Penn State theater sophomore wins regional dramaturgy award

Carlie Fox
March 02, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State sophomore Freddie Miller won the Dramaturgy Award for Region II of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) and is now competing for the opportunity to attend the National Festival in Washington, D.C., in April.

Majoring in theater studies, Miller was nominated by his adviser, Jean-Marie Higgins, for the honor, which is presented jointly by KCACTF and the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA). Previously completely unaware of the nomination, Miller confessed how grateful he was for the surprise. 

“In ‘High School Musical 3,’ Miss Darbus nominates Troy Bolton to get into a performing arts school and he ends up getting the scholarship and that is kind of what happened to me,” said Miller. 

Each year, the Kennedy Center holds a competition for college theater programs where students can showcase what they have worked on at their schools. 

After Higgins nominated Miller, he decided to showcase Miller's dramaturg work on “A Little Night Music,” written by Stephen Sondheim, and performed by the Penn State School of Theatre last fall. 

“I was the production dramaturg for the project,” said Miller. “I was pretty much there from the start with our director Phillip Fazio. It was my job to know pretty much everything about the show and the historical context of both the show and the production.”

During his time as a dramaturg for “A Little Night Music,” Miller said he focused on how musical theater finds its way into our mainstream and into the culture. After analyzing the collaboration between Stephen Sondheim and Harold Prince, the director of the original production, Miller put together a one-night-only cabaret called “A Salute to Sondheim and Prince,” which featured songs from all the productions the two artists worked on together. 

“There was a song in ‘A Little Night Music’ called ‘Send in the Clowns’ that I grew up listening to with my grandma,” said Miller. “It's a show tune, so I have no clue how it made its way to my grandma, as she is not a music theater person whatsoever.” 

The cabaret incorporated members of the Penn State Theatre program. “This was a great way to bring people together and combine scholarship and production,” said Miller. 

As one of eight regional winners, Miller’s work is now being reviewed by a national selection panel, who will select four students to receive an all-expense-paid residency at the National Festival at the Kennedy Center in mid-April, including multi-day workshops with leading artists in both production and new play dramaturgy.

Like many theater lovers, Miller’s passion for the art form started when he was in middle school, he said.

“My claim to fame was in seventh grade; I was cast as the Cat in the Hat in ‘Seussical.’ Since then, I have fallen in love with performing,” said Miller.

Miller said in high school he originally planned to pursue a bachelor’s degree in musical theater; however, by his junior year, he said, he had fallen into a rut and felt a lack of inspiration. A fortuitous invitation to come back to his middle school to help out with their theater performances, became a turning point for Miller: Through helping to assistant-direct a show, he rediscovered his love for theater — and also discovered a passion for being behind the scenes.

“That experience helped me better understand what I wanted to pursue in college,” said Miller. “I came to Penn State to become a director, but I found a new love for dramaturgy. I have always been interested in writing and history and those are all necessary components for being a dramaturg — knowing every little thing about a play or a musical and being well versed in the history behind a show.” 

Miller realized Penn State was the place he needed to be in order to grow as an artist and playwright. “Penn State puts such an emphasis on new works,” he said.

Miller is currently the dramaturg for “Angels in America,” and in that role serves as the voice for the playwright and the playwright’s intent. “Angels in America” addresses the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, with themes revolving around religion, sexuality and race. 

“I did a lot of research into all of those different areas. At the beginning of every show I put together a production packet — although [‘Angels in America’] felt more like a book,” said Miller. “It includes every little obscure reference from the show and helps everyone understand the details and history of the show better.” 

In addition to his work with the School of Theatre, Miller is also a member of No Refund Theatre. He emphasized that there are so many ways to get involved with theater at Penn State.

Post-graduation, Miller said he is unsure if he will pursue a graduate degree in directing or dramaturgy, but he knows that education and helping others discover their love for theater will always be a big part of his future. 

“I really believe that you can’t be a good director or good playwright without being a good dramaturg first,” said Miller. “My professor and I joke that dramaturgy is the blood coursing through the veins of the production.”

“Angels in America” runs through March 5 at the Playhouse Theatre.

Last Updated March 02, 2020