A Celebration Of E. Katherine Kerr Announced At Playwrights Horizons
Friends, colleagues, and students of the highly regarded and much loved actor, teacher, writer, and director E. Katherine Kerr will gather on Monday, September 30, 2019, at 6:00 P.M. at Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater to celebrate her life.
Playwrights Horizons Peter Jay Sharp Theater is located at 416 West 42nd Street between 9th and Dyer Avenues, New York City.
E. Katherine Kerr (April 20, 1937-July 1, 2019) may be most widely recognized for her dramatic roles in the motion pictures Silkwood, Suspect, and Power and on the television series "All My Children", "Another World", "The Guiding Light", "One Life to Live", "Ryan's Hope", and "Law & Order". However, New York theatregoers know her best for her work Off Broadway, where Katherine earned an Obie award and Drama Desk nomination, among other accolades, for her three roles in Caryl Churchill's hit satire Cloud 9, directed by Tommy Tune, and where she created the role of Woman in the cult hit Laughing Wild, written especially for her by Christopher Durang.
Katherine was a creative force whose imagination, like her enormous heart, knew few, if any, limits. Her talents and energies were boundless. She expressed her many talents on stage, screen, and printed page. To her friends she was the dearest, most compassionate, kindest, funniest soul imaginable, always ready with accessible, practical solutions to even the seemingly most-insurmountable of dilemmas, and often with a wicked sense of humor. It would be accurate to say Katherine never met a stranger. People from all walks of life were drawn to Katherine wherever she went. She was a deeply compassionate friend to all living souls. She felt particularly strong affinity for dolphins, and spent time volunteering at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon Key, Florida.
Katherine was born Elaine Katherine Kerr, daughter of Beatrice and John Francis Kerr, and younger sister to Eloise. While in the Army during the Second World War, stationed near their Indiana home, Katherine's father died from injuries sustained in a tragic accident. Katherine was five years old at the time, and her father's sudden death would have profound impact on her. She grew up wanting to be either a nurse or a teacher, so she could help people as her physician had.
Katherine attended Indiana University, majoring in English. After completing her undergraduate studies, Katherine taught high-school English locally. In her first year as a teacher, her principal asked her to takeover leadership of the school's drama club from a retiring faculty member. Katherine decided she needed to understand acting in order to advise students in drama. So she arranged with the principal for the school to pay for her to study at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City over summer recess. The plan was she would return to Indiana in the fall to teach and advise.
But she never did. Following her summer acting classes, on a lark, she auditioned for a production of The Trojan Women to be performed at Festival of Two Worlds. When the famous motion-picture director Michael Cacoyannis (Zorba the Greek) cast her in his production of Euripedes' tragedy, Katherine was the only non-union ensemble member. The Trojan Women would fill more than two years of Katherine's life. She traveled with the production first to Spoleto, and then back to New York, to Circle in the Square. During the open-ended engagement, Katherine earned her Equity card, and was promoted twice, first from ensemble to Chorus Leader, and then to the role of Cassandra. After 600 performances Off Broadway, Katherine would again travel with The Trojan Women, touring the country, featured as Cassandra. Engagements included the Westport Country Playhouse and the Ravinia Festival.
June Havoc brought her to the New Repertory Theater of New Orleans for the two seasons she ran it. Knowing Katherine's innate gift for comedy, Havoc cast her in Luv with Richard Mulligan. But Havoc also recognized Katherine's gifts beyond the comic, and directed her as Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire, a production that resonated deeply in the city where it is set. Havoc remained a life-long friend, helping Katherine to quit smoking-which she did-and finding her her Wilton, Connecticut, home, where Katherine was prolifically creative and taught and coached hundreds of actors and performers.
Katherine's long, creative relationship with Playwrights Horizons predates its creation: In 1968 Playwrights founder Bob Moss cast Katherine and Holland Taylor in a revival of the madcap comedy Room Service at The Amateur Comedy Club. In 1979 Katherine appeared in Boo Hoo, Philip Magdalany's heist caper that inaugurated the Playwrights Main Stage on 42nd Street. The relationship continued with Katherine's unforgettably rioutous turn in the aforementioned Laughing Wild. Her dear friend Durang wrote the two-character black comedy especially for them to star and play together. In reviewing her performance in Laughing Wild in The New York Times, Frank Rich referred to Katherine as "a chic and mesmerizing figure," and observed, "This actress delivers her most hostile lines ('I wish I'd been killed when I was a fetus') with a savage, taunting bark that might make Elaine Stritch seem like a Pollyanna." Following the success of Laughing Wild, Katherine joined the faculty of Playwrights Horizons Theatre School, while maintaining a busy acting career. She returned to the Playwrights Main Stage once more for its final production, Keith Bunin's The Credeaux Canvas. She was back again to inaugurate the new Peter Jay Sharp Theater with a special performance of Laughing Wild, once again with Durang, and to appear in the first new show there, David Greenspan's She Stoops to Comedy.
Mike Nichols was so impressed by Katherine's performances in several roles filling in at the last-minute for a preproduction reading of the screenplay of Silkwood that he created the role of Gilda Schultz for her. Nichols remained a dear friend, mentor, and perennial champion of her work for the rest of his life. At the time of his death, Nichols was helping Katherine shepherd a major production of her new play about God, Intelligent Dezyne.
The actors, directors, designers, and other creatives she worked with in her long and varied career reads like a Who's Who of stage and screen. Among them are, alphabetically:
Jane Adams, Theoni V. Aldredge, Don Amendolia, Brad Anderson, Ed Asner, John Lee Beatty, Annette Bening, André Bishop, Kelly Bishop, Paul Bogart, Philip Bosco, Marshall Brickman, Betty Buckley, Carla Buono, Michael Cacoyannis, Len Cariou, Pat Carroll, Cher, Caryl Churchill, Tom Conti, Cathryn Damon, Gordon Davidson, Hope Davis, Mildred Dunnock, Christopher Durang, Gordon Edelstein, Lisa Emery, Jules Feiffer, Jules Fisher, Laurence Fishburne, Charles Fuller, George W. George, Richard Gere, Bernard Gersten, Jack Gilpin, David Greenspan, Bob Gunton, A.R. Gurney Jr., Joan Hackett, Taylor Hackford, Randa Haines, Josh Hamilton, June Havoc, Tina Howe, Daniel Hugh-Kelly, William Hurt, Zeljko Ivanek, Jim Jacobs, Phil Joanou, Jeffrey Jones, Natasha Katz, Edward Kleban, Ron Lagomarsino, Heidi Landesman, Frank Langella, Rosetta LeNoire, Jason Lewis, William Ivey Long, Santo Loquasto, Laurence Luckinbill, Sidney Lumet, Richard Maltby Jr., David Mamet, Robert Mandan, Marsha Mason, Marshall W. Mason, Marlee Matlin, Michael Mayer, Terrence McNally, Janet McTeer, Arthur Miller, Richard Mulligan, Craig T. Nelson, Lois Nettleton, Mike Nichols, Peter Nichols, Carrie Nye, Lee Pace, Joseph Papp, Annie Parisse, Estelle Parsons, Sybille Pearson, Don Pippin, Mary Kay Place, Oliver Platt, Priscilla Pointer, Faith Prince, Dennis Quaid, Aidan Quinn, Alan Rachins, Tony Roberts, Emmy Rossum, John Rubenstein, Harvey Sabinson, David Saint, Tim Sanford, Tony Shalhoub, David Shire, Casey Siemaszko, Shel Silverstein, Lee Solters, Maureen Stapleton, George Stevens Jr., David Strathairn, Meryl Streep, Ted Tally, Holland Taylor, John Tillinger, Concetta Tomei, Maria Tucci, Stanley Tucci, Tommy Tune, Robert Urich, Fred Ward, Denzel Washington, Wendy Wasserstein, Fritz Weaver, Jane White, Bruce Willis, August Wilson, George C. Wolfe, Peter Yates, Edward Zwick.
Her play Juno's Swans was developed at Ensemble Studio Theater, and was produced Off Broadway by Second Stage, directed by Marsha Mason, and featuring Betty Buckley and Mary Kay Place.
For nearly three decades, Katherine taught acting in and around New York City. She taught at Playwrights Horizons Theatre School, New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, the 42nd Street Collective, and privately. She led master classes at N.Y.U., Sarah Lawrence, Queen's College in Ontario, Canada, and the International Centre in Herstmonceux, England.
Her teaching led Katherine to design her transformational Creative Explosion to jump-start "breakthroughs in creativity and life." She regularly held Creative Explosions (two-day workshop) in New York City, Connecticut, and around the world.
The Four Principles: Applying the Four Keys of Authentic Acting to Life is Katherine's distillation of her nearly thirty years' experience guiding actors, singers, writers, and non-artists alike. The book explains the four simultanously active states that are present in successful expressions of creativity and how to use them to identify and pursue one's true heart's desires.
The Four Principles is available at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Four-Principles-Applying-Authentic-Acting/dp/0989549305/
Her legacy includes a weekly Creative Expression class held by leaders Katherine trained in The Four Principles.
In her mid-seventies, as a way to escape east-coast winter, and inspired by John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, Katherine embarked on a nearly year-long solo trip around all 48 contiguous United States in a camper van. She affectionately dubbed her van Pallas Athena. Katherine documented her adventures in a book entitled Travels with Little Elaine and The Big Whatever.
Much beloved by all who knew her, Katherine died July 1st following a brief illness. She was 82. She is survived by a grandniece, Tess Olshansky Weber, and her daughter, a great grandniece.