The University of Michigan, the institution that launched a young writer named Arthur Miller into the world, will see the playwriting great revisit his alma mater June 4 to present The Arthur Miller Award for Dramatic Writing.
The return of the once (and, one guesses, future) king of American playwriting, who penned Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, All My Sons, and other post-World War II dramas, is part of the first U-M Festival of New Works: A Showcase for Dramatic Writing, encompassing musicals, screenplays and plays.
The $3,000 Miller Award, sponsored by the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts, will be handed by Miller to Willy Holtzman, for the play, Hearts, prior to its 8 PM June 4 staged reading at U-M's Trueblood Theatre. Performance continue 8 PM June 5 and 2 PM June 6.
The festival, on the U-M campus in Ann Arbor, MI., involves various budgets and departments, according to artistic director Frank Gagliano, and is funded for three years. Writers chosen for the annual May-June festival will develop their scripts in a two-week process with professional directors and actors, leading to staged readings.
Linking Miller to the festival was essential: "He's like the patron saint, we wanted him to touch the festival somehow," Gagliano told Playbill On Line. "A lot of people here wanted Miller included, including U-M president Lee Bollinger, who is a Miller fan." Miller would likely have stayed the entire weekend, June 4-6, but will be back in New York City for the June 6 Tony Awards, Gagliano said. The Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman is up for a number of Tonys 50 years after its Broadway premiere. Miller will also receive a special Tony ar the ceremony.
Festival of New Works began May 21 with a keynote address from playwright Michael Weller and continues to June 20 with various speakers and readings as part of the mix.
• The in-progress musical, Summer of '42, seen in spring 1999 readings in New York City, 8 PM June 18-19, 2 PM June 20, at the 150-seat Trueblood. Musical theatre professor Brent Wagner directs. An audience talkback will be offered for all Trueblood presentations. The Summer librettist is Hunter Foster, the songs are by David Kirshenbaum.
• U-M head of dramatic writing Wendy Hammond's screenplay, "Jake's Wife," 8 PM June 4-5, and U-M playwriting instructor OyamO's play, Let Me Live 8 PM June 18-19, both at the U-M Arena Theatre. The work of both writers has been seen at major American regional theatres.
Gagliano, himself a playwright and chaired professor of theatre at West Virginia University, was enlisted to run the U-M Festival of New Works in 1997 because of his expertise as coordinator of Showcase of New Plays, at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Because of the limited time frame putting the first U-M fest together, Gagliano "rummaged" for new work this year fest by calling colleagues and contacts. Next year, he said, he'll solicit more widely from agents and others. Plays, musicals or screenplays are eligible for the Miller Award, he said.
He said screenplays are part of the mix because U-M has a strong film writing, film and video program; the filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan ("The Big Chill") is a well-known alum of U-M.
The six-week festival has an Actors' Equity guest artist arrangement. The respected director Michael Montel is directing the Miller award-winning Hearts, a psychological mystery about an American GI's encounter with the horrors of Nazi death camps at the end of World War II. Playwright Holtzman wrote Sabina, seen Off Broadway at Primary Stages, and the regionally-produced The Closer and Bovvar Boys.
Earlier in the festival, May 21-23, "Rock Garden," a screenplay by Beth Winsten, was read. The script concerned a 40-year-old Detroit rock critic who stayed on the job too long. It was staged by Dan Green.
The festival is presented by University of Michigan's Office of the Provost, Office of the Vice President for Research, Department of Theatre & Drama in the School of Music, Program in Film & Video Studies, Department of English Language and Literature, College of Literature, Science and the Arts.
For more information, call (734) 763-4087.
-- By Kenneth Jones