By Nancy Lanthier
Word on the set of Theatre Under The Stars is that director Shel Piercy may have cast the real Mary Poppins — Ranae Miller embodies the magical nanny in such a natural way. Making her TUTS debut, the triple-threat actor, singer and dancer has previously performed a wide range of roles in productions by Align Entertainment, Gateway Theatre, Fighting Chance Productions, Awkward Stage and other local companies. Last week, Miller took a break from rehearsals of Mary Poppins (running in repertory with The Drowsy Chaperone, at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park, until Aug. 19), so we could get to know her a little better.
What appeals to you most about the work you do? I get to be someone different. It’s an escape you can dive into. It’s interesting to experience how others see the world.
Favourite role you’ve ever performed? I have two. I recently played Carrie in the play based on Stephen King’s novel. It was one of the most difficult roles; Carrie is a very quiet, meek character. And the blood that gets dumped on her: most audience members knew about it and really anticipated it — and recreating that every night, while remaining as natural as possible each time, was really interesting. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I played Princess Fiona, in Shrek The Musical. I got to be silly and fun and break the barriers of what a princess usually is.
What do you look for in a well performed role? I’m looking to be captured in it. I don’t want to ever be taken out of it. I find it jarring to watch a character and become aware it’s a performance.
What do you most look forward to? Mary Poppins opening night! It’s the biggest audience I’ve ever performed for. I can’t wait to feel that energy of a sold out house.
What’s the best stage play you’ve seen recently? Hand to God, at the Arts Club. A friend of mine performed in it. One of the funnies shows I’ve ever seen in my life.
How did you get your start? I was 11 and wanted to be friends with girls who were auditioning for Gateway Theatre’s summer program. But I ended up in the fall program. My whole tactic didn’t work out—but I absolutely loved acting. So, I fell into it accidentally.
Advice for young actors in the early stages of their career? I still feel like I’m in the early stage of my career! But I would say, focus on the reasons you want to perform, and apply that to the work you do. When I first graduated, I just wanted to work. I did show after show. I’m grateful that I did that because I did some wonderful shows I never would have done. But now, my focus is to do shows I’m passionate about, shows with people I want to work with.
Another theatre company that you admire? Awkward Stage Productions. They provide opportunities to work for actors and theatre producers in the awkward stage of their career between high school and post secondary school.
What influences you as an artist? I don’t think one thing or person influences me. I take on energies super well. I'm influenced by the energy that surrounds me. With Mary Poppins, for example, we have a wonderful cast of 34, and it just really boosts how I feel. I feel excited and safe.
Secret talent? It’s not so secret anymore, but I bake. I have a custom cake-making business called Something Sweet Patisserie. I make cake dreams come true.
Favourite place in Metro Vancouver? Steveston Village.
First time a performance inspired you? A Secret Garden, at Gateway Theatre. It was definitely the show that sparked my commitment to becoming an actor, when I was around 13.
It’s Saturday night. How are you most likely to spend it? If it’s been a chill day, I’m probably at home with my boyfriend having a drink watching our favourite TV shows. If I've had a show or a rehearsal, I’m probably out with my cast having a post-show bite or a drink.
Last great book you read: A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khalid Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner. It was super powerful. I’d miss my bus stop or I’d be at home and two hours would rush by because I was so caught up in it. I couldn’t put it down.
Favourite style of music? We have a record player and all kinds of records, from musicals to Beach Boys to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
If you could dine with anyone from past or present who would it be and what would you prepare? Julie Andrews. I’d bake her a cake.
If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go? New York, where I’d see as many shows as I possible.
Three words to describe yourself: Loyal, trustworthy and, I have to say, emotional. In good and bad ways, I'm very in touch with my emotions; I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Best time in your life: Every summer when I was a kid my family and friends would camp at a different place: Cultus Lake, Golden Ears. I just remember having so much fun.
Biggest dream? To make the arts my sole career.
If you could change anything in the world what would it be: This might be weird but: eliminate plastics. My boyfriend and I are slowly but surely eliminating it from our household. There are so many alternatives. We love the Soap Dispensary on Main Street.
What do you think of most often? I’m all over the place, but theatre is my main headspace. If I’m at home, I’m watching YouTube videos of performances or reading scripts, rehearsing.
How do you like flying? I love it! I didn’t have expectations, I wasn’t excited or nervous. Then one day during rehearsals, we tested it for several hours. And at the end of it I remember stepping on the ground and feeling weird. I'd been flying so long.