Passings: John C. Edwards

Emeritus professor of theatre passes away

Thursday, September 20, 2018
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1962 photo of theatre professor Gil Davenport, John Edwards and Joseph Batcheller

Theatre professors and colleagues Gil Davenport, John Edwards (center) and Joseph Batcheller in 1962.

John C. Edwards, emeritus professor of theatre, passed away on Sept. 13, 2018. The following was written in tribute by David Richman, professor of theatre and dance. 

One of John's best students, now an accomplished professional actor and writer,  remarked that John's classes were always infused by his own special sense of mischief. As I think about John Edwards as friend, colleague, brilliant theatre practitioner, I note how apt that word is for him. 

Like every superior artist, John was a maker of mischief — so much so that I cannot repeat in this space most of the best stories about his work. To appropriate one of John's favorite lines from Shakespeare: "I have wounds to show you, which shall be yours in private."

What I can say is that John exercised enormous influence on generations of students of theatre at UNH, where he taught from 1961 to his retirement in 1996. Long after his retirement, he continued to work on shows at UNH and elsewhere. Northwestern, where he got his Ph.D., taught him the difficult art of what in those days was called "chamber theatre," the adaptation into theatrical form of works in other genres. He staged "Moby Dick," Voltaire's "Candide" and most notably a play called "Temptations," based on Chekhov's short stories, and stunningly Kafka's "The Trial," a production he staged professionally after his retirement. 

John was also a superb practitioner of clear and passionate speaking, especially verse speaking, in the theatre. Every time I work on a verse play, I think of John. I remember as if it were yesterday his 1991 production of "The Oresteia" in the Tony Harrison version. I remember his insistence on those pounding four-beat lines.

Generations of his students have gone on to distinguish themselves as actors, directors and writers. One of them, Mike O'Malley, has endowed both a John Edwards scholarship and the continuing series of Undergraduate Prize Plays that are annually given in John's name. 

"Remember me," commands the ghost in Hamlet. John knew well that it is for us the living always to remember those who have gone before — so that our predecessors and teachers become a part of us as we carry forward their good work in the world. 

When this year's Undergraduate Prize Plays are staged we will remember John Edwards. Those of us who knew and worked with him, who treasured and treasure his friendship, will remember him always. 

Read Professor Edwards' obituary.