When Charlie Miller, a sixth-generation Denverite, first answered the Colorado Creatives questionnaire together with co-creative Emily Tarquin in 2013, the duo shared curatorship of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’s Off-Center, then a theatrical laboratory producing offbeat, participatory shows aimed at younger audiences. When Tarquin later moved on, Miller continued on his own, growing Off-Center into a national hub for immersive theater on a grander scale, by collaborating on experiential shows like Sweet & Lucky, The Wild Party and The Last Defender and even expanding audiences in a partnership with MCA Denver’s Mixed Taste series pairing lectures on unrelated topics. And Off-Center is still growing. As we speak, Camp Christmas, an immersive collaboration with design wizard Lonnie Hanzon, is drawing folks in at Stanley Marketplace, while Miller is already hard at work on his biggest production to date: Theater of the Mind, a collaboration with David Byrne set to debut in 2020.
Miller’s got a lot to be proud of. Follow along as he tells all via the Colorado Creatives Redux questionnaire.
Westword: How has your creative life grown, changed or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
Charlie Miller: The last time I answered the questionnaire was in 2013, and a lot has changed in six years! I did the last questionnaire with my creative partner-in-crime, Emily Tarquin, who co-founded Off-Center with me. Sadly, Emily left Denver and the Denver Center in 2016 for a sweet job at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and so I became the sole artistic leader of Off-Center.
In 2013, I had two jobs at the DCPA: resident video designer and Off-Center curator; now I work full-time on Off-Center programming. And perhaps most exciting and noteworthy, Off-Center has grown from a little experiment on the fringe of the DCPA to one of its signature lines of programming, and it is growing exponentially over the next year with two large new immersive projects: Camp Christmas and Theater of the Mind.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver (or Colorado)?
I wish for Denver to be a city in which everyone has access to culture and can engage with art as both an audience member and a creator. The more weird and wonderful artistic experiences that activate unexpected spaces throughout the city and bring people together, the better!
It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area, who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?
I would love to see more connections and partnerships between artists and developers. Art can bring people and value to new developments. So could artists be a part of the plan and serve as creative collaborators on more commercial projects? And could art space and/or housing be a part of the equation? I think there are possibilities if we can find new ways to work together that would be mutually beneficial.
What are your goals for the future of Off-Center?
Over the next couple of years, my goals for Off-Center are to:
- Focus on experiential programming that puts the audience at the center of the story.
- Scale up to allow more audience members to experience and engage with the art.
- Create a sustainable producing model that allows DCPA to produce these expensive and complicated projects regularly.
- Continue collaborating with local artists and supporting the growth of our local immersive community.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Find a way to get involved with a project or create something small on your own. With immersive and experiential work, you can only learn by doing it and by putting audiences in it, so take some risks, try out new ideas, and see what happens. It’s also how you’ll meet other artists and begin making connections that can lead to your next opportunity.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
I don’t like to pick favorites, but here are some folks who have inspired me of late: visual artist Jordan Casteel (I know she isn’t Colorado-based anymore, but her solo show at DAM sure made her home town proud); new Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre; Warm Cookies of the Revolution founder Evan Weissman; and Rainbow Militia producing director Amber Blais.
What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?
Right now we are in the midst of Camp Christmas, created by Colorado artist Lonnie Hanzon and running in the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace through January 5. This immersive extravaganza has really taken off, and we are thrilled with the audience response and [also] working hard to figure out how to maintain the experience with thousands of people going through it every day. It’s a great problem to have!
Simultaneously, I’m hard at work on Theater of the Mind, a new immersive theater experience created by David Byrne [of Talking Heads fame] and writer Mala Gaonkar. We are so lucky to be premiering this new show in Denver next summer, and I have been collaborating on its development and design over the past year. It is definitely the most ambitious and complicated project I’ve ever been a part of, which makes it fun and exciting. And I believe it will deliver a completely unique experience to every audience member through its groundbreaking combination of neuroscience, design and storytelling.
What’s your dream project?
I really feel that every show I get to work on is a dream project. I fall in love with every project as I work on it, and that’s what keeps me energized. And I must say that collaborating with David Byrne is definitely a dream.
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Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
Nora Burnett Abrams in her first year as director of MCA Denver; the Black Actors Guild, celebrating their tenth year in 2020; and all of the talented immersive artists in town creating increasingly ambitious and impressive experiences that blur the lines between art forms and bring art and community to unexpected places.
Camp Christmas runs between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily (except December 25 and 28) through January 5 at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas Street in Aurora. Timed-entry ticket prices vary, from $8 to $21, and it's free for children two and under, at denvercenter.org.
Keep up with Off-Center news and productions online.