Christopher V. Edwards is the new artistic director of Actors’ Shakespeare Project, the Somerville-based theater company announced Thursday night at a party for its supporters.
Edwards comes to ASP from the Nevada Conservatory Theatre, the professional theater training program of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. There he produced more than 25 plays and directed five, including “As You Like It” and “The Bomb-itty of Errors,” a hip-hop retelling of Shakespeare’s early play.
That’s the kind of work Edwards says he’s interested in producing with ASP, in order to expand both the work on stage and the audiences watching it, in such dimensions as race, gender, sexuality, disability and political points of view.
“One of the major ways to do that, I believe, is to let people see themselves in the work,” Edwards said in a phone interview.
Reasoning that people are more interested in a play when a production helps them identify with the themes and characters, Edwards said he plans to find ways to tell stories that reflect Boston’s communities and concerns. And, while he loves Shakespeare, he’d also like to broaden the definition of classical texts to include playwrights from other cultures. ASP has produced works by some other playwrights, including living ones, but its focus remains on Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
Diversifying audiences can pose a challenge for classical theater companies, Edwards noted, but he said he’s excited by the challenge. And he thinks Shakespeare can do some of the work himself.
“Part of what is incredible about Shakespeare,” Edwards said, is “that some words that were written 400 years ago still resonate,” as evidenced by the recent controversy when a New York production featured a Trump-like Julius Caesar. Edwards sees it as one duty of the arts to comment on the current political climate. But, he said, Shakespeare’s own words can make the point without resorting to such blunt production choices.
Edwards plans to start work in August, taking the reins from interim directors Paula Plum and Maurice Emmanuel Parent, who are both members of ASP’s resident acting company. They've been filling in since Allyn Burrows left to head Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, but both decided they'd rather continue as actors rather than become artistic directors. Founded by Plum and others in 2004, ASP produces plays in a variety of local venues, as well as offering extensive youth and education programs.
In addition to his work in Nevada, Edwards spent 14 years with the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, where he served as associate artistic director, director of the education and apprentice training program and a company member. He has also worked as an actor, educator and fight director.
Given that background, ASP Executive Producer Kimberly Dawson said, company members didn’t think Edwards was the right fit for ASP — they knew he was.
“It was unanimous,” Dawson said in a phone interview, “that he was the right match for us.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Kimberly Dawson's title.
This article was originally published on June 22, 2017.