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Updated 1:00 PM October 4, 2005
 

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Ceremony to name Walgreen Center, Miller Theatre

The young man's psychic aunt told his mother, "He's going to flunk out in a few months." And to the eager would-be student, she said, "Save your money. Stay home. There's no use going there."

But the undaunted teen went anyway. Arthur Miller became a U-M freshman in 1934. And he proved his aunt wrong.

The University will honor the playwright Miller and alumnus Charles R. Walgreen, Jr., at 10 a.m. Oct. 14 in Rackham Auditorium. The ceremony will acknowledge the official naming of the Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. Drama Center and the Arthur Miller Theatre, currently under construction on North Campus.

"I was gunning for a Hopwood Award, which at Michigan was the student equivalent of the Nobel," Miller wrote in his autobiography "Timebends." "But I had two jobs and a full academic schedule, and between dishwashing three times a day and feeding three floors of mice in a genetics laboratory in the woods at the edge of town, I would fall into bed each night exhausted."

Such exhaustion did not impede Miller's passion for writing, and he won back-to-back Avery Hopwood Awards for his literary efforts. Miller wrote: "On the day my name was called out before the assembled contestants and their guests as a Hopwood winner, in the spring of 1936, I felt pleasure, of course, but also something close to embarrassment, praying that everybody would soon forget my poor play in favor of my next one, which would surely be better."

The world now knows that the next one and the ones after that indeed were better. "With the 1936 Hopwood Award, my psychic sun on the rise, I had no difficulty pitting myself in imagination against the reigning writers of the Broadway theater," Miller wrote.

The naming ceremony will include remarks by President Mary Sue Coleman, Regent Andrea Fischer Newman and School of Music Dean Christopher Kendall, with special guests from the Walgreen family.

Musical performances will include Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom performing "New York Lights" from his score to the operatic adaptation of Miller's "A View from the Bridge." It will be sung by George Shirley, the Joseph Edgar Maddy Distinguished University Professor of Music.

A video reminiscence of Miller's time in Ann Arbor will be followed by readings from members of the Miller family, including his sister, actress Joan Copeland, and son, producer Robert Miller. Enoch Brater, English and theater professor and Miller scholar, will speak and Laurence Goldstein, editor of the Michigan Quarterly Review, will read from Miller's letters.

Miller returned to Ann Arbor often, each time meeting with students. Sari Goldberg, a junior studying theater and pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in performance, met him during her freshman year when U-M staged "An Arthur Miller Celebration" with students performing some of his lesser-known works. She was cast by director Mark Lamos for a part in "The Creation of the World and Other Business."

"It was pretty amazing when I met him," Goldberg says. "He carries more history than just a playwright. I was meeting a piece of history. He was definitely a person who had gone through a lot. I was impressed with him. Look at what he's done."

During his undergraduate days at U-M, Miller often accompanied another student to Jackson State Prison where a person Miller called "Droge" was employed as a psychologist. Those ventures into what Miller described as a "city of caged men, the musky zoo smell of those hot, humid cellblocks with tier on tier of humans, over eight thousand of them, and the echoing of their hollow bass rumbling that never ceased, the wild, insane laughter and threatening uproars that periodically arose," led him to write "The Great Disobedience," a work that did not win him a Hopwood prize his senior year.

But the disappointment did not deter the playwright who said, "My play's failure did nothing to weaken my conviction that art ought to be of use in changing society."

The Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. Drama Center features:

• Faculty offices and academic spaces for the departments of Theatre & Drama and Musical Theatre;

• A learning loft, including rehearsal rooms, studios and classrooms. Room proportions will give students rehearsal spaces that have the same dimensions as current campus performance venues;

• The Arthur Miller Theatre, which will offer flexible performance space for students;

• A three-level structure of masonry, glass and metal comprising 97,500 gross square feet, with an estimated 55,000 net square feet of program space.

• A cost of about $42.8 million, with funding provided from gifts and investment proceeds, including a $10 million gift from Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. and his wife, Jean.

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