Juilliard graduate Nate Miller is an actor, producer, and founding member of the troupe Lesser America. He and I talked in the lobby after a performance of David Lindsay-Abaire’s dark comedy Ripcord at Manhattan Theater Club.
Brent: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. What was your favorite role when you were at Juilliard?
Nate: I played Romeo in college. I remember thinking that the second half of the play was a lot easier. During the first scenes, you’re still figuring out the process. But you get into the rhythm. The more you do, the better you get. It’s all about repetition.
Brent: Have you ever blanked on your lines?
Nate: Oh, sure. Everybody does at some point. It usually happens if I get distracted by something. I bring myself back, remember where I am, and the line comes back to me.
Brent: Right, take a deep breath and get centered. If you’re playing a scene with other actors, they can give you a cue. Actors generally know each other’s lines about as well as their own.
Nate: I know everyone else’s lines but not because I tried to. It just happens when you get into character. And knowing other characters’ lines came in handy in a later production of Romeo and Juliet with Actors Theatre of Louisville when I played Mercutio.
Brent: So on stage you’re listening as much as you’re speaking.
Nate: Oh, yes! In fact, in the last play I did at Manhattan Theatre Club, Of Good Stock by Melissa Ross, listening was critical. Some scenes appeared chaotic, with people all talking at once. It required a heightened sense of timing and lots of listening.
Brent: That’s quite a change from the measured iambic pentameter of Shakespeare. Tell me about how you have committed more disjointed monologues to memory.
Nate: There is a visualization technique I’ve used a few times to help memorize complicated monologues. One in particular was when I played Wesley in Sam Shepard's The Curse of The Starving Class at the Wilma Theater in Philly. At the beginning of the play, Wesley gives a rather long and intense stream of consciousness monologue, seemingly to the audience. It is full of imagery and fragments of sentences. At times it feels like beat poetry, and at others it seems like the scene directions in a screenplay. I really wanted it to flow quickly, as though you were experiencing the thought hurricane that Wesley was going through.
Brent: So what did you do?
Nate: So, I employed the technique of building a Memory House. I pictured my childhood home and entered from the front door and walked all through the house, placing each image and thought in rooms along my path. It was extremely helpful for me to mentally walk through my own home and recall the lines based on images in my imagination that were in a specific order. I still know that monologue because of this technique.
Brent: Such an elegant method. In my day, we referred to it as a Memory Palace. I guess the real estate market has changed!
Nate: Ha! Well, no matter what you call it, it’s still very much alive. In fact, the technique of building a Memory House is featured in a scene in Caryl Churchill's Love and Information, which I was lucky enough to do the New York premiere of at New York Theatre Workshop. We actually explored the technique on stage every night, which was super fun.
Brent: You lead a very charmed actor’s life, Nate. I wish you continuing success and enjoyment.
Nate: Thank you! I hope this was helpful.
Often asked why he chose acting as his career, Nate has a ready reply that is both eloquent and visceral: “People need art. Not simply for escape from their daily lives; rather, they need art so that they can live their daily lives. Art is the catharsis we experience without deadly consequence; it is the embarrassment we feel without shame; it is the pain that leaves no scar and the lie that allows us to face the truth.” Learn more about this soulful young man on his website, iamnatemiller.com.