Miller Outdoor Theatre Celebrates 100 Years

The Houston mainstay plans months of family friendly events to commemorate its centennial.

By Rosemary Akpan January 23, 2023

A full moon performance at the Miller Outdoor Theatre.

For years, Miller Outdoor Theatre has presented free cultural and educational performances to visitors at its Hermann Park location (also the location of the Houston Zoo, the McGovern Centennial Gardens and the Houston Museum of Natural Science). Although the outdoor theater started as a permanent bandstand, it has steadily evolved into a first-class proscenium, professionally run and profoundly committed to providing quality and diverse shows to the Houston cultural scene. This year, Miller Outdoor Theatre will celebrate its 100th anniversary, commemorating this special milestone with celebratory events throughout the year and no small amount its usual Miller magic.

Cissy Segall Davis, managing director for the Miller Theatre Advisory Board, tells Houstonia that this is a moment the Miller staff has been anticipating for a while and they are excited to celebrate with the many generations of Houstonians who have enjoyed the theater over the years. 

“[Miller Outdoor Theatre] is such an incredible place and such an incredible amenity for the citizens of Houston and for visitors,” Segall Davis said. “We see now the grandparents who brought their children when they were little, and now those children have grown up and had children of their own. All of them are coming together to enjoy performances.”

For years, the theater has stood tall (64 x 41-foot stage) as a unique gem in the city—typically hosting more than 130 performances in an eight-month season that showcases professional, artistically excellent, and culturally diverse entertainment. Seating is available for 1,705 visitors at a time, plus 20 wheelchair spaces, and a sloping lawn that accommodates approximately 4,500 more on blankets or lawn chairs. All of it, free to the public. 

As the nation's largest “always free” program of its kind, Segall Davis said nobody has been able to accomplish what Miller Outdoor Theatre has, and that alone should be worth celebrating. 

In 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 theater’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.

“You come to this theater to enjoy outstanding performances, you don't have to worry [about] cost, the way you look, or the way you dress. It doesn't matter. Everyone is welcome here,” Segall Davis said. “For [those of] us who've been part of creating the whole package that is Miller Outdoor Theatre, it's very gratifying to reach another milestone.”

Over the years, Miller has seen brilliant performances from acts like the Ballet Folklórico de México, Shakespeare Festival, Dance Theater of Harlem, Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa, and more. But one particular show that stands out to the managing director, who’s worked at the theater since 2008, is when they booked 10-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune, to perform in 2016.

“For me, it was thrilling to have someone of that incredible caliber here to share his stories, his life, and his talent with everybody,” Segall Davis said.

With 100 years of amazing acts, groundbreaking performances, and engaging events, the theater plans to honor its legacy in the upcoming months with fun programming for the whole family. The anniversary celebration kicks off with a nostalgic roaring ’20s celebration on March 18. Then on May 12, the theater will officially celebrate its 100th birthday with the help of the Houston Ballet. On July 14, Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS) will put on a special tribute performance. Culminating in November with a riveting NASA-powered immersive experience by Bella Gaia, which will look toward the future. Expect themed costumes, interactive mural painting, and a seven-foot birthday cake.

In addition to the list of outstanding upcoming talent, Miller Outdoor Theatre attendees can expect even more special programming in coming years as well as further upgrades to the seating area, additional improvements to infrastructure, including to walkways, retractable screens, and an official Miller Outdoor Theatre entryway. All on the heels of its $4.7 million renovation in 2013 that saw, among other upgrades, increased accessibility and seating options for people with disabilities, the addition of overhead industrial-sized fans for better air circulation, and 1700 new seats for visitors. It also replaced its infamous peaked roof and corrected canopy deficiencies that caused leaks. Additionally, that project also added a new storage mezzanine area for equipment, improvements to the catwalk, and electrical, lighting, and sound system upgrades.

As the Miller Outdoor Theatre team looks to the future, it plans to raise funds for a $12.5 million campaign to help keep that Miller magic alive for another century.

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