Conway Actor’s Goal Is to Make Audience Roll

Shua Miller, treasurer for the Conway Community Arts Association Board of Directors, sits in The Lantern Theatre, the organization’s home in downtown Conway. Miller, a past president of the group, plays one of the leads in The Importance of Being Earnest, a comedy that will be performed July 20-23 and 27-30 at The Lantern. More information about the show is available at conwayarts.org.

Shua Miller of Conway has spent years acting, writing and directing plays, but he isn’t one of those artists who immediately felt at home onstage.

“I’m not one of those people who said, ‘This is it; this is me,’” he said. “I really enjoy making people laugh. That started when I was little.”

He said his father, Danny Miller, has a big infectious laugh that fills a room. Miller said that when he and his brother were kids, their dad would ask them to watch Pink Panther movies, and their dad “would just roll [with laughter],” Miller said.

Miller will work for those laughs as Jack in The Importance of Being Earnest, the Oscar Wilde comedy that opens at 7:30 p.m. July 20 and goes through July 30 at The Lantern Theatre in downtown Conway. Miller is also treasurer and past president of the Conway Community Arts Association, the organization behind the theater.

He said the play is billed as “one of the wittiest plays in the English language,” and he agrees.

Jack invents a brother, Earnest, so he can go to London. When Jack gets to London, he pretends he is Earnest. Then he falls in love, and comedy ensues, Miller said.

Shua (short for Joshua) Miller, 43, grew up in Mena.

“My dad started calling me Shua when I was a little kid,” Miller said, and his friends picked it up. “It sets me apart from other Joshuas.”

He said there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for theater when he was in high school, although he did a few plays.

“The first play I was in was Grease. I was Sonny, which is crazy, because I don’t sing,” Miller said. “Theater was just something to do; I really wanted to make movies.”

Miller also played trumpet in his high school band, and he went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and was in the band for one glorious semester, he said.

“I found out if you don’t go to class, you don’t continue going to college,” he said.

Miller then went to Ridge Mountain Community College in Mena and transferred to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

“I started getting into the theater, and that’s when, it’s not like ‘Oh, this is home,’ but ‘I can do this,’” Miller said.

But he ran out of money and stayed out of school for 10 years.

“I was all over the place — Fayetteville;

Tulsa, [Oklahoma]; Austin, [Texas]; and back to

Fayetteville,” he said.

Miller did plays in summer stock for two seasons in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, for the Cherokee National Heritage Center.

“I made a lot of friends, so we sort of formed an acting group, the 56 Flying Squirrels,” he said.

The group moved to Austin but never got

traction.

Miller said he moved to Fayetteville to live with his brother and started a career in restaurants. He worked as an on-the-road trainer for Chili’s restaurants and traveled the country to help open new stores in places such as Spokane, Washington.

When Miller got his finances in order, he went back to UCA and picked up where he had left off.

“I got to do a lot more stuff onstage the second time — character stuff, best-friend stuff. I really

started to enjoy that,” he said.

And because he was older than most of the students, he was perfect for several roles that required a mature actor — especially when he grew a beard, he said, stroking his.

“I played a king; I played a dad. If there was an older, authoritative guy, I was it. I was bearded and angry onstage lots,” he said. “It was just real-life experience I could draw from rather than imagining it when I was 20.”

Miller said he was fortunate to have Greg Blakey, now assistant professor and director of theater, as a teacher.

“He stressed that they made theater people; they didn’t make actors,” Miller said. “I can do a little of everything.”

The exceptions are sewing or “anything to do with electricity,” he said. “I’m a carpenter and a designer. I can design costumes, and I can design lights,” he said.

He has a background in graphic arts, so he often designs posters for the shows, too.

Miller said that while he’s been at UCA, he’s participated in the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, where he built sets and was an acting intern.

“But I got to sword-fight,” he said, in his role as a Montague in Romeo and Juliet.

After he graduated from UCA in 2008, he moved to

Fayetteville again.

“The economy just tanked,” he said. “We were all just scrambling and scraping by.”

He became the general manager of the Mellow Mushroom restaurant in Fayetteville, but then he landed a job at UCA as an administrative specialist in the College of Fine Arts and Communication’s dean’s office.

He answers the phone, schedules events and plans menus for events, and he can also design the menus, banners, posters and calendars for the college.

“I enjoy where I work. This is the stuff that I know, the stuff I love,” he said.

In addition to working, in May, Miller also earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing.

For his master’s thesis, he wrote a play called Stamp of Hope. In June, he read the play at The Lantern Theatre in downtown Conway, the arts organization’s home.

Miller describes the play as “an office comedy of biblical proportions about love, friendship and saving the world.” The office is in hell, he said. Miller said he hopes to have the play performed one day.

Miller said his mentor is Bob May, who teaches creative writing.

May, a published playwright,

was Miller’s thesis adviser.

“He was the first person to write a script, a play,” May said. “In the end, I think it turned out really nicely. I was very happy because he was the first person to do a play; everybody else in the creative-writing program is a poet or novelist. He said, ‘I write plays.’ He’s a very good comic writer.”

May also called Miller a “really hard worker. Once he gets going on something, he gets all into it.”

Miller said he enjoys being part of The Lantern Theatre and the decades-old community arts organization, which he said is evolving.

He said he envisions more original works and staged readings being performed at The Lantern.

“We want it to be a place for artists to grow, too,” he said.

In September, The Lantern will host the world premier of Craiglisted, an original comedy by Sharai Bohannon.

“We wanted to slowly change the theater culture of Conway and broaden the horizons,” Miller said. “Conway Community Arts was kind of one note as far as the shows. Our obligation is not just to make money. We think community arts should affect the community and tell the stories that affect the community,”

he said.

For example, Miller said Stop Kiss and Mothers and Sons were presented in connection with Pride Week, highlighting LGBTQ issues.

“We’ve started telling a little bit more adult stories,” he said. “We’re really proud of this season we’re in because of the shows we’re doing.”

Miller said he is responsible for finding shows for the 2018 season, which the board will be asked to approve.

“As we’re putting stuff

together for the next season, we are trying to make sure we cover all our bases,” he said. “We do have some classics coming up, but we’re trying to find a

balance.”

Miller’s goal for himself is simple: “I still have a dream of being able to make money with art,” he said.

And continuing to make people laugh.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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