John Miller Set Pieces

John Miller, husband of Sioux City singer-songwriter Jill Miller, shows set pieces ahead of her Dec. 1 holiday concert at the Orpheum Theatre.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | Who builds the gigantic set pieces -- four-or five-foot snowflakes and butterflies, or an eight-foot diameter crown -- that Sioux City singer and songwriter Jill Miller uses in her holiday fundraiser shows? 

It's none other than Jill's husband, John Miller. 

John Miller said that Jill is the idea person when it comes time to build her Christmas-themed theatrical objects -- and John's the man who makes it happen. 

"Jill will come home with an idea, and she'll say, 'OK, this year it's going to be a whimsical Christmas,'" Miller said. 

Then the two deliberate over the nitty-gritty details of the set pieces. 

"I put in my two cents, but overall this is her Christmas show, and she'll just say, 'What do you think? I want something like this.' And I'll go, 'Well let's build it like this,'" he said. 

Often, Jill will come to John inspired by a small decorative object that she would like to transform into a stage prop. 

"She showed me a little tree that's about 12 or 14 inches high, and then she'll say, 'Can you make this 12-, 14-, 15-feet tall? And can you make me three or four of them?'" Miller said. 

Once the design is settled, John draws up some blueprints for the pieces and gets to work. 

Conveniently, Miller has a good place to build the stage pieces -- the back part of his business, Miller Brothers Furniture. Putting together the large steel or wood set features is a merry activity for his employees. 

"I always get my guys in the back, my delivery guys" to help build the set pieces, Miller said. "It kind of breaks up the delivery monotony of the day, and it's just, 'OK, now we're going to build a Christmas set.'

"A lot of the guys really get into it because they just love it, because it's so much fun to build something different, instead of doing the same old thing every day. Once a year, you get to kind of jump into set building," he said. 

The set pieces, while generally quite large, also "have to be portable, so we can transfer them from show to show." 

Does Miller have a favorite set piece that he has designed? 

"I'd say the crown one was probably the coolest one, and the metal Christmas trees," he said. "They were metallic, like a chrome look, but they were steel -- they had kind of a rough steel, artsy look to them." 

Set pieces designed by Miller don't go away forever once they've been used -- they keep them and re-use them for future shows, sometimes with slight alterations like new paint. 

"One thing cool about these props -- Christmas never goes out. So if it's five years, 10 years down the road, you introduce one piece back into (the show)," Miller said. 

Prior to building the set pieces for Jill's shows, John had no experience whatsoever in set building or design. But the skills he did have were transferable. 

"I've been building houses, remodeling, for 40-some years and designing homes for over 40 years, so it's kind of in my nature," Miller said. 

The challenge John has yet to conquerg: motorized pieces. 

"I'm working on a deer that will bow when I want it to bow," Miller said. This deer won't be in this year's production, however.

The first thing Miller mentioned about this year's fundraiser program, "Jill Miller Christmas: Believe," was not the set at all. He's excited about someone making a special appearance. 

"No. 1, we're bringing the Grinch in. The Grinch just happens to be me," he said. "And if you've ever seen Jim Carrey's Grinch show, I'm trying to copy him. His costume, his mannerisms, everything, I'm trying to copy him." 

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