil embargo of the early '70s," he said.
"All I remember is Meat Loaf, and Star Wars and Abba."
He said putting the show together also made him understand that, if you grew up in a privileged, peaceful world, you'd likely grow up remembering TV shows, friends, school, vacations and family.
"You don't necessarily remember [historic events], except in the moment — like when John Lennon gets shot, or in the case of boomers, when Kennedy gets shot. And I think for for some people it's going to be 9/11."
Throughout BOOM X, showgoers will get to see Miller take on the personas of some of his generation's most prolific pop culture characters.
"Doing Duran Duran and Soft Cell and Tainted Love and even Devo with Whip It — that's in my comfort zone," he said.
"Others like Kurt Cobain are actually tough to do, because these are tough, wacky voices. And I know they carry a lot of emotional weight with people."
Throughout the show, Miller said he's immersed in a television diamond that will show some of the biggest moments in gen-X lives.
"You're watching from the early days — Trudeau invoking the War Measures Act, [because] I grew up in the middle of the FLQ crisis, like March 1970. That's when bombs were going off in my neighborhood," he said.
"[And] by the end, you've got George Bush Sr. announcing the Iraq war. You've got Madonna on TV asking why is Justify My Love being banned when we're seeing people exploding everywhere in video games, … so it's a whole range of things."
Miller said he hopes the show appeals not only to generation X, but also to baby boomers and millennials.
"These little moments that I remember as a kid hopefully will provoke these conversations among generations," he said.
"I want people to come back with their kids and their parents so that you can actually see that history is this circle that keeps repeating itself through certain things."
The show's world premier is being presented by Kidoons and The 20K collective in partnership with Theatre Calgary from Jan. 15 to Feb. 9.
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With files from The Homestretch.