Q&A with Singer/Songwriter Hannah Miller by Jasper Intern Erika Ryan

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After finishing college in 2003, Hannah Miller moved to Columbia for a band that ended up breaking up, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing her music career.

She decided it was time to go solo, and she’s being doing it ever since. She ended up staying in Columbia for seven years, but in December of 2010, Miller moved to Nashville, where she currently lives and works.

Her self-named umbrella genre “pop/folk/soul” was relatively isolated in Columbia, but settled nicely into the Nashville scene. Miller is known in the folk community for her bluesy, singer-songwriter sound paired with her charming voice, and has released several albums and singles over the last 12 years, including her 2008 debut LP Into the Black and a trio of polished EPs that followed her move to Music City.

Miller is currently experiencing a surprising flood of interest thanks to a viral video created by filmmaker Danny Cooke that used one of Miller’s new songs, “Promise Land,” to soundtrack drone footage taken of Chernobyl and the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine. The video got an airing on 60 Minutes and has since gone on to get over 2 million views. “Promise Land” is available on iTunes now, but will also be on her new album, which she’s taking pre-orders for at her website here.

On Saturday, March 7th, Miller is set to play at Music Farm Columbia with her fellow Nashville-based and Soda City ex-pat Patrick Davis. Jasper was able to catch up with Hannah Miller and chat a bit about starting her career in Columbia, how the industry has treated her, and what she’s up to now.

Jasper: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in Columbia when you first got into the music business solo?

Hannah Miller: Well, I was very young and inexperienced — I was just starting out, I had no idea what I was doing. Columbia was a really respective, welcoming place for me to start, I think. I remember sending the Free Times my very homemade demo that I made on my computer—that sounded awful—and they actually reviewed it and said nice things about it.

It was a great place for me to grow. There was a welcoming vibe about it — no one was snobby, I wasn’t looked down upon for just being a beginner. So, I’ve always appreciated that. I would just take my guitar and travel around to open mics and coffee shops around Columbia. It was a good place to be for traveling easily — Charlotte, Atlanta, Charleston are all right around there.

I’ve always thought it was a good thing that I started there.

Jasper: How is the community support for folk musicians in Columbia? What was it like starting out in that genre?

Hannah Miller: I felt like it was pretty supportive. I mean, it’s on a very small scale compared to Nashville because there were just not as many people doing it, so sometimes I felt a little isolated. No one was really doing that — none of my friends were really musicians in Columbia. But as far as the people that were doing it, I found it really supportive, and not competitive or anything.

I remember going to the South Carolina Musicians Guild, so that was a great community I got plugged into. I always felt accepted, and not judged. The only negative for me was the amount of people doing it — there weren’t that many.

Jasper: Do you feel connected to the music community in Columbia now, if at all? How do you think it has changed over the years?

Hannah Miller: I can’t say that I really feel connected anymore. I don’t know who’s playing anymore. I used to recognize names, knew them personally or at least had met whoever was playing, and now when I’m traveling through, and I hear who’s playing, I hardly ever recognize who it is or have met them.

I feel like it’s grown since I lived there, but I don’t know if that’s a matter of it being a different class of people. I don’t know if it’s growing, or if it’s different people doing it.

I feel like when I was there it was a little better of a time for venues, or places to play. Since I’ve been gone, it seems like a lot of places have closed, like the White Mule, I loved playing there.

As far as the listening room type of environments I like to play, it didn’t seem as hard to find, when I was in Columbia, to find places to play as it is now, trying to go back.

I’m excited that Music Farm is a new venue in Columbia, and I hope that my music will be better received there. I just feel like it’s kind of been a struggle, because it was going strong there for a while and now a lot of venues closed down and it feels like there’s no where to play.

Jasper: What has it been like climbing the popularity ladder? Was there any specific moment where you felt as if you “made it”?

Hannah Miller: No, [Laughs] not really. I don’t know who said this quote, but it was something like “No success is permanent, and no failure is permanent,” and I feel like that’s very true in music. If you think, “Oh, people are paying attention,” it goes away very quickly — then you could think, “Ugh, this sucks, nobody cares,” or no one came to your show or something, but that’s not permanent either. For me, it’s just up and down.

The biggest thing, recently, this video used a song of mine, and it went viral with millions of views. It was just kind of like, “Cool, this is happening!” Even then, I just never trust in that place of feeling successful, because it’s probably going to go away and I’ll have a time when it’s quiet and not much is going on.

I don’t feel like there’s ever a “made it” place — there’s making it, then not making it, then making it again… you know. I feel like it you go to a place where Bono and U2 is, you could say, “yeah, I’ve made it.” [Laughs] But for independent artists like me, it is just moments of success and glory, followed by moments of failure and depression.

Jasper: [Laughs] Well, I guess that’s true. How does Nashville’s arts scene compare to a smaller, less music-centric city arts scene like Columbia?

Hannah Miller: Nashville is just great — on one level, you don’t feel like a weirdo anymore. All your friends are musicians, they know what you’re going though, and they don’t look at you weird when you tell them you’re a singer-songwriter. [Laughs] Everybody’s doing it, everybody understands the struggle of it, and that’s cool.

And on the other hand, you could be in town and working. Versus in Columbia, I would always have to travel and book shows outside of Columbia, because there’s just not that many opportunities to play in town, other than just playing cover gigs at a bar, which I didn’t really want to do. So if you wanted regular work, you have to book shows and travel.

I just had a baby last year, so I had to cut back on traveling. So, it’s a great place to be if you want to focus on songwriting and recording, but you can play all over Nashville all the time if you want to, too. It’s just such a huge scene, and the audiences aren’t going to overlap that much, because there are a lot of tourists. You’re always playing for different people, so you’re not necessarily burning out your welcome, even if you play at the same venue every night.

Those things I’ve found to be really great about Nashville. There’s so much going on, so even if you’re not doing it, you still feel like you’re in the middle of it — your friends are doing it, they’re doing cool things and you can live vicariously through them. There’s a lot of music going on, so it’s kind of a cool vibe here.

Jasper: What brought you back to Columbia for your show in March? Was it just by chance?

Hannah Miller: Yeah, that was just my friend Patrick Davis — he invited me to play with him. We’ve done some shows together and he’s really great, so I always try and say yes when he invites me to play, so that’s what brought me back this time.

I’ve tried to play [in Columbia] once or twice a year, to try and stay connected a little bit to my home base.

I haven’t been back that much — this will be my first show in Columbia for a while, I think, maybe even a couple years. I don’t know, I can’t remember the last time I played in Columbia, which is crazy. [Laughs]

Jasper: So how does it feel to come back and perform here? Is there a sentimental aspect to it?

Hannah Miller: I mean, a little bit. It feels—I don’t know—different. When I first moved away and I would come back to play, it would feel like some kind of homecoming — a show with a bunch of friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. So when you’ve been gone for five years, it’s kind of changed. More people I don’t recognize will be at the show. It’s not as much about, “Aw, my friends are here” and playing music for fans, more than just old friends.

But, we can still get some old friends to come to the show, and that’s cool. I also love being able to come and eat at old places that I miss. [Laughs] So I guess it is a bit like a homecoming.

-Jasper Intern Erika Ryan

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The Women of Troy: Teaching the World Equality Through Theatre by Haley Sprankle

Jasper Intern Haley Sprankle in Trojan women
Jasper Intern Haley Sprankle in Trojan women – photo by Alexandra Herstick

“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation; we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Patricia Arquette’s rousing Oscar acceptance speech not only called to question the inequality women today face all over the world, but the inequality women have faced throughout time.

According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW):

  • Hispanic and Latina women were paid 54 percent of what white men were paid in 2013.
  • Women make up just 14 percent of the engineering workforce.
  • Women represent only 18.5 percent of Congress.
  • 24 states have never elected a woman governor.
  • The United States ranks 60th globally in women’s political empowerment.
  • 60 percent of sexual assaults have gone unreported since 2009.
  • Women make up just 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.
  • More than 22 million working women do not have paid sick days.
  • Half of working mothers say that they often take unpaid time off to care for a sick child.
  • So far in 2014, state legislatures have introduced 468 restrictions on women’s bodies, and zero for men.

(“10 Stats on Women’s Equality That Might Be Scarier than Halloween,” AAUW)

These striking statistics reinforce how the nation and the world needs to raise awareness and fight for gender equality.

One way that can be achieved — through the medium of theatre.

The University of South Carolina’s Lab Theatre opens Trojan Women, and immersive theatre experience written by Euripides, and directed by senior Kelsea Woods Thursday, Feb. 26.

“Feminism definitely plays into the show. First of all, it’s a show with eight women and two men which is something that you almost never see in modern theatre, much less Ancient Greek theatre. That’s definitely a feminist aspect right off the bat,” sophomore Brooke Smith, chorus member, explains. “I also think the play, especially our interpretation of it, shows women persevering in an extremely difficult, tragic situation and uniting together to take control of their own fate. If that’s not some awesome feminism, I don’t know what is.”

These women of Troy, both fictional and historical, represent all women in their own respective manner in the way they act and the way the actors describe them. They are broken, fervent, observant, good-hearted, strong and resilient women who face unsurmountable odds.

“It’s not Cassandra’s fault she is crazy — It’s Apollo’s. Literally the only reason she is crazy is because she said no having sex with Apollo. Everyone else treats her like she is insane, so she is,” senior Rebecca Shrom, playing Cassandra, elaborates. “Honestly, she is one of the only people who accepts her fate and takes it head on. Everyone else is all, ‘Woe is me. Weep for me,’ while Cassandra says, ‘Watch me while I destroy our enemies, the thing the men couldn’t do.’”

While each woman has their individuality, they also come together as one to face the world that crumbles before them.

“This very easily could be a play of women being very, ‘Take pity on me,’ wallowing, and just succumbing to this force and subordinating. In the way that I’m reinterpreting it, I’m seeing these women and their general call to action to these crimes that the Greek people would have seen as a feminist platform in today’s society where they are constantly rallying and actively not giving up. Even when the only thing they have left is to express their grief and weep, that is so powerful to them,” Woods adds.

This grief plagues women today as it did the women of Troy and of nations past.

“A big thing that we’ve talked about and something I’ve been kind of looking into more is the idea of women really being the true victims of war as far as being prone to war crimes such as systematic rape like what’s going on in Syria and all these crazy things where men use them as objects to gain power,” Woods says.

As a first-time director, Woods has created the world for the women of Troy in a new, modern way.

“In bringing it into our world and approaching it with a modern sensibility, I chose a translation that would allow for that. It’s still heightened text, but the translator did a fantastic job of making it so immediate, that I think modern audiences will respond to that. In kind of going in that way and as its very much a reflection of issues going on now, I just wanted to bring the whole production from design, staging, going about it in a new, nontraditional way — I just wanted to bring all of that modernity into a new interpretation of a classical text,” Woods says.

Not only does Woods modernize the world to make it more applicable, she offers the idea of immersive theatre.

“This is not your typical production. The intimate, immersive quality of the show is unlike any other I have had the opportunity to work on. Audience members will have no choice but to fully engage with this timeless story. This theatrical experience is all encompassing,” junior Jamie Boller, playing the lead of Hecuba, adds.

This new theatrical concept mixed with an old struggle for women’s rights and respect brings the audience into a world where they are forced to face the facts that the world still has room for improvement.

“Our community has expanded in a greater sense than what it once was, but it still calls for empathy, compassion, understanding, all these things that we often lose sight of, but are so incredibly important. Being aware of these factors helps things like war not happen. Especially given all the current political situations — it’s the same issue we’ve been dealing with for thousands of years, but we haven’t learned fully from our mistakes just yet,” Woods says.

Through these overwhelming statistics, this powerful story, and the women who have dealt with and continue to deal with these issues, there is a lesson to be learned from Hecuba, the main character:

“Life means hope,” and that hope is that the world will change for the better as women continue to strive for equality.

“This show really demonstrates that women have the ability to fight back in their own way,” junior Cami Reid says, “Even under the most devastating of circumstances.”

 

 

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REVIEW: Bunnicula at Columbia Children’s Theatre by Melissa Ellington

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Hop on over to Columbia Children’s Theatre and enjoy Bunnicula, a musical based on the book by Deborah and James Howe. Adapted for the stage by Jon Klein with lyrics by Klein and music by Chris Jeffries, Bunnicula explores the intriguing tale of a mysterious rabbit adopted by an unsuspecting family of four. Their canny feline, however, is suspicious of Bunnicula and uses literary knowledge to convince the family dog that this cute little bunny with the glowing red eyes is actually….a vampire! Why else would the vegetables in the fridge suddenly be drained of their juice? The animals prove to be entertaining sleuths as family life unfolds around their humorous investigation of Bunnicula. My first grade daughter gleefully describes Bunnicula as “very scary…and very funny!”

The performers present an appealing world with gullible yet likeable people and more sophisticated (while still charmingly flawed) animals. In the central roles of Harold (the dog) and Chester (the cat), Jerry Stevenson and Paul Lindley II deliver standout performances as a crowd-pleasing duo with resonant voices. Stevenson’s winning charisma as Harold draws the audience right into the heart of the show. Anyone who has spent time with a disdainful cat will recognize the feline temperament in Lindley’s superb depiction of the persnickety Chester.

Matthew Wright handles the puppeteer responsibilities for Bunnicula with seamless fluidity and impressive agility. Julian Deleon and Toni V. Moore generate strong stage presence as Mr. and Mrs. Monroe, grounding the wilder plot twists with a comforting sense of parental security. Riley Smith (Pete Monroe) and Kate Chalfant (Toby Monroe) convey youth and innocence without becoming overly cloying. Understudies include Kaitlyn Fuller (Harold), Anthony Harvey (Chester), and Taylor Diveley (Mr. Monroe).

For this show to work well, audiences need to root for both the animals and the humans, and the CCT team does an admirable job of making this happen. Crystal Aldamuy’s choreography works effectively to create visual interest and enhance characterization, while Lindley provides adept music direction for the show’s engaging musical numbers. Rest assured that the play’s humor reaches across generations, with slapstick hilarity alongside clever wordplay. You won’t want to miss seeing that “celery stalk,” among numerous other priceless moments.

CCT first produced Bunnicula in 2009, and director Stevenson explains that this production recreates and further develops the previous show’s style, which establishes “everything in a grayscale ‘film noir’ setting except for the cat and dog.” Through their approach to conveying the animals’ perspective, the production team crafts a memorable world where scenic and costume design choices enrich the audience experience of character and plot. The accomplished production staff includes costumers Donna Harvey and Stevenson, scenic designers Jim Litzinger and Stevenson, stage manager Brandi Smith, original puppet builder John Riddle, and the (delightfully named) “puppet medic” Anthony Harvey. Sound and lighting punctuate key moments with clarity as executed by Smith and Litzinger. The beautifully realized design elements communicate dramatic information while connecting with the audience, and viewers of all ages will enjoy reaping the benefits of this noteworthy achievement.

Bunnicula is at once both magical and recognizable. Children are swept up with the fantastic intrigue of the plot while also relating to real life experiences: caring for a pet, navigating family life, being afraid, getting in trouble, looking for answers. High quality children’s theatre in our own community? Seems magical to me…and I sure am glad it’s a reality.

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