Tell us about Danyah Miller and what you do?
I’m a storyteller, writer, storyteller trainer, theatre producer and mum! After completing my degree in drama, dance and English I immediately worked in theatre in many different roles including as an usher, in box office, marketing and fund-raising and as general manager in both regional and West End Theatres. I produced a West End musical based on the music of Lennon and McCartney before I went to Paris to re-trained at Lecoq - a mime and physical theatre school. I began to work as a storyteller in children’s centres, schools and colleges across the country, teaching storytelling skills to adults and sharing stories with children. For the past ten years I have been a course leader at International School of Storytelling in East Sussex.
I have also worked as a solo performer, touring internationally with a range of family shows, for the past 10 years, including most recently award winning ‘I Believe in Unicorns’ (which premiered at Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 before touring the UK, internationally and had two West End runs), ‘Why the Whales Came’ (national and international touring) both by Michael Morpurgo. I wrote and performed in ’Perfectly Imperfect Women - a biographical wonder tale’ which received a number of 5* reviews, and was ranked 6th highest rated show at Edinburgh Fringe last year.
As a producer, for Wizard Presents, I have co-produced two West End musicals, including Olivier nominated ‘Soul Sister : the life and times of Ike and Tina Turner’.
For 3 years I really enjoyed being a regular contributor on BBC Three Counties Radio, sharing a story once a month.
Tell us about Kika’s Birthday?
The show is an interactive story with puppetry, songs, dancing and games. It’s suitable for families with children age 4+.
As the audience arrives I’m preparing a birthday cake for my daughter, Sofie, and I definitely need a little bit of help to remember what ingredients I need. As we chat I begin to tell the story of a little French mouse, Kika, who’s going to be 5 years old. Her mouse family has planned a special birthday surprise, with friends, songs and a grasshopper band. The story moves through the seasons, from winter when the mice have to dig deep into the earth to keep warm, through to their spring awakening and into Kika’s summer birthday. All this time our little mice are being carefully watched by a ‘Bright Orange Cat’. I wonder what that Cat has in mind? Does she want join the party or does she have something more sinister else in mind?
The cake comes out of the oven in time for Kika’s birthday and after the dancing when all the little mice are fit asleep I wonder if there will be a mouse sized morsel of cake for all the children in the audience?
What led you to choose this show?
I made this story up for my daughter when she was under 3 years old. She and I were sitting at the window in our home when we spotted a tiny mouse creeping cautiously up our wisteria bush and nibbling seeds from our bird feeder.
The story grew and changed after I attended a inspiring workshop about celebrating birthdays. I introduced many of those ideas into our own family traditions, including the birthday path and special birthday breakfast. I continued to share the story with my daughter before her birthday each year, until in 2012 when John, my husband and business partner, said he’s turn it into a poem and we self published it, with enchanting illustrations by Fiona Macpherson, a talented artist friend of mine from my school days.
In 2017 Samantha Lane, artistic director of Little Angel, and I wanted to create a show together and after I showed her ‘Kika’s Birthday’ we agreed to turn it into a theatrical storytelling show. I’m delighted that we did. We opened at Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond Surrey at Christmas 2017 and later transferred to Little Angel before heading to Edinburgh Fringe.
What for you is the interest in producing shows aimed at children?
I love producing high quality shows for families to share together. I am concerned that as we become increasingly separate as families, either by physical distance, financial commitments or modern technology I want to offer families a reason to spend time together, to gather together, share stories together. Stories feed us on a deep level and storytelling is a large part of what makes us human… as our automated world moves rapidly forward I want to be a ‘homeopathic drop’ which allows us to reunite with each other and with the natural world, if only for a moment.
I have always loved sharing stories with children and find that they gravitate towards me to hear stories and tell me about themselves - children have so many wonderful stories to share and I love their innocence and their way of looking at the world…. to play is such an important and valuable opportunity for us all.
Having watched a lot of children's show recently I have been impressed how quickly they can get engrossed in a show. Do you think the story is the key element to holding their attention?
I believe that there is the potential to create a special, magic triangle between a story, the performer(s) and the audience and when this occurs children and adults alike become totally engrossed in the show. Children are able to easily suspend their disbelief in order to enter a story so that the pictures created their imaginations are vivid and consuming. I love too that children can see through any performance and if they aren’t absorbed they are quick to let you know, there isn’t any pretence.
A few weeks ago one 6 year old boy turned to his mum at the end of ‘Kika’s Birthday’ and said ‘I was concentrating so hard I forgot my own name. I have never forgotten my own name before’. This is the best review or feedback I could ever wish for! [Ed. we couldn't agree more!!]
Will there be any audience participation?
Yes, we chat a little about cakes and birthdays as I prepare the cake for Sofie’s 16th birthday we even play a couple of party games together and then I let the children (and adults) fall into their imaginations and become engrossed (I hope) in the story of Kika and her friends…. and of course that crafty, illusive Bright Orange Cat.
I have been going to the festival since 1986 & generally seen ticket prices reduce over the years due to the Free Fringe and 2 for 1 deals etc. However, although it is great there are far more children’s shows than their used to be I find children’s shows quite expensive in comparison, especially if you try and see as many shows as we do. Do you have any control over the ticket prices you charge?
I too have been coming to the fringe, as both a participant and punter since early 1980’s and am amazed that the ticket prices have stayed relatively affordable. I understand that, particularly when you have a number of children, it can be expensive to take them to a number of shows, however it isn’t any cheaper to make and create family theatre than it is a piece of adult theatre - the costs are the same and as artists we still need to make a living. I have found that many producers of family work are aware of the costs for a family and try to reflect this by offering concessions, as well as 2 for 1 and preview price tickets, run competitions and offer discounts when possible.
In this case Pleasance sets the ticket prices although we can vary these and have some say over the final prices. I think it’s a difficult equation to tackle and an important one as ensuring that children are introduced to high quality theatre at an early age is crucial to the future wellbeing of our industry.
Your show is on at 11.30am. How will you pace your day?
I get up early, around 6am, in order to do some of the things I need to do as a producer, before heading off towards Pleasance Courtyard. I have flyers and balloons in hand to give out to families who might be looking for a good show to see, as I walk the couple of miles from my apartment to the theatre. I love to chat to people en route and tell them about the show… I also like to chat to other performers to find out what they are offering. When I get to the theatre I prepare for the show, getting into costume and warming up my voice and body. After the show I chat and share cake with the audience before changing out of my costume. By this time I’m hungry as I can’t eat before the show, so, again with flyers in hand, I find somewhere quiet to sit and eat, and decide what shows I might see that day. Most of the day is focused on giving our flyers, putting up posters and encouraging people to come to see our show - after all there’s a huge amount of competition isn’t there? I hope to see one or two shows, wander round stalls or the galleries before heading for home to do some more administration, e-mails, answer questions etc. In the evening I get together with the rest of the Wizard Presents team to blow up balloons for the following day, play games, cards, laugh, sing, share stories, maybe see an evening show or two together, before heading for bed and a good nights sleep!
Are there any other shows you plan to see?
Oh yes I want to see as much theatre as I can whilst I’m here - I’ve got 2 weeks to explore and enjoy the largest feast of culture, art, theatre, comedy, dance, song on the planet - how amazing is that!
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Two pieces of advice stay with me
1.Prepare well, push yourself and then go with the flow, play and enjoy.
2.Trust the story and be in service to it.
Now that the festival is within touching distance do you just want it to start or are you in a state of panic?
It’s definitely a combination of both…. I love performing and am super excited to begin however I also get nervous before I begin, butterflies in my belly! But I reckon that’s because it really matters to me that I create a magical world into which the children can enter and I hope that I will never get complacent about that.
Earlier this year DarkChat, and in particular our mini-DarkChatters were lucky enough to see Danyah MIller perform as she toured Michael Morpugo's "I Believe in Unicorns" which had our then 8 year-old reviewers enthralled.
At the Fringe this year she will be performing "Kika's Birthday" again - no doubt - to a roomful of kids who are much the same way, we spoke to her to see how preparations are going.