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Interview: Theatre maker Jeff Miller on celebrating the power of our differences


With the 2023 Vault Festival in full swing, we sat down with writer and founder of (Sic) Theatre, Jeff Miller to discuss his play, Maud, a verbatim account of the trial after the racially charged murder of Ahmaud “Maud” Arbery, who was 25 years old when three white men attacked and killed him in broad daylight in Satilla Shores, Georgia. A video recording of the slaying of Maud by one of the assailants opened the door for a trial that gripped the world in the middle of a global pandemic.


Ralph Barker: Tell us about the motivations behind the decision to create this play. What was it about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and the subsequent trial that you felt were most important to get across, and why now? 


Jeff Miller: This story feels personal to me on so many levels. First, let me say, this story is about Ahmaud Arbery, the individual, and his family, but honestly it is about all of the Ahmauds out there, before Ahmaud and after. It’s about George Floyd. It’s about Eric Garner…and on, and on, and on. It’s even about Tyre Nichols which hadn’t happened when we began. It’s about how it keeps happening, how we allow it to keep happening, and how we are allowing it to become the norm. I spent much of my youth growing up in Georgia. It holds a very special place in my heart. But I am also very conflicted about the south and its relationship to race. I have a black son that is now 23, the age that Ahmaud was when he was murdered. I truly cannot grasp what Ahmaud’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones and his father, Marcus Arbery, went through and how they cope with life every day since. 


Ralph: What was the process of sourcing media stories, testimonies and historical interviews like? Were there any moments where you felt it would be too sensitive or difficult to stage? 


Jeff: Honestly, I have been through hundreds, into the thousands, of hours of video. It was the deep dive that revealed the vicious circle of racism, bigotry, hatred, and violence, and compelled me to drive this forward. We are still debating and exploring what is too sensitive, and certainly, we are currently faced with what might be too difficult. Mostly, we continue to think of the Arbery family and what they would want us to show and to say. We hope we get it right.


Ralph: Who is your work most influenced by?


Jeff: Brecht… and my teacher and friend, Sandra Seacat, who sadly we lost this past month. Sandra inspired me to explore the cracks and crevices, to challenge my ideas, to see things from another point of view, to be curious. To be willing to fail. The fact of the matter is that I am white. I will never truly understand what it is to walk in a black person’s shoes. As much as I want that for my son, it is not possible. But that is no reason to cap the exploration. To do that is to accept hate as the status quo. The process is anything but comfortable. I am not sure if it will ever be comfortable, which means it is hard. That is scary, but also exciting. Our willingness to fail is an invitation to grow. 


Ralph: What was it like working with Andrew French? Did you both have the same vision for the play? 


Jeff: I cannot imagine doing this without Andrew. He took what I offered up and turned it on its head. I had hoped to throw the notions of the stories we tell ourselves off kilter. Andrew decided to throw me off kilter and start from there. I feel as though Andrew’s vision is the vision that I was not able to quite see for myself. A dream that is being revealed. For me, the play is constantly setting and breaking rules and conventions. It is 100% verbatim on one level. But handled in a less than traditional manner. There are two actors playing multiple roles over six decades, all woven around the story of Ahmaud Arbery, his murder, and the subsequent trials. Many of the characters have no direct relationship to Ahmaud, but everything to do with his story. 


Ralph: The subject matter you are working with in Maud is very emotionally powerful. What do you want audiences to come away considering after watching the show?


Jeff: I am afraid we have all already decided that we know [fill in the blank; race, hate, left, right, etc.]. We have seen [it]. We know [it]. And that’s that. We all take our sides, and it all becomes noise. I hope audiences walk away being not only open to rethinking how they see things, but being compelled, being driven to find, reveal, embrace, and celebrate the power of our differences.


Maud is on at The Vault Festival until 25th February, tickets can be booked at

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