May 4, 2011

Retiring theater professor Pat Miller leaves legacy of new work

Theater Studies' Pat Miller is retiring after 25 years of service.

Most students have one professor whose influence has a life-changing impact. For me that professor is Theater Studies Senior Lecturer Pat Miller, who, after 25 years of service, will retire from Emory this May.

Miller came to Emory in 1986 after co-founding and serving as co-artistic producing director of Chocolate Bayou Theater Company in Houston, Texas. In addition to teaching theater administration and other courses in Emory's theater studies department, she served as Theater Emory's managing director through 2004.

Throughout her career, Miller has been a champion for new work and inspired the careers of burgeoning playwrights and arts administrators throughout the country.

Miller has been a part of many projects over the years, but perhaps her greatest legacy is the passion for new work that has been ingrained into Emory's theater program. Miller, aided in part by playwright Wendy Wasserstein, established a prominent advisory board for the Playwriting Center of Theater Emory in 1996. The Playwriting Center continues to be a leader in new play development and produces a biennial festival of new work.

At the same time the Playwriting Center was on its rise to acclaim in the mid 1990s, Miller helped to bring the Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI) Company to Emory for a three-week intensive training session for 50 professionals from around the world and a handful of Emory students.

SITI rehearsed their production of "Small Lives, Big Dreams" at Emory and performed it as part of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Cultural Olympiad. Participation in the training sessions had a lasting impact on the Emory students involved, inspiring many to pursue careers in theater.

Fittingly, in her final year at Emory, the Pat Miller Playmaker Award, given annually to an inspiring and innovative playwright, dramaturg, director or administrator who has worked in playwriting labs and helped create great new work, was given to SITI's founder Anne Bogart.

Another favorite project during Miller's career was the transformation of the Mary Gray Munroe Theater into the Black Rose, a life-sized Elizabethan Playhouse, in 1998.  In this space, conceived by then-artistic director Vincent Murphy, Theater Emory experimented with the audience-actor relationship.

Originally intended to be a six-month project, the Black Rose was so intriguing that Theater Emory produced three years of programming in the space.

Theater Studies Department Chair Leslie Taylor reflects, "Pat was the glue that held Theater Emory together though various changes in leadership. Through her teaching she was source of inspiration for generations of future arts administrators."

As she transitions into retirement, Miller is grateful for a life in the theater, calling it "such a gift. The theater challenges me intellectually and nourishes the soul in ways I never would have experienced otherwise."

She says the memory she will carry with her most are her former students, expressing pride in them for "grabbing hold and taking charge in arts and nonprofit management careers in a world so often focused on self-interest."

I believe I can speak for all of Pat Miller's students and the Emory theater community when I say that she will be missed. We thank her for being an invaluable teacher, mentor and friend and wish her luck in her next phase of life.

I personally thank her for inspiring me to pursue a career in the arts and look forward to crossing paths with her in the future.

Kristen Gwock is communications coordinator at Emory's Center for Creativity & Arts and a 2010 Theater Studies graduate.

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