Mar 15, 2023 - News

Miller Outdoor Theatre celebrates 100 years

Photo courtesy of Miller Outdoor Theatre

The Miller Outdoor Theatre's 100th season begins this weekend.

Why it matters: The outdoor theater in Hermann Park is the only venue of its size in the country that provides free, diverse productions — from cultural performances to productions by the city's established art organizations, says Cissy Segall Davis, the managing director of Miller since 2008.

Flashback: Miller Outdoor Theatre opened in 1923 after Houstonian Jesse Wright Miller donated land to the city. It was reconstructed in 1968 with city bonds.

  • The public theater sits on 7.5 acres and provides seating for 1,705 patrons plus space for 4,500 people on the lawn.
  • It has been dedicated to free performances and has partnered with local organizations — like the Houston Grand Opera and Theatre Under The Stars — to provide quality entertainment.
  • The theater also continues to offer cultural performances, from mariachi to Indian classical dance.

Details: The centennial celebration kicks off with a St. Patrick's Day event with the Trinity Irish Dance Company on Friday and a Roaring '20s-themed party that includes a jazz performance and swing dancing on Saturday.

  • A seven-foot birthday cake sculpture will be around for the eight-month season.
  • On the theater's birthday weekend on May 12, the Houston Ballet will perform George Balachine's "Jewels" and free cake will be available for everyone.
  • In November, Bella Gaia and Earth Harp will transform the theater stage into a giant harp for a special anniversary performance.

What they're saying: "What makes Miller special: No. 1, it's free to the public. It's so unique in this country, with the high-quality performances."

  • "But also, as Houston's cultural makeup has changed, as Houston has become more diverse ... the programming also must be diverse so that people have an opportunity to see themselves on that stage," Davis says.

The intrigue: The centennial aligns with a $12.5 million capital campaign to support much-needed renovations and improvements for the audience, Davis says.

  • Around $1.6 million has been raised so far.
  • The renovations, which would happen during the offseason, include fixing the hillside seating and redoing the seating configurations so the audience can better see the stage, adding retractable screens so people in the back can see, and creating more signage and accessible walkways.

Of note: In 2017, Houston First Corporation, which manages the theater, had plans to renovate the decades-old theater, but after Hurricane Harvey, funds were reallocated to repair other venues that sustained more damage.

Between the lines: The city owns the theater and funds it through the hotel occupancy tax, which makes up 85% of the budget.

  • The theater's annual budget is typically around $3 million, but the 2023 budget increased to $5.1 million to cover the costs of the centennial celebrations and fundraising events.

What's next: More than 120 performances are scheduled at the Miller over the next few months.


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