Currently, Kara Grace Miller is travelling in and out of the country screening her new mini-series, “Cheer Up, Charlie.” However, it was only a handful of years ago that she was working her first job at Midtown Cinema.
“I can still say it was the best job I ever had,” she said.
As a high school senior at Capital Area School for the Arts (CASA), 17-year-old Miller would get out of school and walk the city streets leading to the cinema. She would typically work a half shift scooping ice cream or selling movie tickets and then close up for the night. The best part, though, came when she got to watch the films for herself. Here, she saw her first foreign film and documentary and was exposed to the indie film scene.
“It was an opportunity for me to explore something I didn’t know about before,” Miller said. “It’s funny because now I’m doing it.”
Growing up in Susquehanna Township, Miller remembers her freshman year of high school performing “Hairspray.” That was when she became serious about acting.
“I remember watching her going through the process of realizing how much she loved performing,” said Stuart Landon, producing artistic director of Open Stage.
Miller went on to performing and working with Landon at the Harrisburg-based theater company. She also made the switch from public to charter school at CASA to further her education in the arts.
Although she loved Harrisburg and often misses it, Miller wanted to go to acting school. After graduating, she packed up and headed to New York City to attend the Atlantic Acting School.
About two years out of school, Miller has already completed most of her first big project.
“We were waiting for people to hand us opportunities,” Miller said. “But we decided, ‘Let’s make our own opportunities.’”
“Cheer up, Charlie” is a series of six 10-minute shows produced and co-written by Miller. Oh yeah, she’s also the lead actor.
“For a long time, I had this idea of this little adorable, Taylor Swift-like, white girl and then…she sells weed,” Miller said. “I thought that was hilarious.”
The series is about a 20-year-old aspiring music artist (played by Miller) who decides to sell drugs to pay for her mother’s medical bills for cancer treatments.
Although Miller doesn’t think she is too similar to her character Charlie, much of the emotion is familiar. When Miller was 14, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“What you see them going through is the true part of the show,” she said.
“Cheer up Charlie” was co-written by Anthony Holiday, one of Miller’s peers from Atlantic. There were five producers and 14 actors in the cast. Behind the camera, Miller had a very specific goal in mind—to have the crew reflect those the show is about.
Eleven out of the 12 days they were on set, Miller had an all-female crew. She also purposefully sought out a woman of color to direct the show.
“This story is about underrepresented groups, so that should be who’s telling it,” she said.
Back to the Burg
This past May, Miller returned to Midtown Cinema, not to scoop ice cream or pass out popcorn, but to host the premier of the pilot episode of her own show in the same room where her love for indie films began. It was an experience she wouldn’t forget.
“When a whole group of people laughs, I know we’ve done our job,” she said.
Getting to this point wasn’t necessarily easy for Miller. Landon explained how being an artist isn’t for just anyone.
“Being in the entertainment industry and being in the arts is very hard,” he said. “There are very few people who I’ve said, ‘You really have this, and you have a great idea.’ Kara was one of those people.”
In addition to Harrisburg, “Cheer up, Charlie” has premiered in New York, Toronto, London and Miami at various film festivals and screenings.
Miller plans to continue showing the world “Cheer up Charlie” while meeting with companies to discuss distribution of the show, allowing for the greater public to see it.
“It was a very big thing to take on,” she explained. “It has grown even bigger than what I thought I was getting myself into.”