One of Houston’s hardest-working women is about to take her final bow. While she usually tries to remain behind the scenes, her presence has been a vital part of the Houston arts scene for decades. Cissy Segall Davis, the one-woman ringmaster of the city’s cherished Miller Outdoor Theatre, is lowering the curtain on her life of service and retiring this year.
“I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s hard to wrap my brain around the idea that on January 1 this will no longer be my job. It’s bittersweet. I have loved, loved, loved being able to do this work,” Davis says. “My relationship with Miller is long. Miller has been part of my life for so many years, and growing the programming and organization in really remarkable ways has been such a gift for me. I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Helming the City of Houston’s gift to the public has not been easy work, but she’s made it look effortless throughout the years, and she wants to make sure that “The Hill” in Hermann Park is left in good hands for the next generation.
“It’s important for me to pass the torch and work closely with the next managing director to set them up for success,” she remarks. “When I hand it off, I want to know that I’m handing it off to someone who’s going to care about it as much as I do.”
Miller Outdoor Theatre has been part of Houston’s DNA for almost a century, and so many people have fond memories of summer evenings on The Hill. It’s part of what makes Houston unique.
Segall Davis became managing director of the Miller Theatre Advisory Board in December 2008. It seems this role might have been written in the stars, as she jokes about her birth announcement being a pink theater ticket. While her parents might not have known the career path their daughter would embark on, Davis did indeed make her mark on the stage.
As a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership Forum, Davis serves on the board of Texans for the Arts and was named by Houston Woman magazine as one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2012. In 2022, Theatre Under The Stars honored her with the Shirley Stein Outstanding Champion in the Arts and Education Award. She has served on the boards of other nonprofit organizations, including the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Texas Institute for Arts in Education, and Congregation Beth Israel.
For nearly 15 years, she has managed Miller’s day-to-day operations, overseeing a grants program for Houston’s performing-arts and community organizations and presenting an annual season of more than 120 culturally diverse performances, all presented free of charge to the public. Under her guidance, the free programming has grown into the largest of its kind in the US.
“This really was a dream come true for me,” says Davis, who has been involved in the arts since 1972. “Miller Outdoor Theatre has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember—first as a camp counselor gleefully leading kids up and down the famous Miller Hill singing ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music,’ then professionally during my 20 years with Theatre Under The Stars, then later as a client when I ran my own PR firm, and now as Miller’s managing director,” she explains.
Davis recalls many incredible performances over the years, but none more cherished than when she secured Tommy Tune to perform. “He is an incredible performer and storyteller, a former Houstonian, and a 10-time Tony winner,” she notes. “To be able to bring him to Miller to share his phenomenal talent with everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, filled my heart with joy. And he did not disappoint!”
The always-wise leader knows that a part of her heart will forever remain with Miller.
“It is not easy to walk away from a job that has been career-defining, and one that I have absolutely loved and that has provided me the opportunity to follow my passion every day. But knowing when to exit is part of show business. It’s time to pass the torch and offer someone else the chance to bring a new perspective and make an impact on this program,” she says. “Miller Outdoor Theatre is one of Houston’s best amenities. It is beloved and treasured. It has been an honor to work for so many years with the Miller Theatre Advisory Board, our staff, the many performing-arts and cultural organizations that perform here, and the remarkable Miller crew.”
Davis plans to continue working on a part-time basis with Miller Theatre’s capital campaign. “The projects will make such a difference to our audiences, and I really want to see the campaign and projects through to completion,” Davis adds.
It will be another feather in her cap as Houstonians thank her for the fond memories made possible by her lifetime of service to the community.