Photo Flash: Shakespeare Theatre Company Celebrates Artistic Director, Michael Kahn
On Sunday, June 16, Washington, D.C.'s theatre community gathered to celebrate the end of Michael Kahn's 33-year tenure as Artistic Director of Shakespeare Theatre Company with musical and dramatic performances, special guests from the worlds of entertainment, politics, and media, and a mayoral proclamation.
"While it was difficult to sum up a career as rich and multifaceted as Michael Kahn's," Executive Director of Shakespeare Theatre Company Chris Jennings opined, "it was easy to celebrate with so many friends who love him, so many artists who have been touched by his guidance, and so many theatregoers who have been moved by his insightful productions."
Broadway and television star Michael Urie (Torch Song, Ugly Betty), a student of Michael Kahn's at Juilliard, opened the show with the number "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience" from Stephen Sondheim's The Frogs. Urie later took the stage again with Jeffrey Carlson as the two actors reminisced about playing Shakespeare's tragic Dane in two Michael Kahn-directed productions of Hamlet, during the 2017-2018 and 2007-2008 Seasons, respectively. Carlson performed Hamlet's final soliloquy while Urie described his difficulties in staging Hamlet's death. Urie returns to the STC stage for a remount of the production at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Free For All, playing July 10-21.
Longtime collaborators and STC Affiliated Artists, such as playwright David Ives (The School for Lies, The Metromaniacs) and Helen Hayes Award-winning actor Derek Smith (1986's Romeo and Juliet, The Government Inspector) were on hand to express their admiration for Kahn, while Veanne Cox (The Beaux' Stratagem, The School for Lies) coyly sang "Shy" from Once Upon a Mattress.
Daniel Fish, director of the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of Oklahoma! and an assistant director to Michael Kahn from 1989-1993, returned to the STC stage to thank Michael for his mentorship early in his career. Rebecca Taichman, 2017 Tony-winning director of Indecent, thanked Michael via video for trusting her instincts in directing an updated The Taming of the Shrew (2007).
Former Associate and Assistant Directors of the Shakespeare Theatre Company ALEXANDER BURNS(director, playwright and the founding artistic director of Quintessence Theater Group), Stephen Brown-Fried (Chair of the New School of Drama's Directing program), Eleanor Holdridge (Chair of the Drama Department at Catholic University), Jenny Lord (Project Director at Juilliard), and DAVID MUSE (Artistic Director of Studio Theatre) joined current STC Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul to express their gratitude for the guidance Michael gave them, and for supporting their directorial visions.
In addition to fostering the nascent careers of many actors and directors, Kahn brought acclaim to Shakespeare Theatre Company by inviting eminent actors to the Folger Theatre, Lansburgh Theatre, and Sidney Harman Hall. Stacy Keach (by video) performed his playfully sinister opening monologue of Richard III, while Judith Light, Marsha Mason, and lifetime friend, playwright Terrence McNally sent their love and respect in pre-recorded videos. Richard Thomas and HARRY HAMLINboth appeared at Sidney Harman Hall to perform Shakespearean monologues. Thomas was moving in his ennobled but doomed turn as the deposed king Richard II, while Hamlin roused the audience to their feet in his stirring rendition of the "St. Crispin's Day" speech of Henry V, with broadsword in hand.
Previous Managing and Executive Directors of the Shakespeare Theatre Company JESSICA L. ANDREWS, Mary Ann DE BARBIERI, NICHOLAS GOLDSBOROUGH, and Sam Sweet joined Chris Jennings onstage in a quick repartee expressing some of the challenges and the many triumphs of their time working with Kahn at the Company, such as the regional Tony Award in 2012 or Queen Elizabeth II's visit. STC's longtime Chair of the Board of Trustees MICHAEL R. KLEIN and Michael's assistant JOE KRAEMER rounded out the current and former Shakespeare Theatre Company members who wished good cheer to Michael.
With edgy political productions of Shakespeare, and the creation of beloved events such as the annual Mock Trial, presided over by Justices of the Supreme Court, and Will on the Hill, which features Members of Congress in a comical quasi-Shakespearean play, Michael Kahn was toasted for bridging classical political theory and contemporary political practice. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd shared that she often dines with Michael to discuss what Shakespeare would have to say about contemporary politics.
MAYOR Muriel Bowser read from a Mayoral Proclamation, which celebrated Michael Kahn's "vision for and investment in the Capitol Hill and Penn Quarter neighborhoods leading to revitalized, vibrant communities, through the Company's rebirth at the Folger Theatre, its move to the historic Lansburgh Theatre, and the construction of the spectacular Sidney Harman Hall." Other distinguished D.C. luminaries, including Supreme Court Justice RUTH BADER GINSBERG, who frequently appears in the annual Mock Trial event, and beloved Chef and humanitarian JOSÉ ANDRÉS, sent their regards via video messages.
Michael Kahn's career, however, was already well-established before he moved to Washington. Kahn began his career off-off-Broadway with the original productions of playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie's War and America Hurrah, who sent a video message. Roberta Maxwell (Brokeback Mountain, Equus) and Victor Garber (Assassins, Alias) (by video) reminisced about Michael Kahn's time as Artistic Director at American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut.
In addition to Shakespeare, Michael is a devoted director of Tennessee Williams' works, ensuring the legacy of American classical drama. In his stagings, Kahn, who is openly gay, resituates Williams' cultural legacy in the American LGBTQIA literary and theatrical canon. Elizabeth Ashley (Barefoot in the Park, The Carpetbaggers) regaled the audience with her anecdotes about working with Kahn and Williams on a revised version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which garnered Ashley a Tony nomination. Ashley explained how Kahn and Williams worked to reincorporate the excised gay allusions from the previous Broadway and film adaptations of Williams' American classic. Cameron Folmar (The School for Lies) performed a selection from Williams' And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, which premiered at the Kennedy Center in a production by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in April 2004. Potomac Fever of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. sang an acapella rendition of "Over the Rainbow."
Kahn joined the Juilliard School faculty in 1968 and became the Richard Rodgers Director of Drama from 1992-2005, teaching many of America's most beloved stars of stage and screen. Patti LuPone (Evita, Gypsy), John Benjamin Hickey (The Normal Heart, The Big C) and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing, The Handmaid's Tale), all Juilliard alumni, recognized Kahn for his teaching and mentorship in video messages, and Howard University and Juilliard alumna Tracie Thoms (Rent, Cold Case) appeared onstage to sing "The Spark of Creation" from Children of Eden, accompanied by William Yanesh on piano.
Executive Director of Theatre Communication Group Teresa Eyring commended Michael on his oeuvre of directing, teaching, and contributing to American theatrical arts. A musical medley created by Michael Dansicker and featuring Rick Hammerly, Jade Jones, Maria Rizzo, Dorea Schmidt, and Jamie Smithson provided a light-hearted roasting of Kahn's early missteps in New York Theatre as well as the recurring joke that Kahn is repeatedly offered opportunities meant for British thespian Sir Patrick Stewart, while Cabaret legend Karen Akers (Nine, Grand Hotel) sang a rousing rendition of "Non, je ne regrette rien."
Kahn is also a well-regarded director of opera, and to commemorate that aspect of Kahn's career, MARK ADAMO, whose opera Lysistrata, or The Nude Goddess was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera and directed by Michael Kahn (2005), introduced soprano Lyubov Petrova. In 2011, Petrova performed as the star-crossed lover in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet at Dallas Opera, directed by Kahn, and here sang Puccini's "O mio babino caro" accompanied by pianist William Yanesh.
Playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, The Beaux' Stratagem) introduced many of STC's Affiliated Artists and several generations of actors who have graced STC stages-Helen Carey, Jeffrey Carlson, Julia Coffey, Christian Conn, Veanne Cox, COLLEEN DELANEY, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Cameron Folmar, Adam Green, Philip Goodwin, Harry Hamlin, Floyd King, Nancy Robinette, Robert Sella, Miriam Silverman, Kate Skinner, Derek Smith, Richard Thomas, Michael Urie, Andrew Veenstra, Craig Wallace, Gregory Wooddell and Hannah Yelland-to say farewell and express their love and admiration in a montage composed purely of Shakespearean lines. In an evening of celebration, laughter and memories, this was one of the most moving moments.
Looking forward to Shakespeare Theatre Company's continued success, Simon Godwin (via video) acknowledged his own debt to Kahn and promised to maintain the caliber of work in the upcoming seasons. Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul announced a new initiative: the Michael Kahn Artistic Reserve Fund. Currently halfway to its goal of $6 million dollars, the Michael Kahn Artistic Reserve Fund is not part of the operating budget for the theatre, but will be used for specific theatrical projects that may call for additional funding, safeguarding the caliber of Shakespeare Theatre Company's productions, and allowing the Company to continue to push the boundaries of classical drama for contemporary audiences.
Finally, Michael Kahn took the stage after three hours of praise of his talents and recognition of his generosity to theatre artists-and the occasional impression of his unmistakable gravelly voice. In his concise and thoughtful manner, Kahn reflected back the love and gratitude, thanking everyone for the chance to make art with them.
Photo Credit: Kevin Allen
Mayor Muriel Bowser