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The Comedy of Errors

Matt Miller on His New Show, Disrupting Gender Rules and the Importance of Smiling

21 November 19 interview: Rebecca Buck

Matt Miller is a Nottingham-based poet and theatre person, who knows how to write and act out a proper good performance. Matt is bringing their brand new show Fitting to Nonsuch Studios, which promises to be a theatrical genderqueer glamour fast. We caught up with them ahead of the show…

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to create Fitting
I’m making and touring Fitting with Peader Kirk, who creates material with me, helps stitch it together into a show and helps direct my performance. When I met Peader in 2014, I was mainly a performance poet and had been commissioned by BBC Radio 3’s program The Verb as one of their Verb New Voices. As part of that programme, they introduced a theatre-making element and brought in a couple of mentors – one of whom was Peader, and we’ve been working together since.

Peader and I made our first full-length show together in 2016 and then came around to thinking about what became Fitting. Our first show Sticking (spot the theme!), had been very driven by personal narrative, but also deliberately disrupting the idea of a narrative being essentially linear. By this point, I was starting to experiment a lot with gender - mostly through ‘cross-dressing’ – or, to make that more specific, wearing dresses and skirts and other clothes found in the ‘women’s’ section, at home and in public, and beginning to embrace a non-binary, oscillating, quivering, blurring, dancing, jumping, sometimes grinning position, or array of positions with gender. A lot of my thinking was around questions on gender. What it means? How to disrupt its rules? Whether that necessitates new rules or whether we can look for a space where there don’t need to be any? Whether a journey with gender requires a linear narrative? That felt like the way into our next show, and that has become Fitting.

It's a solo performance - what can audiences expect? 
There’s lots of clothes and outfits, some typically male, some typically female, some, hopefully, both. Or neither. There’s a fair bit of storytelling and personal narrative, but also some sections where I, as a performer, am presented more as a narrator than myself. And then there are magic tricks! We’re playing a lot with the idea of being, or feeling, ‘visible’ or ‘invisible’, so we decided to try and illustrate some of that with magic.

We have also tried to make a push towards extending the material, more than we ever consciously have before, beyond my own voice. Part of that effort has involved using recorded voices as found material in the show, to widen the scope of opinions and experiences directly presented to the audience. As well as that, in a more metaphorical sense, we make a deliberate point of opening the space in which these questions exist to include myself, the audience in the room, and people generally. We all need to be part of the conversation around gender, presentation of identity and how we make a world that everyone can feel at home in.

So, in short, lots of outfits, some of them glitzy, stories, recorded voices, questions, magic and a smile. It’s important to smile.

You say Fitting is based on real-life experiences. Did it all really happen? 
It’s definitely all true. And for the most part, yes, it all really happened. Mostly.

If there is space to smile within these discussions, we can maybe all carry each other through and meet more productively within them

Do you think shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and Pose - and even Johannes dancing in heels on Strictly - have brought the experience of genderqueer people into the public eye, particularly with regard to the performance of gender through clothing? Do you think awareness leads to greater acceptance? 
What it feels like we’re seeing at the minute is a lot of people having conversations around the subject. That can lead to challenges and struggle, but it feels better that those conversations are happening. When I was growing up, I wasn’t even aware of the possibility of gender non-conformity. It feels like the generation growing up now have those choices, and examples and information available much more readily. There are more viable options, which is really exciting. The world feels bigger for it, and I think the generation who are now teenagers are going to do some wonderful and fascinating things with the future, especially if they’re given the chance and environment to do so.

However, it was pointed out to me recently that a lot of that coverage seems to be targeted towards a younger audience, and all of it seems glamorous, sparkly and glossy. The positivity and visibility of that are great, but I think it’d also be great to see other sides of the topic being covered more, and perhaps more recognition in the mainstream that, despite great bounds forward, it often remains exceedingly difficult to step outside of the norm.

What would you like audiences to take away from attending Fitting
I’d love people to come away with the feeling that it’s OK to ask questions, and that dialogue is a good thing. Gender is complex as a subject. Being decent and nice to people shouldn’t be complex. But I think it’s important that people feel able to approach these topics and discussions openly and curiously and to feel that there is a space in which voices can be heard.

“It’s important to smile” becomes something of a mantra in the show. I don’t mean that sentiment to come across as “smile and it’ll all be alright.” There’s not a lot to be gained from stiff upper lips. What I mean is that if there is space to smile within these discussions, we can maybe all carry each other through and meet more productively within them.

Why are you bringing Fitting to Nottingham and Nonsuch Studios in particular? 
Nottingham is my adopted home town! I’m from Newcastle originally, which is a great city – but I came to Nottingham for university and fell in love with the place and its vibe. I was back in Newcastle for a few years after graduating, but was always keen to get back down here and contribute to the arts scene in a city I have a lot of love for.

While I was in Newcastle, there was a theatre I was involved with a lot called Alphabetti Theatre, (which we’re touring to next Feb and March for two whole weeks!) Alphabetti grew out of a room above a pub, got its own place and strongly championed, celebrated and most importantly programmed local work and local artists, as well as fringe artists from other cities and countries. was essential for the theatre scene in Newcastle, and definitely instrumental in giving me a leg up as an artist. It feels like Nonsuch is now playing a very similar role for Nottingham in a really exciting way.

What's the next project you're working on? 
I’ve also been directing in the last couple of years and have been working with Nottingham based writer and performer Neal Pike. We’re currently touring his show that we’ve made together Five Years, which is about his time growing up at a special educational needs school. Earlier this year we were also lucky enough to get funding to start our next show I Bet You Got Stuck On The Dancefloor, which is about music, masculinity, the pros and cons of having heroes, and the problems with pedestalising frontmen.

I’ve also started working with another exciting theatre maker called Kieran Spires. His show The Foundation is asking why we keep building walls, and hopefully, we get to make that together too. I’m not sure yet what I want to write next. There are some ideas mulling around, but no spark moment just yet. Those tend to come in the spring…

Fitting is on at Nonsuch Studios on Friday 22 November at 7.30pm

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