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Debra Ann Byrd.

Southwest Shakespeare Names Debra Ann Byrd Its New Artistic Director

The Harlem native, a classically trained actor and producer, will take the reins of the Arizona theatre company.

PHOENIX: Southwest Shakespeare Company has named Debra Ann Byrd to be the company’s new artistic director. A native of Spanish Harlem in New York City, Byrd is the founder of Harlem Shakespeare Festival and an award-winning, classically trained actress and producer.

“My mother is an African American from New York; my father from Puerto Rico,” said Byrd in a statement. “My dual culture has influenced how I view the world and how I make theatre. I am an Afro-Latina who is fluent in Black theatre, gospel theatre, and classical theatre, with a special emphasis on Shakespeare, all of which has helped shape who I am as a producer, actor, and director…I look forward to working with the Southwest Shakespeare team as we strive to make great theatre for Arizona and the Southwest.”

“This is a great moment for the Southwest Shakespeare Company,” said Mary Way, executive director of Southwest Shakespeare Company, in a statement. “We have worked with Debra Ann as artist-in-residence for three years. She brings a skill set and advanced industry experience…She is thoroughly decorated, and its an asset to our education mission to have an artist share both the Latin and African American experience with our community.”

Byrd, who began in the new position on Jan. 1, is an emerging playwright and scholar best known for an acclaimed one-woman theatrical drama, Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey, which she has performed at Shakespeare & Company and Lincoln Center. Byrd has been named writer-in-residence at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, artist-in-residence fellow at the Folger Institute, an A’Lelia Bundles Community Scholar at Columbia University, and a virtual artist-in-residence at the Center at West Park. She is also the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Sidney Berger Award, presented to her by the Shakespeare Theatre Association for her work on behalf of the work of Shakespeare.

The Southwest Shakespeare Company is currently performing at the Mesa Arts Center and Taliesin West.

Founded in 1993, Southwest Shakespeare Company has had as its mission to educate, elevate, entertain, and inspire the communities of the Southwest.

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