Encore Michigan

Detroit Rep’s Bruce Millan hands baton to Leah Smith

News November 16, 2018 David Kiley

DETROIT, Mich. Keeping a theatre company operating in Detroit from the Eisenhower administration to the Trump White House is no easy feat. But Bruce Millan and his partners have pulled it off. But while Milan is announcing his retirement, the company will go on under the direction of Leah Smith.

Leah Smith, left, in a recent production at The Detroit Rep

Millan isn’t stepping own immediately, he told The Detroit News. He is beginning the transition, and naming his successor. Anyone who has followed the Detroit Rep knows that Leah Smith has been the designated successor, but Milan is making it official.

Millan began the theater company in 1957 with partners Barbara Busby, Dee and Rip T.O. Andrus, and Margot and Cliff Ammon.

The company, which started as a children’s theater, moved into its current home on Woodrow Wilson Street around 1963.The company began doing non-children’s theatre in 1966.

Evidence of Things Unseen

The neighborhood around the Detroit Rep is still struggling to come back from decades of abandonment and neglect. It was only in the last two years that the theatre got street-lights turned back on. The theatre has its own fenced-in parking, so patrons should not have apprehensions about seeing a show. And while there is scant options in the immediate neighborhood for a meal, the Detroit Rep is one of the few theaters in the EncoreMichigan network of theaters that has a full bar inside.

Millan says he is commencing to fill other personnel slots before turning operations over to to his successor. “I won’t retire until we make a complete transition in personnel,” Millan told the News. “When the recession hit, everything was cut. So now we’re rebuilding, and trying to reestablish all the positions necessary to run the theater.” The theater has an annual budget of $500,000.

Lynch R. Travis, who directed the current production and calls the Rep a home for him and other actors, says Millan has been and will continue to be vital to the community. “The Detroit Rep is an artistic home for me and others. Under Bruce’s guidance, I’ve received opportunities not offered to me by other companies. Even after a successful run as an award winning director, the only equity company in this area that gave me a chance to work as a director for years was Bruce. And he told me that he would not be the interfering type. So I was able to jump in, make my mistakes and learn in a great environment. And I have gotten a few chances at a couple of other theaters since.”

Adds Travis: “That’s what the Rep is about. Giving new plays a chance.” And people too.