Queen of the theater.
by Marene Gustin • Photos by Johnny Hooks
“I’m just an old theater queen,” says Roscoe “Rocky” Miller with a laugh. “I saw the Music Hall torn down and the Wortham built.”
Miller, in fact, has been involved in the theater scene in Houston for more than three decades, but you won’t see him in the footlights. Miller is a double threat, in theater parlance—behind the stage at night and in the box office by day.
Chances are, if you call Theatre Under the Stars’ patron services, you’ll get Miller on the phone. He’s the man who can help you out with special requests and needs. He’s also the man with an institutional memory that rivals that of TUTS’ founder Frank Young. Miller jokes that he’s been with TUTS since “Frank had hair,” but truthfully, the 58-year-old Miller has been around the Houston theater scene since 1978 when he arrived in the city armed with a theater degree and stage fright.
“I got tired of carrying around a bucket to throw up in,” he says of his fear of the footlights. “But I met some wardrobians and started working with them at the opera.”
Wardrobians, otherwise known as dressers, are invaluable to theater performances. Miller describes his backstage work this way: “You’re reading notes in the dark from a little book that says, ‘Put this in that basket, help that guy get dressed, and then put this costume out next.’ Sometimes, in the first run–through, an actor will ask what costume he’s supposed to be in next, and I don’t even know, so I’m looking it up in the notes.”
He’s learned a lot over the decades about keeping the show running, including to always carry a spare pair of glasses. During the first run of The Lion King at TUTS, he lost his specs. In a rather bizarre way.
“A giraffe kicked me with his stilts, and my glasses fell off onto the stage, and an elephant stepped on them,” he deadpans. Such is life backstage.
Out of the theater, Miller, who is single, shares his house with his roommate, three Cornish Rex cats (he used to show the alien-looking felines), and Simon, his Italian greyhound. By the time this article is in print, he’ll likely have another “Iggy,” as the dogs are sometimes called, as he is active in the breed rescue and was awaiting a new adoption. Miller also raises orchids and loves to cook. His Sicilian aunt taught him Italian dishes, and he’s added Mexican cuisine to his repertory. “I like spicy foods,” Miller says. “Not spicy hot, just spicy.”
One of his favorite theater memories is of the opening of Beauty and the Beast in 1993. TUTS co-produced the pre-Broadway premiere of the show with Walt Disney Company.
“We worked for weeks in the old Music Hall getting that ready,” Miller remembers, “and it was like a Broadway opening—we had TV coverage and press from everywhere.”
Miller works his magic backstage at all of TUTS’ shows, and while most don’t get the attention of a world premiere, he still loves each and every one. And he plans to keep working at TUTS for a long, long time.
“I love TUTS,” he says. “Theater is getting Disney-fied—I mean more and more corporate—but here we still say, ‘Let’s put on a show!’ and we do. I love my jobs. They’re going to have to carry me out of here feet first.”
The Sound of Music at TUTS
This month Rocky Miller will be busy with the Tony Award-winning The Sound of Music, which runs December 8 through 20 at Theatre Under the Stars’ Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets and more information, call 713/558-TUTS, or visit tuts.com online.
Marene Gustin wrote about HAPI (Houston Animal Partnership Initiative) in the November issue of OutSmart magazine.