In the lobby of her high school auditorium after a performance of West Side Story, Christina Maxwell confessed to her parents that she found her calling – her future career.
“I remember standing on stage, singing ‘Tonight’ from that glorious score and thinking, ‘this is undoubtedly what I was created to do.’ Nothing had ever felt so right or true.”
The University of Michigan musical theatre graduate was selected as the 2016 Equity/Alan Eisenberg Award Scholarship winner. The scholarship, celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, was established in 2007 in recognition of Alan Eisenberg’s 25 years of service to Equity as its executive director. The $5,000 award is annually presented to a graduating senior from the university’s Musical Theatre Department to recognize outstanding talent and career potential.
Having taken on roles such as Maud Dunlop in The Music Man, Nella from Gianni Schicchi and Yonah in Children of Eden, the Asheville, North Carolina native still has her sights on iconic characters like Christine from Phantom, Glinda of Wicked or, as she noted, any of the Rodger & Hammerstein’s leading ladies (particularly Nellie Forbush of South Pacific).
The character Clara from The Light in the Piazza was a dream role that Maxwell got to play while attending the University of Michigan, where she was selected by Brent Wagner (chair of the theater program) to garner the scholarship.
“The Eisenberg Award has been vital in helping students make the transition from school to the profession,” Wagner said. “After four years of college tuition, this financial support has been a marvelous gift for students at a time when they need help the most.”
“It’s humbling to receive an award recognizing a student from the Musical Theatre Department that, only four years ago, I wanted to be part of more than anything,” she said.
Maxwell utilized her time at school to use her talent for service. While at Michigan, the actor founded “Music at Mott” – an outreach program that connects musical theatre students with kids at the campus’ children’s hospital. It’s this sense of service that she wants to hold close while developing her career and it’s something she admires in Equity.
“Actors’ Equity Association does so much to advocate for those working in our field,” she said. “As someone who hopes to have a long career as a performer, I trust that there will be many times when my job is made easier and more effective by the work of Equity. So, it is quite meaningful to me to receive an award from an organization and a leader whom I admire and appreciate.”
This year also marks Wagner’s retirement from the University of Michigan, where he has crafted an academic home for himself starting in 1984. He helped usher in the relationship between Equity and the university.
“Michigan’s relationship with Equity has been strong for the last 20 years,” he said. “Alan Eisenberg has come on a yearly basis – even after he retired from the union – and often brought Equity’s president with him. This has been an invaluable boon to our students, helping them to understand the union and instilling pride in its work even before they join. Before Alan’s visits, I know that this part of the profession was a real mystery to the students. Alan has truly been a fount of information and a tireless advocate for Equity.”