The Paw Print

Inside math teacher Brian Miller’s acting career

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Brian Miller poses as Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie.

Brian Miller poses as Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie.

Brian Miller poses as Conrad Birdie in the musical Bye Bye Birdie.

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Today, Brian Miller is an advanced math teacher, director, and tennis and forensics coach for KCC. Miller is a true renaissance man, his interests ranging across athletics, academics, and the arts. Although Miller has several strongly cultivated interests, most of his career, until recently, was spent as a professional stage actor.

Miller’s love for performing started early.

“I’d been on stage since I was 5, singing with my family,” Miller said.

Miller’s family toured throughout Kansas in the 70’s, singing gospel music in churches and communities, led by his mother who sang opera. At just five years old, he would get paid five dollars to sing – his first taste of what it was like to perform professionally.

In high school, Miller performed in his first musicals under the tutelage of director Allan Chugg, who Miller now teaches alongside at KCC. One of the first shows Chugg directed Miller in was Diary of Anne Frank. Miller played the role of Peter.

“He was always a good actor,” Chugg said. “He always believed that he could do anything better than anybody else, and really pushed himself to do just that.”

As Miller got into college, he pursued undergraduate degrees in music education and music theory, never having seriously considered musical theatre as an option for his career. In fact, it didn’t occur to him until the senior year of his undergrad study at John Brown University, when he auditioned for Carnival and landed the role of Paul, the lead.

“It was at that point where I was like… ‘huh. I wonder [if this could go somewhere]’,” Miller said.

Even still, he was unconvinced. After college, Miller found a job in computer programming that he dreaded, and again found himself drawn back to the performing arts. He auditioned for Bye Bye Birdie at the Wichita Center for the Arts and landed the role of Conrad Birdie.

“I literally hated the job I was in, and I got [the role of Birdie],” Miller said. “That led to more roles at the dinner theatre in town, which led to bigger roles at Music Theatre Wichita, and that’s when my career took off.”

At Music Theatre Wichita, Miller met Wayne Brian, a producing director with ample connections in the acting world, and also worked with Richard White, who played Gaston in the 1991 animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast.

“Actors tend to hang out together, but I liked hanging out with the directors and the producers,” Miller said. “I didn’t have [acting] classes, I didn’t have a forensics background. I wanted to figure out how to be a better actor, so I was a sponge.”

Miller especially connected with director Phillip George, who got him a role in the parody show Forbidden Broadway without an audition, landing him in New York City. From there, Miller spent time working on a cruise ship, travelling across the seas and performing for the passengers.

“We only worked two nights a week, so basically I worked four hours a week,” Miller said. “I saw the world, that was when I really started to enjoy travelling,”

And travel he did. After working on the cruise ship, Miller’s career really took off: he wound up on Broadway National Tours, travelling all across the United States to perform in shows such as Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables, and Phantom of the Opera.

Despite playing roles in a number of mainstream productions and playing iconic roles (such as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, or Enjolras in Les Mis), Miller’s favorite is Captain Tempest in Return of the Forbidden Planet, a musical that sets Shakespeare’s the Tempest on the bridge of a spaceship like something out of Star Trek.

Miller worked consistently as an actor for about 10 consecutive years, living in New York and performing all across the world. It was when Miller’s wife, Leah Swank-Miller, also an actress, became pregnant with their first child, Jonah, that the pair decided to move from New York back to Kansas City: a place where they could raise a family and continue their careers as actors.

Today, Miller works at KCC as an upper level math teacher, drama teacher, tennis coach, and forensics coach, along with directing the KCC theatre productions alongside his wife. At present he is not acting in any productions in town, but if the right role comes along, he hopes to. His acting career has been colorful and fascinating, and even still, he believes his current mindset is one of the happiest he’s ever been in.

Despite the world of theatre generally being recognised as mostly secular, Miller believes his career as an actor has had a massively positive impact on his growth as a Christian, and enjoys being able to share this part of his life with students.

“There were roles I did that I didn’t care for, but there were other roles that I did where I have never felt closer to God that in any church service,” Miller said. “I felt very grateful to God on a daily basis. It was amazing.”

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