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Past and Present

History

Since its beginnings 89 years ago, Miller Outdoor Theatre has provided a unique resource for the City of Houston and its visitors. Steadfast in the founding principal that the theatre shall provide cultural and educational events free of charge for the public, Miller has evolved like the city itself. What was once "a permanent bandstand" in Hermann Park is now a first-class proscenium theatre, professionally operated and committed to providing quality and diverse performances worthy of the great international city that Houston has become.

Facts & Statistics

Houston's Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park is unique in the United States, offering an 8 month season of professional entertainment that is artistically excellent, culturally diverse and always FREE of charge to the public. This is the largest "always free" program of its kind in the country.

The theatre is located on approximately 7.5 acres of land in Hermann Park, site of the Houston Zoo, the Garden Center and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Seating is provided for 1,705 patrons and 20 wheelchair spaces, plus a sloping lawn that accommodates approximately 4,500 more on blankets or lawn chairs.

Theatre structure - 64 x 41 foot stage; 54 line sets for hanging lights, curtains and scenery; an orchestra pit which can be raised and lowered; dressing rooms; offices; full complement of theatrical equipment; 110-ton air conditioning system cools the performance area.

Miller has set attendance records for the past three seasons.  Nearly 431,000 people attended a performance in 2009 AND 2010.  2011 saw those records eclipsed by more than 50,000 visitors - more than 480,000 people made a performance at Miller part of their lives.

Historical Highlights

1910-1950s

1919
Mining engineer and cotton broker Jesse Wright Miller died leaving property to the City of Houston for municipal purposes.  The City sold that property for $50,000 to Miller's sister.

1921
City Council authorized use of approximately $50,000 from the sale to the Miller estate to build the Miller Memorial Theatre, a "permanent bandstand" located in Hermann Park.

1922
The original theatre was designed by William Ward Watkin as an amphitheatre surrounded by twenty Corinthian-style limestone columns and built by Tom Tellepsen.

The theatre's dedication plaque read: To the Arts of Music, Poetry, Drama and Oratory, by which the striving spirit of man seeks to interpret the words of God. This theatre of the City of Houston is permanently dedicated.

May 12, 1923 @ 8:00 pm
Dedication of Miller Outdoor Theatre with "Springtimes of Our Nation". 5th Annual Municipal Pageant had 2,500 performers.

May 18, 1923 @ 8:30 pm
Dedication of Miller Outdoor Theatre at Hermann Park to music with "The Rose Maiden" by Frederick H. Cowen.

October 7-15, 1925
KPRC Radio broadcasted the World Series of this year when Pittsburgh beat Washington. The next broadcast on KPRC Radio from Miller Outdoor Theatre was the Tunney Dempsey rematch. 12,000 to 15,000 people listened to the Championship broadcast at the MOT on September 22, 1927.

1938
Weekly programming by civic and community groups was developed by the Parks & Recreation Department.

1940
Lewis Brown, a Chicago transplant, wrote to the Houston Post critic Hubert Roussell advocating outdoor symphony concerts. N.D. Naman funded the first Houston Symphony concert with a $1,000 grant and an additional $800 "free-will offerings" collected from the audience on August 21, 1941.

1943
The City Council allocated $5,000 to initiate the Summer Symphony Series at Miller Theatre. The Series has become an annual fixture.

1948
City of Houston finances, in full, Symphony Summer Series, ending the need for "free will offerings".

Miller's "hill" was created with dirt from Fannin Street excavations to accomodate the growing Texas Medical Center.

1960s-1970s

1968
The City built a new theatre with bonds voted by the public. The new theatre, designed by Eugene Werlin and Associates, won several awards: the American Iron and Steel Institute's Biannual Award (1969), the American Institute of Steel Construction's Award of Excellence, and the James E. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation Award. Columns from the original building were moved to the Mecom-Rockwell Colonnade Fountain in front of the Warwick Towers between Fannin and San Jacinto at Hermann Drive.

Before the theatre was officially re-opened, presidential candidate Richard Nixon used the facility for a major campaign speech.

The opening performance at the new theatre was a Summer Symphony performance on September 1, 1968. 15,000 patrons attended the performance.

Controversy swirled around the installation of the tragic-comedy masks designed by Harry Fulcher in the same year. The abstractedly painted turquoise and orange masks were intended as a unification tool of two ideas, the traditional theme and the contemporary architecture of the theatre.

May 14, 1968
First meeting of proposed Miller Theatre Advisory Council.

September 15, 1968
Theatre Under the Stars produced "Bells Are Ringing," stariting a tradition of free musicals that have entertained thousands each year since.

January 22, 1969
City Council sets fee schedule for MOT use.

1970
The City began providing general revenue funding for productions at MOT allocated by the Parks Director and the Miller Theatre Advisory Council.

MTAC was incorporated as a non-profit organization to "act as a sounding board for activities in the theatre, channel money from bequests, gift and grants to specific organizations for productions in the theatre."

June 22, 1971
The City Council accepted the services of the Miller Theatre Advisory Council to assist the City in selecting performances for the season and in sharing the costs for these performances. To expand financial resources, MTAB agreed to acquire property by gift, devise, bequest, or otherwise.

August 24, 1972
In Greek mythology, Atropos and her sisters, Clotho and Lachesis were responsible for human destiny. Sculpted by Hanna Stewart, Atropos Key, was donated to the City of Houston by Patricia S. Woodard. Atropos Key is a polished, tool-surface, cast bronze sculpture mounted on a concrete trapezoidal base faced with black slate. The sculpture sits atop the Miller hill.

November 11, 1976
Oliver was dedicated as a "continuing plea to city fathers for support of free shows at the Miller Theatre". Oliver was created by Tracey Gutherie, a Houston sculptor, at the request of TUTS guild member Pamela Martens. The statue is life size and portrays Oliver with an outstretched bowl with a spoon in it. The sculpture composed of cast bronze sits on a concrete base outside the stage door.

1977
Texas Legislature authorized cities to allocate a portion of an increased hotel/ motel occupancy tax to promote tourism.

1978
Cultural Arts Council of Houston was created to allocate 1% hotel/ motel occupancy taxes for arts in support of tourism with a 20% allocation for programming at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

1980s-Current

1985/1986
Roof replaced.

1992/1993
Fundraising Campaign for new sound board.

1996/ 1997
The 1968 Miller Outdoor Theatre was refurbished in 1996.  A $6 million expansion and renovation was planned and funded jointly by the City of Houston and Friends of Hermann Park. Ray Bailey Architects designed the improvement package. Roof and siding were replaced, and additional restrooms and office areas were installed. A small stage was added to the east end of the facility, playing to a newly incorporated open plaza area. Additional work and storage space, and a life safety package were installed in the theatre's backstage area. The renovated MOT building opened in Spring of 1998.

Early 1999
The Theatre Board, with the help of other civic organizations and the approval of the City Parks Department, embarked on an ambitious plan to upgrade the concessions at the Theatre in order to enhance the Theatre experience.

January 03, 2004
Inauguration ceremony for the 51st Houston Mayor Bill White and the new city officials.

June 2005
Miller Theatre Advisory Board hired long-time Texas arts administrator Paul Beutel to serve as Artistic Director for the theatre and lead the Board's efforts to increase quality programming. In addition to re-vamping the guidelines for MTAB's granting process, Beutel also launched a 5-year, $2.5 million funding initiative.

2006
The Miller Theatre Advisory Board launched its own programming initiative, raising funds to present some outstanding international performers. The Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa, the Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats, the Mombasa Party and Royal Drummers of Burundi, and acclaimed Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster all attracted thousands of delighted attendees and are representative of the diverse, quality, international productions that MTAB plans to bring to Miller to complement the many fine performances by Houston arts organizations.

December 2008
MTAB hired Cissy Segall Davis to serve as Managing Director to oversee the grants program, mainting high quality programming, manage the Presented Series and continue funtraising initiatives.

Improvements

2008

  • Increased accessibility and seating options for people with disabilities

  • Enhanced pedestrian flow of traffic: reconstruction of the walkway all around the hill, decreasing the incline and making it wider

  • New aisle lighting

  • New overhead industrial-sized fans for air circulation

  • New landscaping

In 2008, a nearly $1.2 million improvement project was undertaken at Miller Outdoor Theatre to enhance both public safety and the overall experience for the audiences. The project increased accessibility for people with disabilities, enhanced the pedestrian flow of traffic and added new lighting along the aisles, all of which increase public safety during performances. Additional enhancements include two huge overhead fans, improved sightlines and increased seating capacities.

"These improvements have made the theatre more accessible for everyone who comes here to enjoy the outdoor performances, " said Sheila Turkiewicz, assistant director for the Theater District. "It's an even more perfect place to enjoy a performance under the stars in the heart of Houston."

Visitors will notice changes not only in the theater itself, but also the hill, walkways and new, fresh landscaping.

"We've reconstructed the walkway all around the hill, decreasing the incline and making it wider," Turkiewicz said. "We've also improved accessibility for people with disabilities. While eliminating the need for ramps, we've provided direct access from both sides of the theater and added even more seating options."

2009

  • Earthwork to raise the hill's seating area, new irrigation and new sod

  • Installation of a new permanent booth for controlling stage lights and sound

  • Installation of 6 new light poles at the back of the hill to light the pedestrian walkway that goes around the hill

  • All 1581 of the current aluminum seats under the canopy were removed and1700 new seats were installed.

  • Concrete in seating area was resurfaced

  • Hill drainage was improved

During the off-season in late 2008/early 2009, an additional $1,000,000 in further improvements was undertaken. The iconic hill was re-graded and raised. New irrigation was installed, new sod laid and drainage improved. New lighting was installed along the pathway around the backside of the hill. The seats under the canopy were replaced and the concrete under the seats given a new texture and color surface. A permanent sound and lighting mix position booth was constructed at the back of the seating area.

2010

Miller Outdoor theatre opened the 2010 season with a new $1.5 million sound system, the latest upgrade in a sweeping set of $3.9 million in improvements since 2008.

"The new speakers mean that everyone will be able to hear the performance more clearly throughout Miller, regardless of where you're sitting," said Dawn Ullrich, director of the city Convention & Entertainment Facilities Department, which manages the city-owned theater in Hermann Park. "Miller is truly in the 21st century with this improvement, and we invite everyone to come hear for themselves. Both audience members and producers will notice."

The newly installed sound system is state-of-the-art. From its all-digital mixing consoles, snaking and wireless microphones, to the use of line-array speaker systems for both main reinforcement and lawn coverage, the latest technology for every component was carefully identified and utilized. The results yield incredible intelligibility, clarity and fidelity for performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

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Support Miller

Gifts and Contributions made to Miller Theatre Advisory Board, Inc. support programming and theatre activities that assist in enhancing the audience and producer experience and help keep performances free.

If you would like to donate to Miller Outdoor Theatre, you may do so in one of two ways:

Check or Money Order

Miller Theatre Advisory Board
P.O. Box 66267
Houston, TX 77266-6267

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Non-Profit Information

Miller Theatre Advisory Board, Inc. is a 501c3 organization. All gifts and contributions are tax deductible.
 

When it comes to entertainment, this one's a real breath of fresh air.
And it's absolutely FREE.