#SD Theatre: Paradise vs. the Polar Vortex

by Catherine Miller

in National Conference

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(Pictured: Catherine Miller. The following post is part of a series highlighting and celebrating the theatres and theatre people of San Diego as part of the 2014 TCG National Conference in San Diego. Email Gus Schulenburg if you’d like to participate.)

“If you could say your name, your major, and where you’re originally from”

“My name is Catherine Miller and I am a Dramaturgy/Criticism major and I am from San Diego, California.”

“Whoa. Why the hell did you move here?”

Every time a new quarter begins and I have to re-introduce myself to new classmates, I hear the same reaction to announcing my hometown.
Some have called me insane. Others have praised my ability to withstand REAL winter despite living for the majority of my life in a city some people refer to as “America’s Finest City”.  But what I often don’t get the chance to mention is my reasoning behind choosing such a polar opposite location to finish out my education.

I was raised by the San Diego theatre community, which is something many people can claim. I started out taking classes at San Diego Junior Theatre at the age of 6, leading to my first coveted role as an ensemble member in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. I went to Coronado School of the Arts for high school, focusing on musical theatre, all the while seeing as many shows as I could. And in my senior year I was cast in my singular professional acting gig with California Young Playwrights Project, at The Old Globe.

When I ventured off to the foreign land of Seattle to study acting, I did not realize how much San Diego theatre had meant to me. Whether or not they knew it, many of San Diego’s finest theatre artist fed my soul through their art: Darko Tresnjak taught me the beauty of the grotesque with his production of Titus Andronicus. Sean Murray and David Brannen’s incredible production of My Fair Lady made me realize that intimacy in musical theatre is an incredible thing to behold. And Bunbury at Diversionary had me laughing till I was crying. The theatre artists of San Diego were my teachers, and I, their attentive student. So, I returned.

In the next three years, I would do everything and anything to work with these companies I admired so much. I spent time at La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe, interning and learning the regional theatre model as best I could. I collaborated with other San Diego natives like Thomas Hodges; we were just some young theatre artists who yearned for their voices to be heard by “the big guys”. And I was lucky enough that Kim Strassburger, a local director and dramaturg, taught me the basics of dramaturgy and directing, all the while taking me under her wing on several productions. I had found my artistic family.

What is so amazing about the theatre artists of “America’s Finest City” is that we embrace each other with open arms. There is a constant excitement about new work being produced and budding theatre companies emerging from the fray like Circle Circle Dot Dot. Everyone acknowledges that they are standing on the shoulders of someone else; the person who gave them their chance and helped them become a part of something greater. And they look to pay it forward by doing the same. Community is essential for these artists. And passion is always a product of the work.

In my final year at The Theatre School at DePaul University, I have begun to prepare for my post-grad life. I will stay in Chicago, despite the constant nagging I get from friends who tell me I will probably die if this winter is any sign of what is to come. I will try to land a steady day job, all the while attending night rehearsals for shows I am dramaturging or directing. I know I will be the poster child for struggling artists, but I like the unknown. It is scary and daunting, yet exciting. But if for some reason I cannot stand subzero temperatures any longer or I do come to realize I actually like the beach (which I do not), I will happily return to San Diego. And I know, as sappy as it sounds, that I will be welcomed back with open arms by my San Diego Theatre family.


Catherine Miller currently lives in Chicago but is a proud native San Diegan. San Diego credits include [title of show] (dramaturg) at Diversionary Theatre; Cabaret (assistant director), The History Boys (assistant dramaturg), Sweeney Todd (assistant dramaturg) at Cygnet Theatre; A Room Full of Strangers (Co-Director with Thomas Hodges).  She has interned about both La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe. At The Theatre School, Catherine has served as the dramaturg for Crooked, Measure for Measure, Our Town and Number the Stars. She is currently dramaturging Passion at Ion Theatre and will be directing Greg Kotis’ play Pig Farm, this Spring.