Born in Burbank, California, Miller says she grew up “pretty much as I am now: fun-loving, happy, outgoing and self-centered. People would say, ‘My, what a pretty little girl!’ I answered, ‘I know it!’”
She was a natural performer from a long line of performers.
“My mother told me her father sang in minstrel shows, churches, weddings and funerals,” she says. One of her sisters is a choir member and soloist in Pittsburgh, and she has a nephew who is a community theatre actor in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Miller has enjoyed the spotlight herself from an early age.
“My parents always had me reciting a poem or singing at gatherings,” she says.
The applause made a lasting impression.
“I was singing along with and matching Julie Andrews’ voice in Mary Poppins at 6,” she says. “When my singing voice was discovered by elementary music teachers, I usually got solos in performances.”
Unfortunately, her audiences weren’t able to get too attached to the precocious young singer. Miller attended 17 different elementary schools and as many churches throughout her childhood.
Her father was an independent contractor who installed inter-office telephone equipment during the national upgrade to the direct distance dialing system used today. His work took him to 36 different states where they would live for varying amounts of time depending on the breadth of each assignment.
“During one school year, I went to four schools in four different states,” she says. “I would be asked to join a church choir in the community in which we were living at the time, sing once or twice, then move.”
Her family settled in northwest Ohio when she was in 7th grade, but she didn’t move to Fort Wayne until 12 years ago. “This will probably remain ‘home base,’” she says now, “but I still love to travel.”
Miller saw her first live theatrical performance when she was in junior high, but loved movie musicals and acting them out.
When it came time to audition for her Bryan High School production of The Music Man, she had so many vocal auditions and performances under her belt that she was cast as understudy for the female lead, Marian Paroo, even though she was only a freshman.
The following year she played Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof. “I really wanted to be Golda,” she says, “but I seem to be better suited for crazies.”
As an adult she continued to act and has found Fort Wayne a city full of great opportunities. She has long ago lost count of the number of productions she has been in, but today she aims for three shows per year.
Auditions continue to be relatively low-stress for her, due in part to her attitude about the casting process.
“What is the worst the director can say?” she asks rhetorically, then answers, “‘No.’ The part may not be right for you in the eyes of that director, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Once she has been cast, she spends time researching the time, circumstances and history of the show. She also memorizes her lines as quickly as possible so that the script doesn’t get in the way of onstage movements.
But most of all, she has fun.
“It’s called ‘a play’ for a reason,” she says. “Play with it, have fun, work hard. Never take the audience for granted.”
Miller believes in working hard and having fun in all aspects of her life. She earns her living in human resources for Centurion Industries Inc., in Garrett. Several years ago, one of her personal connections, Miss Indiana preliminary pageant director Shirley Souder, asked her to use her HR skills to help her mock interview local pageant titleholders to prepare them for the Miss Indiana competition.
“This snowballed into my becoming a director of a local preliminary pageant to Miss Indiana,” she says, “which segued into judging and emceeing pageants. Then I was coaching successful contestants in areas of interview, stage presence, and personal appearances and interactions – things they carry into the world of college or business for the rest of their lives.”
As a human resources professional, she also gets to use her performance skills on a daily basis.
“My focus is recruitment, employee involvement and training,” she says. “I’m ‘on stage’ every day at work. Whether during a new hire orientation, dishing out food – and comments – at a company luncheon, or presenting to or updating employees on their benefits, it’s like improv night every day.”
Her current onstage role in First Presbyterian Theater’s Christmas Potpourri has had improvisational elements as well. The show is a brand new musical revue (think Bing Crosby/Andy Williams variety show with skits and classic songs) written by Jack Cantey, and like most new shows, it experienced numerous rewrites and script tweaks as it began to come together with the cast.
“We auditioned for the show in June and started music rehearsal in October,” Miller says. “In the meantime, we had a couple cast adjustments.” She calls the challenges fun, saying, “It’s all about your attitude.”
Miller says the revue is “entertaining, uplifting, poignant, spiritual and comical. It’s a good family show to get the holiday season started.”
She enjoys sharing her love for theater with her family, including “The Blondterage” – her trio of granddaughters, Daphne, Stella and Amelia Gramling. But for now, they are content to remain in the audience.
“They haven’t followed me into the theater, concert halls, choirs or pageants,” she says, “but they all take dance lessons and perform with their studio.”
She does, however, make it a point to schedule one-on-one theater trips with each of them. “They seem to enjoy these outings and talk about them thereafter,” she says. “They get to do other fun things with their parents but this is ‘our thing.’”
Other lessons she hopes to teach her granddaughters are to remain open to possibilities, to not be afraid of taking a chance and to always be willing to make new connections.
“Dwight Wilson assistant directed Dreamgirls at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre a few years ago,” she says, “and he loves to tell a story about auditions for that show.”
The green room was filled with youthful African American performers, she says, “and then I showed up – a middle-aged, white woman who had loved the show since the 1980s and just wanted to be a part of it.”
She went on to win an Anthony Award for her performance.
“Through the years, I have wondered if I got a part only because no one else auditioned for it,” she says. “Who knows? My advice to anyone who is interested in auditioning for something, even if they don’t think they’re right for the show: what do you have to lose? Show up. It could be the fulfillment of a dream or the role of your career.”
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