Plans for Walgreen Drama Center and Arthur Miller Theater are finding a new home on the drawing board, where they have resided for more than six months.

Paul Wong
Though University officials say the Arthur Miller (above) Theater will still be built, plans are currently on hold.
Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan Film and Video Studies website

The initiative to build a new drama and theater complex has been in the works since 1997 when former University President Lee Bollinger announced his idea to honor University alum and playwright Arthur Miller, author of “The Crucible” and “Death of a Salesman.”

But the idea, which University officials say is definitely going to materialize sometime in the future, has also been on hold since December, after the estimated cost for the project rose from an initial $18 million to $67 million.

University Facilities and Operations spokeswoman Diane Brown said the cost increased due to the increased needs of the involved departments, such as the dance and theater programs.

“The 20 million was what was budgeted and the 67 million was what was created because of the needs,” Brown said. “When things changed with the needs of the departments … rather than continue forward, they (chose to) review what needs to be done.”

Officials in charge of planning the project are still debating exactly what those needs are. University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said a major topic of debate is whether related departments should be moved from their current homes, which are scattered around campus, and placed together somewhere inside the drama center, as well as how many seats the Miller Theater should have.

Peterson said resolving the number of seats the theater will have is important because with size comes “different characters (and) different flavors.”

But these are not the only issues still impeding construction on the theater and drama center. Peterson said it is still unknown where the complex, once slated next to the Power Center for the Performing Arts, will be built.

University officials and building planners “thought they had found a good way to put the new theater in with the Life Sciences area, but that is very dense right there,” she said, adding that it’s possible the center could be built in another space where the departments would get more for less cost per square foot.

“There is a lot of thinking about whether it would make sense to put the theater on north campus … where it would create another venue for people to go for entertainment,” Peterson said.

The debates are by no means new, said Gus Malmgren, who was a member of the Arthur Miller Theater Advisory Committee for two years before leaving the University in January 2000.

According to Malmgren and Peterson, not much has changed since then.

Malmgren said that during his time on the committee, members talked about “what the building should be, and what the building should be for … and what it was about.”

He said it’s not surprising that the project is still in limbo.

“I think the idea was good,” Malmgren said, adding that outside factors, such as the timing of the Life Sciences Initiative, inhibited the work done on the center.

He also said the idea started to escalate simply due to all the possibilities surrounding what those involved hoped would become a world-class performing center.

“World-class, to me, means being able to anticipate art forms to come, and being able to accommodate current art forms beyond the normal expectations,” he said. “Currently, the Power Center can do some of that stuff, but what if there was something that could be a truly experimental space?”

Despite all the questions still lingering, University officials are still promising students and community members a Walgreen Drama Center and Arthur Miller Theater. Peterson said they just can’t say when they’ll appear.

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