Erik Fredricksen, Long-Time Theatre & Drama Chair, Retires

Erik Fredricksen with Jeff Daniels at Purple Rose Theatre

Erik Fredricksen, who chaired the Department of Theatre & Drama from 1990 until 2005, years of enormous growth and change, is retiring from teaching this spring.

Erik grew up in West Virginia, heart of Appalachian coal mining, raised by his grandmother. His introduction to acting came when he was cast as the talking bob-o-link in a Hans Christian Anderson grade school play. By high school, though, teachers had begun to notice his intelligence and promise and suggested college, an as-yet unconsidered notion to the young Fredricksen. “It was either the coal mines or the army,” he had always thought.

He chose Fairmont State University, home of Alpha Psi Omega, the National Dramatics Honor Society, founded by English professor Paul F. Opp in 1923. Erik went on to earn an MA in classical rhetoric at Miami University in Oxford, OH, and an MFA at one of the League of Professional Training Schools, Ohio University, which boasted a very strong acting program under Bob Hobbs.

After school, at the firm insistence of MFA advisor Hobbs, Erik went to the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. It was through a Sir Tyrone Guthrie Fellowship that he was able to study one-on-one with Patrick “Paddy” Crean, then resident choreographer at the Stratford Theatre and one of the most influential figures in the art of modern stage combat.

That exposure would shape the course of his theatrical career. Erik is a founding member of both the Society of American Fight Directors and the Nordic Society of Theatrical Combat. “Thanks to Erik,” says the NSFC web site, “the spirit of Paddy Crean became a natural part of our organization.”

After his third season at the Guthrie, Erik moved on to acting and combat choreography residencies at theatres around the country:  Indiana Rep, The Long Wharf, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Circle-in-the-Square, Lincoln Center, The New York Shakespeare Festival under Joe Papp, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, among many others. While living in New York City, his performance in the title role of Ibsen’s Brand drew kudos from theatre critics including Clive Barnes, and won him a New York Villager Award.

In 1985, Libby Appel (BA ‘59), now Director Emerita of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, then dean of the California Institute of the Arts, invited Fredricksen to join her faculty. He accepted and headed west with his wife Janet Maylie to teach acting, movement, and stage combat, direct shows, and work as an actor and choreographer in Los Angeles and regionally.

In 1989, Paul Boylan, then SMTD dean, invited Fredericksen to Michigan to chair the Department of Theatre & Drama, which had transferred from LS&A to the School in 1984. Erik would end up chairing that department from 1990 to 2005. During his tenure, great strides were made in several arenas:  establishing key endowed theatre scholarships; shepherding the department through a rigorous external review; and creating—and helping develop recruiting for—newly created BFAs in performance and production & design.

“I needed to find someone who could structure these programs with integrity and rigor,” says Boylan. “I also needed someone to assist in the identification and recruitment of a skilled faculty to lead this program. The success of our theater program is due to the terrific leadership Erik provided when the program was getting up and running. I can hardly thank him enough.”

Fredericksen was also key in getting the Department of Theatre & Drama out of the Frieze Building, its long-time home, in ever increasing disrepair over the years. A proposal for a new Arthur Miller Theatre and seed money from Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. were in place, but had been tabled, due mostly to escalating costs. “When Karen Wolff was brought in,” Fredricksen says, “the project got back on track.” The Department of Theatre & Drama moved into the Walgreen Drama Center in 2007.

“Working with Erik was one of the great pleasures of my tenure as dean,” says Wolff, dean from 2000 to 2005. “He represented his faculty so well. When I came to Michigan, the theatre faculty were demoralized about the state of their facilities and doubted very much that things were ever going to change. Erik helped me convince them to plan for a better day, even though I think he sometimes doubted it too. Still, he did everything that was asked of him, writing an assessment of the program, handling an outside evaluation, and staying with the building planning process until the very end. The Walgreen Drama Center is a tribute to his gentlemanly tenacity and passion for his art.”

“Erik is pure gold and I know how he will be missed when he heads into his well-deserved retirement.”