With their Will, they made their way
As a 10-year-old, Taryn Fixel knew she wanted to work for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). A teacher had told her that it was the best theater company in the world, and Fixel loved theater. So when it came time to pick a college nearly a decade later, she didn't hesitate.
U-M had announced a three-week campus residency by the RSC in March 2001, in what would be the middle of Fixel's freshman year. The Fort Lauderdale teenager promptly said goodbye to Florida's beaches and headed north to Ann Arbor.
Megan Marod's theatrical aspirations were a bit less ambitious. By her own admission, Marod, from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., was more interested in seeing "Miss Saigon" than "crazy old British people dancing around in doublets and hose." But after she saw the RSC perform "Henry VI," parts 1-3, and "Richard III" during her freshman year at Michigan, "my entire perspective on theater changed," Marod remembers. "I saw a theatrical machine at its best."
Neither she nor Fixel had any idea that before their undergraduate tenure at Michigan came to an end, both women would wind up inside the RSC's rehearsal rooms in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, learning firsthand how to direct plays.
"You dream for students like this," says Ken Fischer, director of the University Musical Society (UMS), who together with U-M launched the RSC residency program in 2001.
Scores of educational events supplement each residency, from public symposia to classroom visits and behind-the-scenes work-study opportunities for students such as Fixel and Marod.
"It has an electrifying effect on students when actors and directors come to their classes," says Ralph Williams, professor of English, an active participant in the RSC residencies.
Shortly after the first RSC residency, Fixel and Marod learned that an internship with RSC was unlikely. But the apparent impossibility of their quest only fueled their drive. Marod directed a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer of 2002. Not long after returning to Ann Arbor, she cast Fixel as Kate in a student production of "The Taming of the Shrew."
Together, they renewed their pursuit of an RSC internship. They got in touch with Fischer and Williams, and under their guidance drafted a proposal to Michael Boyd, who had just taken over as RSC artistic director. Once Boyd gave the go-ahead, Williams secured funds through the President's Office to offset the students' living and transportation costs.
What the two women proposed to Boyd was, by RSC standards, radical: They wanted to spend a summer in Stratford watching RSC directors rehearse shows.
For both women, the experience was transforming. Besides working with the assistant director and stage manager of "Richard III," Marod helped audition children for the cast, stood in for actors when they couldn't make rehearsal, attended understudy rehearsals and took movement classes and private vocal lessons with RSC staff.
Fixel began her days with yoga sessions run by an RSC movement coach, followed by eight-10 hours of rehearsal. "It was every young director's dream," she says.
Together, Marod and Fixel have led U-M, UMS and the RSC to imagine a new dimension to their partnership. Williams and Erik Fredricksen, chair of the Department of Theatre and Drama, now are working with Boyd to formalize a program through which one or two Michigan students a year will intern in Britain with the RSC. Williams expects the first internships to be offered by this summer.
In their final semester at U-M, both women directed student productions.
Fixel, 21, is applying to internship programs at several American theaters. She stays in touch with her RSC colleagues and regularly seeks their advice. Marod, 22, says she's looking for theater work.
Her eyes widen as she contemplates her future, and she pulls her fists up to her face in glee, like an infant. "I have daydreams of being Trevor Nunn," she exclaims, referring to the legendary British director, "and running the RSC at the ripe old age of 28!"