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New Nevada Conservatory Theatre artistic director Chris Edwards has big plans

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Chris Edwards wants to make UNLV theater a community experience.
Photo: Sam Morris
Jacob Coakley

The Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV was hit hard by the recession and massive budget cuts at the university, but it weathered the storm, and enters its 10th season with a new artistic director, Chris Edwards. He’ll lead the charge to reconceptualize theater and its place in Las Vegas culture.

“It used to be you were in competition with other theaters or the Strip. Now you’re in competition with iPads, computers, Netflix, Call of Duty,” says Edwards, his voice echoing through the Judy Bayley Theatre. “There’s a want for a communal experience here. I think people are searching for what it is.”

A Vegas local, Edwards attended Rancho High in the 1980s and graduated from UNLV. He received an MFA at the Guthrie in Minneapolis and launched an acting and directing career that most recently saw him working as the associate artistic director at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. “I’ve always been the person that wanted to pioneer or re-envision something. I find that really exciting,” he says. “I’m not saying I need to turn the apple cart over, but how are we going to make what we do resonate?”

Edwards hopes to engage with the larger community here, not just on campus. “I think UNLV may have been living a little bit on an island, he says, listing groups he’d like to see the theater interact with more: African-Americans, Latinos, the Asian community, the LGBTQ community, local artists. “I think it’s really important that a theater be a reflection of the community it’s in, and I don’t think that we’ve done a good job of doing that … We want to change that. Big time.”

Part of reaching out to those communities is clarifying “the contract” between the theater and its audiences and letting people know that when they walk into the doors of the Judy Bayley they’re entering a high-quality professional theater that stages consistently good work. “I’d love that eventually no matter what we did people want to come see it, like at the Steppenwolf [in Chicago]. “Steppenwolf does a show, I want to see it. August: Osage County—I want to see it. They do True West, I want to see it. They do Shakespeare, I want to see it.”

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