Encore Michigan

Bruce Millan, co-founder of The Detroit Rep and Michigan theater giant has died.

obituary February 13, 2023

DETROIT, MI—Bruce Millan, one of the founders of The Detroit Repertory Theatre here, has died. He was 94.

Millan and co-founder Barbara Busby retired in 2021 after 64 years of running the Rep, handing the reigns over to Leah Smith, who continues in the leadership role today.

Bruce Millan and Barbara Busby began the theatre company in 1957, while students at Wayne State University. He was a student of sociology and Busby was a theatre major.

Photo Credit: The Kresge Foundation

Taking on the segregationist nature of theater at that time, Millan and Busby made it their mission to prove “the power of diversity acting in unity”, instituting a race-transcendent casting policy: the best actor for the job regardless of the color of their skin. They first started a the Millan Theatre Company in which black and white actors toured, presenting theatre for children. Bruce wrote, Barbara acted, and they both directed the plays that toured metro Detroit, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The company also operated out of an apartment on Woodrow Wilson Street, across the street from the current location of the Rep. The founders moved into a building that was a dry-gods store in the early 60s, and began producing plays maintaining a commitment to stories about racial justice, civil rights, stories of the downtrodden and race transcendent casting. That mission continues today under Ms. Smith.

Besides being a founder and Director, Millan was a fixture behind the bar in the Rep’s lobby. Always friendly and welcoming. Busby died last August.

“Bruce Millan was the embodiment of commitment. I have never met, save Barbara Busby his parter in life and the theatre, anyone who was more fiercely dedicated to theatre in Detroit and beyond. He will be sorely missed,” said Casaundra Freeman, a frequent actress and director at The Rep.

Lynch Travis, an actor and director at The Rep said this: “Bruce Millan was that special person, who was able to work with like-minded artists to create and sustain a theater company that did not cater to the conventions of the day. Sixty some years before the untimely demise of George Floyd triggered a nationwide change in prevailing theater practices, Bruce and Company had already figured it out and did something about it. Despite the naysayers and obstructionists, the Rep is still here. Thank you Bruce”

“Bruce’s theater legacy was huge and has given many opportunities to many artists to create wonderful theatre since starting his children theatre company “The Milian Theatre Company,” said Director Harold Jurkiewicz.” That legacy is a still-thriving company in Detroit.”

Details of a Memorial will be forthcoming. And this article will be updated as more information is learned.

Week of 3/20/2023

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