After working at Bay Area non-profits such as the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County and the Mill Valley Philharmonic for over 20 years, Sheri Lee Miller, a longtime actor and director, is back working in the Rohnert Park community as Spreckels’ new artistic director and performing arts center supervisor.
Miller, who has been in the new position for about a month now, will spearhead the artistic vision for the theatre and will be in charge of seeing what productions come to the theatre and seeing that they are successful.
According to her, the main goal of this new position is to keep the theatre up and running with successful shows in order to provide entertainment and to foster an environment that keeps everyone in “an artistic paradise.”
“The main goal is to put on excellent productions that sell out and are critically acclaimed and to challenge the artists… I also supervise the performing arts center itself, so the goal is to keep it active, full of life and that it’s sustaining itself so that it’s serving the community,” Miller said.
When asked what compelled her the most to take the job, she mentioned that the “natural progression” of being an actor, to director, associate assistant director, managing director and artistic director, compelled her to take the position.
“This is my dream job, I still act, I still direct, both of which are extremely fulfilling and scratch different itches, but this is my dream job,” Miller said.
According to Miller the most rewarding aspect of her job is being able to help young artists craft their skill and “develop their talents.”
“I like helping other people develop their talents. I think the most pleasurable thing I do is helping other people perfect their talent and their product,” Miller said.
Cindy Bagley, community services manager for Rohnert Park, said Miller was chosen due to her vast managing and directing history and for her community spirit.
“Sheri went through a very competitive process with three different interviews with internal and external people in the theatre industry,” Bagley explained, also saying the city ultimately chose her because, “She came with directing and managing experience and she’s very well known in the community and is part of the tight knit group of people in theatre in Sonoma County.”
Bagley also mentioned that in the short time Miller has been at Spreckels, Miller has already established a wonderful working relationship with everyone on staff and is happy to have her on board.
“Her energy is infectious and in the short time she’s been here, we’ve seen her develop a positive relationship with everyone and she has a keen ability to work with a variety of people and has already proven to be very proficient in that… And we are very fortunate she wanted to be a part of our community,” Bagley said.
While Miller has worked at many non-profit organizations, such as the Philharmonic, a center in Marin County that brings live and free orchestral music to its respective local communities, theatre is Lee’s first love.
“I feel like I’ve been here forever,” Miller commented as we were walking upstairs to her eclectic office complete with medieval looking helmets and a tiny reproduction of the Titanic sitting atop a bookshelf, referring to several instances where she acted or directed at Spreckels.
Most recently at Spreckels she directed the performance of “Annie Get Your Gun,” produced, “Talking With,” and played Eleanor of Aquitaine in “The Lion in Winter.”
Miller has also worked in several other local theatres, as well as been featured in over a dozen voice-overs, T.V. commercials and industrial films and even brought the play, “Wretch Like Me,” to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, according to a Spreckels press release.
“I’ve also done a lot of work at Cinnabar, at Main Stage West and at Actor’s Theatre, which then became part of 6th Street Playhouse, where I’ve also done a lot of work in the past,” she explained.
Miller first fell in love with acting at the mere age of five when she played an elf in a Christmas play and decided later at the age of 10 that theatre would be her lifelong passion and career.
“My Nana told me I was brilliant,” Miller laughed, reminiscing. “All it takes is some praise from your Nana and you’re off and rolling… My mom told me I was 10-years-old when I said, ‘this is what I am going to do for my life’.”
She also said she loved singing and dancing, but didn’t pursue singing as much as acting as her stronger skills were in theatre.
Yet for Miller, one of her favorite things about theatre are the learning opportunities it presents in terms of life skills and human nature. She said it even taught her some life-saving skill sets, such as CPR, which she’s already used on two people outside of the theatre in emergency situations.
“I think my favorite part of theatre is learning how to understand what makes people tick, what makes people do what they do and say what they say, which is what acting and directing is. It’s getting into someone else’s skin, I think that’s super exciting. It connects you with the rest of humanity and I think it connects you, art in general and theatre specifically to the rest of humankind, it’s a shared experience and that is what I like best,” Miller said.
However, when it comes to the business of nonprofit theatres, she said budget can be the most challenging aspect of working in this particular industry. Consequently, she says it doesn’t limit her vision of how a play should look or feel when directing.
Miller’s other interests include speech and interior design — she managed a furniture store in St. Helena for three years and also enjoys watching dance shows. In her free time, she likes to rest after busy days and nights at the theatre and watches programs such as “So You Think You Can Dance” with her daughter.
But out of all the other forms of art and entertainment, Miller’s compass of interests always points back to theatre.
“My life has always been theatre, ever since I was a little girl,” Miller said.