Photo by Ruth Morgan
DEBRA ANN BYRD
Producing Artistic Director Take Wing and Soar Productions (1999- )
Founder, Harlem Shakespeare Festival
“We can change this conversation, locally, nationally and internationally.”
Debra Ann Byrd is from Harlem. She grew up in East Harlem; has been doing theater in Harlem for 25 years as an actor, producer, production assistant and arts manager; and has received more than 20 awards and citations. A graduate of Marymount Manhattan College, in 2012 she was the first woman of Afro-Latino descent to become the founder of an international Shakespeare festival: The Harlem Shakespeare Festival.
In 1991 she founded Debra Ann Byrd Entertainment, which changed into Take Wing and Soar Productions (TWAS) in 1999. In 2001 TWAS was incorporated with an all-female board of directors and with a mission to serve women, youth and classically trained artists of color throughout New York.
“I created Take Wing and Soar Productions to make sure there were opportunities for classically trained actors of color to practice their craft. When I went to the non-traditional casting office at Equity and asked for a list or database of classical actors of color, I discovered there wasn’t one. I had also been told by some bona fide agents and by one of my senior showcase professors in college, that ‘artists of color can’t really expect to have a successful career, it just doesn’t happen.’ I knew that wasn’t right, and I set out to make some changes.” In its ten year-plus history, TWAS has produced many classical standards and audience favorites, including Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, Massinissa, Pecong, The Darker Face of the Earth, The Importance of Being Earnest and Savior. TWAS has served over 600 classically trained artists, directors, designers and technicians. The company has received five AUDELCO Awards, created the TWAS Theatre Project, TWAS Classical Lab Reading Series, the Take Wing and Soar ‘Spirit of Excellence’ Awards, and The Harlem Shakespeare Festival, an indoor/outdoor theater festival which runs from August through December and includes Shakespeare on film, master classes, workshops, staged readings and productions targeted at youth, adults and families across Harlem and beyond.
“I needed to stage these classically trained artists, because if audiences can see them in classical productions then we can change this conversation, locally, nationally and internationally.”