Many seasons of love, a legacy to continue

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear,” the ensemble began singing in harmony to the song “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.”

They sang as tears rolled down cheeks throughout the packed room.

They sang for “Madame M,” as her formA hush fell over the sanctuary at Cypress Bible Church as a group of current and graduated theater students stood to honor the life of longtime theater arts director Marilyn Miller.

er students often called her.

They sang to honor the 32 seasons of love that Miller gave to the theater arts department.

“Her program was one of Cy Creek’s crown jewels,” said former principal Jim Wells, who spoke at the memorial service.

Miller, who passed away 10 days before school started of a severe lung condition, lead the theater arts department for three decades and had planned to return for one final year before retiring.

Among the singers stood one of Miller’s co-directors, 2002 graduate Alex Garza, who said he was honored to come back to teach beside his teacher.

“I still called her Mrs. MIller,” Garza said. “Though  I was a colleague, I was still learning from her.”

This year, the department presses on with the theme “Remembering the legacy, striving for the future.”

“The majority of us that were in theater while she was here are writing our college application essays about Mrs. MIller,” senior Nathan Crooks said. “There was never a time in her class when we weren’t laughing — and she didn’t play by the rules.”

Crooks performed in five productions under Miller’s direction, including “The Farnsworth Invention,” which achieved first runner-up at state-level UIL One-Act play competition in 2011.

The sanctuary hall of the church remained silent even after the students finished singing. One by one, several speakers who knew Miller best stepped up to the pulpit in front of 200 people to speak about their teacher, mother, friend or coworker.

“She prepared students for life, she taught students to think for themselves,” said Janet Stackhouse, Miller’s daughter, in a letter read out loud. “She saw something in them that they didn’t even know was there and gave students opportunities they didn’t see before.”
The speakers said Miller brought spontaneity and creativity to every situation. She was always late to class, always had on blue toenail polish, and was always poised to give a wise answer.
“When students asked questions about how they should do something, her famous answer was ‘just do it,’” Stackhouse said. “That kind of trust is empowering. That is what I think students took from her, empowerment.”
The Texas Thespian Hall of Fame inducted Miller into its ranks in 2011. She had been the first woman and the first high school teacher to serve as president of the Texas Educational Theater Association. Miller’s honors in the thespian community also included the  Southwestern Bell UIL Sponsor of the Year, the Educator of the Year, and the Founders Award.

“She didn’t do it for the awards, I found those packed up in a closet in her office,” said Marilyn Ocker, who worked with Miller and has taken over as the theater department’s director.  “She did it for the kids.”

When news of Miller’s death reached the internet, students wrote about what she meant to them.

“She taught me so much more than how to act. She taught me how to live my life in a way that helps me to make, mend, and maintain relationships,” wrote 2012 graduate Lizzy Cook on Miller’s Facebook wall. “She taught me how to loosen up, but also how to be responsible and reliable. She gave me a chance to grow and she tended me as I did.”

Though Wells said Miller had made a pact with him to retire together last school year, she changed her mind for another chance to make theater history. In April, Miller received the first non-professional rights to produce the popular musical “Spamalot” from Theatrical Rights Worldwide. The show will be performed in January.

“It’s very difficult to get the rights to produce shows because you cannot perform a play if another theater in the area is also performing it at the time. With ‘Spamalot,’ the rights for high schoolers to produce the show were not supposed to be available until 2013,” Ocker said. “She worked something out. ‘Spamalot’ was why she decided to stay for another year.”

This winter the theater arts program will use money earned by last month’s performances of “Staar Waars” and several car washes to pay the $500 owed to perform “Spamalot,” said Crooks.

Ocker left the English department to take over the theater arts program. Garza, who taught technical theater, also took on theater arts classes. The school also hired Michelle Smith as a new tech theater teacher.

“There are many teachers and students who feel Mrs. Miller’s absence,” Ocker said. “But we have to keep moving forward.”