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U sets date for grand opening of Arthur Miller Theatre

In the spirit of the late Arthur Miller, who believed the arts could have a transformative impact on American society, the University announces the much-anticipated opening of a theatre named for America's greatest playwright whose works reflect the themes, disillusionments and imperative moral issues of the second half of the 20th century.
Architectural rendering of the Arthur Miller Theatre (Courtesy Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects)

The Arthur Miller Theatre on the Ann Arbor campus will open March 29; it is the only venue in the world named for the quintessential American playwright. The theatre is located within the Walgreen Drama Center on the University's North Campus, home to the schools of Music, Theatre & Dance; Art and Design; and the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

"With the theatre comes an obligation to offer drama students and audiences the type of compelling and honest portrayals found in Arthur Miller's seminal works," says President Mary Sue Coleman. "Opening the doors of the theatre is both a symbol and an invitation for students, the University community and the public to join a discourse about values, morality and the promise of how the arts can broaden our horizons."

The center and theatre were designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna and Blumberg Associates of Toronto; Miller reviewed the design before his death in February 2005.

With its dramatic glass design, the theatre is a stunning presence on North Campus. It seats 280 in straight proscenium configuration with the option of a three-fourths thrust design. The lobby features a three-story glass atrium with a central staircase that connects the theatre to the academic classrooms.

The Arthur Miller Theatre opening and a symposium featuring internationally acclaimed Miller scholars are signature events in the newly announced University initiative, Arts on Earth, an exploration of the profound dynamic relationship between humans and the arts worldwide. Arts on Earth will kick off with an opening event in early winter.

In addition to concerts, plays and exhibits of works from all over the world, Arts on Earth will convene interactive symposia with artists, students, scholars and the public. Learn-ins will explore topics such as the intrinsic effects of humans' involvement with the arts, economics and the arts, and the function of the arts during wartime. In late December a Web site will list a calendar of events and feature stories on issues and participants.

For the historic opening of the Arthur Miller Theatre, the Department of Theatre & Drama will present Miller's "Playing for Time," which is based on a harrowing biographical account of a part-Jewish French cabaret singer forced by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele and the Nazis to play in the women's orchestra at Auschwitz death camp.

The play originally was adapted for television in 1980 and won a Peabody Award and four Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Special and Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or Special; it also was nominated for a Golden Globe.

The inaugural drama offers the type of moral and emotionally complex terrain that distinguishes Miller's finest works.

"The play is rarely performed, given its scope and the large scale of its production," said Gregory Poggi, chair of the Department of Theatre & Drama. "So it is fitting to open the Arthur Miller Theatre with a work with which audiences are not too familiar, and one that expresses, in Miller's words, 'raising the truth-consciousness of mankind to a level of such intensity as to transform those who observe it.' "

"Playing for Time" will be directed by U-M alumnus Robert Chapel, who joined the Theatre & Drama Department in fall 2005. Joining him on the production are scenic designer Vince Mountain, costume designer Jessica Hahn and lighting designer Gary Decker.

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. March 29 and April 5; 8 p.m. March 30 and 31 and April 6 and 7; and 2 p.m. April 1 and 8.

"The Global Miller Symposium," scheduled for March 29-April 1, will examine the playwright's influence, impact and legacy on international theatre. Throughout his life, Miller dedicated himself to find ways to focus public awareness on unjust and often controversial issues, from his defiant decision "not to name names" before the U.S. House of Representatives' Un-American Activities Committee in 1956 to his vision as president of the PEN American Center (whose members comprise poets, playwrights, essayists, editors and novelists) in the mid-1960s, when he led the worldwide literary membership to take positions on what he called "the conscience of the world writing community."

The symposium is organized by Enoch Brater, who recently was named the Kenneth T. Rowe Collegiate Professor in Dramatic Literature, Department of English Language and Literature. It brings together scholars, directors, actors and other theatre practitioners from around the world.

Additional events and details will be announced in the weeks ahead. For more information, visit

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