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Alumna Welcomes Her Role as Monan Professor

10/15/15
Monan Professor in Theatre Arts Michelle Miller
Monan Professor in Theatre Arts Michelle Miller ’98 at a recent rehearsal for the upcoming production of “Carousel.”(Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Oct. 15, 2015

Regarded as a consummate modern entertainment professional, 1998 alumna Michelle Miller has often returned to Boston College in a professional capacity, and this academic year has joined the Theatre Department faculty as the Rev. J. Donald Monan, SJ, Professor in Theatre Arts. 

An accomplished actor, singer, arts educator, filmmaker and activist, Miller has performed in off-Broadway shows, in the International Fringe Festival, at New York City’s Lincoln Center and the Sundance Film Festival. As a founding member of Any Minute Now Productions in New York City, she performed and produced “The Triumph of Love The Musical,” “John & Jen” and “Hello Again!” She also has sung with the New Haven Symphony, Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and Boston Pops under the batons of John Williams, Marvin Hamlisch and Keith Lockhart.  

“Michelle Miller is an exciting choice for the 2015-2016 Monan Professorship,” says Theatre Department Chair and Associate Professor Crystal Tiala. “She is an extraordinary actress, singer, filmmaker, and teacher with enormous compassion for humanitarian causes. She is a shining example of what a Boston College education is all about and the quintessential role model for our students.”  

Miller has blended her theater training and professional development skills with a commitment to service and activist work, becoming a highly regarded arts educator and leader. A producer, photographer and scriptwriter, she has been involved with award-winning non-profit educational film company Project Explorer. She produced, filmed and storyboarded “The Castle Project,” a documentary about Colorado’s infamous “haunted mansion” that was featured at 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Miller was nominated for six Heartland Emmy Awards as a producer and photographer for the PBS adventure sports series “The Rocky Mountain Experience,” which won the Nevada Film Festival’s Best Television Pilot award for 2013.

Also active in humanitarian and philanthropic efforts, Miller served as vice-chair on the board for Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), a non-profit which connects artists with underserved youth around the world (ASTEP has a BC chapter). She produced 18 concerts with award-winning composers and Tony-nominated performers to help benefit ASTEP’s international service projects. Miller also has taken several extended service trips to a rural community in India for the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project.

Monan Professor in Theatre Arts Michelle Miller
“I’ve worn a lot of hats in my professional life but there is no greater privilege, joy or greater responsibility than teaching,” says Monan Professor in Theatre Arts Michelle Miller ’98. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

As Monan Professor, Miller is directing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” which opens next week, and teaching an advanced musical theater performance class that explores how to embody a character through personalizing the text and freeing the natural voice; she uses a one-on-one approach to identify and work through physical and emotional blocks unique to each student. 

“I’ve worn a lot of hats in my professional life but there is no greater privilege, joy or greater responsibility than teaching,” Miller says. “To be entrusted with a person’s growth is something I take very seriously and my Boston College students show up hungry to learn and eager to stretch themselves. There is a tangible, mutual respect that makes the classroom we share a pretty magical place that even I couldn’t have anticipated.” 

 “Michelle has a brilliant way of uncovering how each of her students learn individually and provides us with the personalized teaching methods we need to thrive both in class and on stage,” says theatre major Christy Coco ’17, who has a lead role in “Carousel.” “She is a person with the rare gift of deep compassion and empathy and uses it in her work to make me constantly feel safe, which allows me to be vulnerable, fearless and honest, and consistently produce art that I am proud of.”  

Miller also is collaborating with theater students, professors and guest artists. She is vocal coach for the November production “Big Love” and consultant for the new Irish musical “Learning How to Drown,” which will be staged in February and is written by actor and singer Patricia Noonan ’07. Miller also is a guest lecturer in Tiala’s Independent Television course and will offer vocal performance workshops open to all BC students. 

She explains, “I love the day-to-day interaction with students and staff,” says Miller. “‘Carousel’ is the culmination of so many things I love: music, teaching, initiating safe and thoughtful dialogue about difficult subjects, directing students with specificity that enables them to trust their own instincts and then bringing it all to life.”

 “Michelle promotes an atmosphere in the rehearsal room, and among everyone involved, of love and positivity. Everyone is respected and valued and praised, but encouraged to do even better the next rehearsal,” says “Carousel” stage manager Caitlin Mason ’16, an English and theatre major. “She really manages to find the best part of each student and tailors the show and process to showcase their strengths and help them work on their weaknesses.”

Miller describes her students as “exceptional in their talent and dedication and kindness. When I have taught in a conservatory setting there is an edge of constant competition. There is no more difficult place to get up and perform or audition than the fishbowl of a small theater program, but this particular group is generous, gracious and enthusiastic for the success of their peers. They cheer them on as they make breakthroughs, laugh when they make bold comedic choices and commiserate with empathy and compassion when the music or the material is difficult or emotional. Each time I see them is an opportunity to be astonished at their bravery and kindness.”