Southwest Shakespeare Company appoints new artistic director

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The Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa has a new artistic director. She is Debra Ann Byrd, she’s a native of Spanish Harlem in New York City, and she’s the founder of the Harlem Shakespeare Festival. We spoke with her about her new role, and how her background informs her work.

Byrd said she first encountered Southwest Shakespeare Company when they invited her to perform as Othello in an all-female performance, where she was impressed with how they were doing.

“I was just happy, I was happy with how good they were doing,” Byrd said. “There are a lot of Shakespeare companies across America, over 200, and when I came here I just thought, ‘this is a good one.'”

Byrd does what she can to be authentic to herself while acting.

“When I come, all of my selves show. All of my upbringing, all of the things that make me me. My spirituality, the things I learned in Black theatre, the things I learned from my father’s Hispanic culture, all of it,” Byrd said.

“I didn’t get at the time that the rhythms they were speaking with, the poetry they were speaking, was very similar to the King James Bible, and since I grew up in the church and that’s the Bible of choice,” Byrd said. “It was like, wait a minute, that sounds like Shakespeare!”

For those who don’t initially understand Shakespeare, Byrd stressed the importance of practice

“With the Bible, we practice it. It’s the same with Shakespeare it’s a language we have to learn. It’s a language that has to be pulled apart to be understood plainly,” Byrd said.

For those who take the time to learn it however, there are great experiences waiting.

“Good theatre is exciting. Good theatre is easier to understand has great music and great words and great directors and brilliant actors, and people who are willing to work together as a team, a family, a unit,” Byrd said. “It’s people coming together to tell stories, stories that can effect people’s lives.”

Debra Ann Byrd/artistic director, Southwest Shakespeare Company

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