Melissa Chalsma is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Independent Shakespeare Co. (ISC). Under Melissa’s leadership, the company created the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival, which has grown into the largest theater event of its kind in Los Angeles. Every summer, many people who would not otherwise experience live theater have an opportunity attend productions, theater workshops and lectures, and performances by local artists. All of ISC summer events are admission-free.
Motivated by a commitment to create a theater event that truly welcomes all comers, she developed several programs designed to reach out to underserved members of our community. She spearheaded the creation of a codified diversity policy that ensures that the acting company represents many ethnicities. Additionally, under her leadership, ISC received a grant from the James Irvine Foundation that funds outreach to the Latino Company, and Latinos now represent nearly 20% of the summer Shakespeare Audience.
As a director, she strives to create a larger role for women in classical theater, often casting women in roles traditionally played by men.
Drawing on her experience as an educator, she has guided the company in the development of educational programming for schools, as well as workshops directed toward families that take place before performances in Griffith Park. She both works on curriculum, and has written and developed several performances combining Shakespeare scenes and narrative that have performed for school-age audiences.
In 2009, ISC received the Hollywood Arts Council’s Theatre Arts Charlie Award.
She directs and acts in many ISC productions. She has performed in theaters across the country, on Broadway (including the American premiere of Harold Pinter’s MOONLIGHT with Jason Robards, Blythe Danner, and Liev Schreiber) and in the UK.
In her ten years as a college faculty member she taught at Moorpark College, Pepperdine University, and California State University, Northridge.
She is married to ISC co-founder, David Melville; and is the mother of two young children, Felicity and Henry.