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Nov. 16, 2004


U-M celebrates naming of Arthur Miller Theatre

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman (left), Arthur Miller (center) and actor James Earl Jones, also a U-M alumnus, backstage at ‘Michigan on Broadway.’
ANN ARBOR, Mich—In a tradition that's fading in certain quarters, the University of Michigan named a soon-to-be constructed new theater for Arthur Miller, arguably America's most illustrious playwright and a U-M alumnus.

The University celebrated Miller's career and unveiled proposed architectural renderings for the new theater at a gathering in Manhattan spearheaded by another U-M alumnus, two-time Tony winner Jeffrey Seller.

U-M alumni Arthur Miller (left), actor James Earl Jones (center) and director Jack O'Brien, backstage at ‘Michigan on Broadway.’
Yet another U-M alumnus and former regent of the University, Robert Nederlander and his wife, Gladys, hosted the event at New York City's Richard Rodgers Theatre where graduates and faculty members of U-M's School of Music brought Broadway, opera, dance, jazz and classical violin to “Michigan on Broadway: a Tribute to Arthur Miller.”

Miller has told the University that he is lending his name to only one theater in the world.

U-M alumni Arthur Miller (left) and Richard Rogel, a co-chair of ‘The Michigan Difference: A Campaign for Michigan,’ backstage at ‘Michigan on Broadway.’
He is pleased with the coming U-M theater bearing his name and would like to write an inaugural play for the facility, he told U-M's Michigan Today, a University publication for alumni. Whether he could succeed is another matter, he said, because “it's easier to build a theater that will stand up than to write a play that will.”

“How better to honor the world's finest playwright than for his alma mater to name a theater for him,” said Karen Wolff, dean of the U-M School of Music. “With the name ‘Arthur Miller’ on the building, future generations of U-M students and faculty will find inspiration in following their artistic pursuits.”

Performers at the tribute included: Tony nominees Hunter Foster, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Gavin Creel; Barrett Foa, Lisa Datz; dancer Michael Phillips; violinist Xiang Gao; pianist Howard Watkins; hip hop composer and violinist Daniel Roumain and his band; jazz pianist Geri Allen; percussionists Jeffery Barudin, Jay Bordeleau, Andre Dowell; collaborative pianist Martin Katz and Tony Award winning director Jack O'Brien.

The new theater at U-M, seating 250, is designed as a flexible space with recording booth, full scene and costume shops, dressing rooms and balcony, designed by KPMB (Kuwabara, Payne, McKenna, Blumberg) of Toronto, who also designed Chicago's Goodman Theater. The Arthur Miller Theatre will be part of U-M's Walgreen Center, located on the University's North Campus and made possible in part by a $10 million gift by U-M alumnus Charles Walgreen, Jr.

Miller was able to attend U-M in the 1930s with financial assistance from the National Youth Administration, which paid him $15 a month to feed a couple thousand mice in a cancer research laboratory. As a student Miller washed dishes for his meals and worked as night editor for the student publication, the Michigan Daily. Miller says he no doubt would have had to leave the University had it not been for the assistance of the federal program. In 1937, during his senior year, one of his early plays was presented in Detroit by the Federal Theatre Project.

Because of his experience with the NYA, in 1985 the two-time winner of U-M's prestigious Avery Hopwood Award and the University of Michigan Club of New York City established the Arthur Miller Award for Dramatic Writing to aid aspiring writers with their U-M studies. Hopwood, another U-M graduate, was the most commercially successful playwright of his era. From 1910 to roughly 1927, Avery Hopwood was the toast of Broadway.

Miller, who, after leaving the University, continued a lengthy correspondence with U-M English professor Kenneth Rowe has returned to the campus on several occasions, serving as judge for drama competitions, delivering Hopwood Lectures and for the campus premiere of his play “Up from Paradise.” He also visited the campus in 2000 for the campus-wide celebration of his 85th birthday, the Arthur Miller International Symposium: “Arthur Miller's America: Theater and Culture in a Century of Change,” a series of conversations and panel discussions featuring critics, scholars, and directors from around the world. Manuscripts of Miller's early plays and his letters to Rowe are being preserved in U-M's Special Collections Library.

Continuing his relationship with his alma mater, Miller teamed with Pulitzer Prize-winning U-M professor of composition William Bolcom for an opera based on his psychological tragedy “A View From the Bridge” with libretto by Miller and Arnold Weinstein.

Last spring Miller again toured the campus of his youth while participating in “A Conversation with Arthur Miller,” in which he spoke about his experiences at the University and the challenges and rewards of being a playwright. The discussion was facilitated by director Mark Lamos, visiting adjunct professor in theater who directed the premiere of Miller's most recent work, “Resurrection Blues” at the Globe Theater in San Diego. As part of the Celebration, the U-M Department of Theater and Drama of the School of Music produced some well known and some rarely performed Miller works, highlighting the depth of work Miller has contributed to the American and world stage.

Contact: Joanne Nesbit
Phone: (734) 647-4418