Chip Miller has a superpower: They make you want to drop whatever you're doing and catch a plane to Kansas City. So vivid are their descriptions of the Missouri metropolis where they grew up that they make you feel as if you're listening to live jazz, smelling cinnamon rolls made with croissant dough, and tasting meat that's been smoked for hours, elevating it to legendary heights.
"There is no better meal than Kansas City barbecue," Miller says, "and if you've never had Kansas City barbecue, I don't know what you're doing with your life."
Miller has done plenty with their life. For seven years, they were an artistic associate/resident director at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, and recently became Portland Center Stage's associate artistic director. Given Miller's exhilaratingly eclectic résumé—their directing credits include Hedwig and the Angry Inch and A Raisin in the Sun—almost anything is possible for them at PCS.
Yet as Miller spoke about seven things that they deem essential in life, their gaze continually drifted back to the city that shaped them.
"Kansas City is home," Miller says. "It will forever be home. Even when I hate it—and there are many times when I do hate it—it is always home."
1. My circle of family and friends
We have a family text thread that is never-ending and a really great way to digest everything that's happening in the world and to have friendly debates. Today, we talked about the Oklahoma governor testing positive for coronavirus, the conflict of calling the Washington football team the Red Tails—and how the Red Tails [name] is so tied to the Tuskegee Airmen—and the defeat of Jeff Sessions in Alabama.
2. Kansas City, Mo.
My complicated relationship with Kansas City, I think, is based in growing up as a queer, Black kid in the Midwest in the '90s and early aughts, and that feeling of "I don't belong here. I don't see a community for me here. I don't see a place where I fit in." And when I came back as an adult, I realized that I could make a space for myself there. I could find comfort and I could find a life, because I suddenly had the autonomy of being an adult with a car, a home and a job.
It is truly a thing that I have every day, and if you took it away from me, I don't know what I'd do. I love Sterling Coffee in Northwest—that's my main squeeze. I've liked Never Coffee in Southwest. I'm sad that the Pearl Bakery is gone—that was where I was having a ton of my meetings. Those cinnamon crowns, I miss them. I think there was a week where I had a meeting there every single morning, mainly because I just wanted to go and get cinnamon crowns.
4. The work of James Baldwin
He was, for me, the first Black intellectual—a queer Black intellectual—who seeped into my psyche and told me that I wasn't some alien, that there were people like me who existed and would continue to exist. I'm looking at my bookshelf and there are nine books that say "Author: James Baldwin," and it's because he has given me permission through his writing to do the things that I do.
5. Musical theater cast recordings
I believe that life is a musical. You can ask most of my friends—I will randomly break out into songs. What I love about theater in general is that there's catharsis that comes from a story being told to you in real time. You're watching art being made while engaging with the story. Music and dance are cathartic because they're expressing something that we can't just say, and so to add catharsis on top of catharsis on top of catharsis can make musical theater totally overwhelming and consuming in a way that few artforms can be.
6. Dance parties
I think anyone can dance. Dance is just feeling the music. Sometimes your dance is bopping your head. Sometimes your dance is doing a plié. Sometimes your dance is literally just tripping over yourself onto the floor. Everything, if it's framed correctly, is dance. I love that dance allows me a moment to not be totally conscious of the voices in my head and give over to the voices in my body.
7. Homemade cinnamon rolls
I have a grandmother who makes the most incredible cinnamon rolls, and her cinnamon rolls will forever be little bites of deliciousness. The real fun of quarantine is that I decided I'm going to learn how to make cinnamon rolls. And so I have been working on my own homemade cinnamon rolls, and I'm getting pretty good. This next round will be my fifth attempt, and I feel like each one has gotten better. Because I live alone, I end up with 13 cinnamon rolls that I try to give away.