Robert Miller, a man of average height wearing a light brown blazer, stood behind a glass podium in Rackham Auditorium Friday on the same stage his father stood on in 1981.
He then spoke affectionately of his father, calling him “Dad,” and of the legacy the famous playwright left behind – the legacy of Arthur Miller.
A large crowd of all ages gathered at Rackham on Friday to celebrate the dedication that Miller gave to his craft. The tribute to Miller’s life was part of a greater naming ceremony for the future Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. Drama Center and Arthur Miller Theater. Arthur Miller died earlier this year at the age of 89.
Miller “made America look at itself,” said University President Mary Sue Coleman, who was a speaker at the tribute. She spoke of Miller’s name as being iconic in the world of arts, but proudly maintained that the University “will always see him first and foremost as a loyal alumnus.”
The new theater, which will be the only one to bear Miller’s name, will be an important new center for the development of the arts at Michigan, Coleman said. She detailed the origins of Miller’s humble beginnings as a University student and also spoke of Walgreen’s University roots. Walgreen, a University alum and former president of the Walgreen drug-store chain, donated $10 million to the construction of the drama center. The center, which will be built at the entrance to North Campus, is expected to cost about $43 million.
The tribute also served to celebrate the fruition of several years of planning. The idea for a theater bearing Miller’s name first began to circulate in 1998 under then-University President Lee Bollinger, though at the time plans tentatively placed it on Central Campus.
Praising what she called “the power of a gift,” Coleman drew a parallel between the Avery Hopwood Awards in Writing, which initially drew Miller to the University and supported his career as an undergraduate, and the donation from Walgreen, which enabled the plans for the new North Campus drama center and theater. Coleman described both venues as a beginning for the School of Music and the University community. It will allow the public to “experience the human condition as it unfolds in the theater,” she said.
After Coleman’s speech, members of Miller’s family and others read selections from the writings of the playwright.
Robert Miller read an excerpt from a letter written by his father in 1956 to Francis Walter, then chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
He said he chose the piece because he felt it reflected his father’s feelings about the role of theater and the artist in American society. Arthur Miller, who was subpoenaed by the House Committee to testify against suspected Communists at a hearing and refused, described in the letter his belief that democracy and art should be reflections of each other.
English and Theater Professor Enoch Brater, a Miller scholar and personal friend, read an original piece titled “A Memory of Many Mondays.” It described personal memories of the playwright and experiences of his influence on American theater. Afterward, a video of Miller’s life was presented, which largely chronicled his time at Michigan through photographs and clips of Miller and his friends and colleagues.
University Regent Andrea Fischer Newman called the construction of the Arthur Miller Theater “a prominent moment in University of Michigan’s rich history.” She went on to describe the program’s events as a “symbolic panorama” of creativity and generosity.
Creativity was brought to the events by a musical performance featuring George Shirley singing an aria from the William Bolcom and Arnold Weinstein operatic adaptation of Miller’s play “A View from the Bridge.” The program also included readings from Laurence Goldstein, editor of the “Michigan Quarterly Review,” actress Joan Copeland, Miller’s sister, and remarks from several others, including School of Music Dean Christopher Kendall and Charles R. Walgreen, the grandson of Charles R. Walgreen Jr.