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Spotlight On...

Daniel Brooks and Rick Miller - Bigger Than Jesus

Bigger than JesusBigger Than Jesus, the new creation by Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks, produced by Necessary Angel Theatre Company, is billed as being a "Multimedia Mass for the modern age." A catchy slogan, but more than that as well. Writer and performer Rick Miller expands upon that idea: "We structured it along the lines of the Catholic Mass. The play started with a line --‘I know the entire Catholic Liturgy by heart. I grew up Catholic, I haven’t been to Church in many years. But the words of the liturgy stuck with me, and I was interested in taking those words into a secular space, and trying to find meaning in them. Bigger Than Jesus is a search for meaning not only in those words of the Catholic Mass, but also why people celebrate Mass to begin with." "And it’s also to atone for the sins of Christianity as well," concludes Brooks jokingly.

Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks began talking about Bigger Than Jesus nearly three years ago. The two of them agreed that they wanted to experiment with creating a "religious experience in the theatre." Miller recalls the feeling that going to Church instilled -- of feeling cleansed, uplifted, challenged. Everything that good theatre can and should do. Brooks explains that one of the things that they have done is take the life of Christ in the Gospels, and used that to create a dual structure with the liturgy -- "Including points in the life of Christ which we have very freely interpreted." Miller agrees by reinstating "This is our own Jesus story, told through our Mass."

One of the interesting things about Bigger Than Jesus is that is a creation - that is Daniel Brooks and Rick Miller have been working on it as partners, and not simply as writer/director and actor/director. Through discussion and experimentation, it has grown in a very organic way to become what it is. What is it that attracted them to this style of theatre-making? "I prefer working like this, partly because I rarely find the writer who thinks about the stage the same way I do. So that when I begin working with a collaborator, we develop a stage language together, and text, and scenography - the approach to dramaturgy. The collaboration process is inventive -- and to a certain extent, holistic. It gives me, as a director, much more voice. I’m less interested in solving the problems of another person’s text."

Miller remarks that for him, is was natural to build the show in this way. "A lot of our initial rehearsals were just walking around in the park talking about family, and divinity, and life. All of these things fuel not only the content, but the way you’re going to be working together. And as Daniel said - you develop a language together so that in the end what’s been produced is almost a child -- which I believe is very relevant considering what Bigger Than Jesus is about."

One of the important aspects of Bigger Than Jesus is the multimedia element that Miller and Brooks established. What made them want to incorporate these technological aspects, and what would the play be like without them? "Bigger Than Jesus: Unplugged," say Brooks, "I’ve seen a lot of ‘multimedia’," Miller replies, "and I think in this case our media achieves a certain integration in the content of the show. I don’t feel that we’re using it gratuitously -- all of the tricks we use have become almost characters in the play that we have endowed with a certain sense of the sacred." It’s interesting that the media Brooks and Miller have employed serve almost as post-modern religious iconography. And in incorporating that, they have deepened their investigation into Jesus and Christianity in their own distinct way. Miller sums it up by saying, "The Mass is not Mass without the architecture, the music and the lighting. Without that, it’s just words. I believe that a lot of the meaning lies within the trappings."

When I ask Rick Miller and Daniel Brooks who or what they would say have inspired them as artists, Miller credits Robert Lepage as a being a major source of his evolution as an artist. Brooks on the other hand notes that most of his influences have been outside the realm of theatre. "I would say more film than theatre, although Samuel Beckett was a huge influence. In film, I think I’ve been very influenced by the French New Wave, Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, even the Marx Brothers."

One of the things that fascinates me about Bigger Than Jesus is the amount of scrutiny the artists have applied. Often, time and money are issues when it comes to producing new work, but their entire company has been able to develop this project to it’s fullest extent. In the end, that’s what encourages theatre to go beyond what is expected, and in its own way, become a religious experience.

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Daniel Brooks and Rick Miller with Naomi Skwarna, November 2004

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Last modified December 28, 2009.
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