Michael Kahn is the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. From 1992-2006, he was the Richard Rodgers Director of the Drama Division of the Juilliard School, where he has been a leading member of the faculty since its founding in 1968.
From Off-Off-Broadway to Off-Broadway to Broadway and Opera
Kahn began his career off-off-Broadway with the original production of Jean-Claude van Itallie’s War and American Hurrah. He then directed Adrienne Kennedy’s Obie-winning Funnyhouse of a Negro, produced by Edward Albee. This led to his staging of Measure for Measure in Central Park for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, for which he won the Saturday Review Award as Best Director of a Revival and the first of three Vernon Rice Award nominations that same season—the others for Lanford Wilson’s Obie-winner The Rimers of Eldritch and Three by Thornton Wilder—both under the production auspices of Edward Albee, Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder.
Kahn’s work was first represented on Broadway when he took over the direction of The Freaking Out of Stephanie Blake with Jean Arthur. Further Broadway credits include Showboat with Donald O’Connor, for which Kahn received a Tony nomination; Whodunnit with George Hearn, Fred Gwynne and Hermione Baddeley; The Death of Bessie Smith with Rosemary Murphy at the Billy Rose as part of a Beckett-Albee season; and Here’s Where I Belong, the musical version of East of Eden with Paul Rodgers and Walter McGinn. Also in New York he directed Susannah York in Hedda Gabler at the Roundabout, Flux at Second Stage, the American premiere of Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Senorita from Tacna at Intar, and the world premiere of Sleep Deprivation Chamber by Adrienne Kennedy at Signature Theater Company. Kahn directed a revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Elizabeth Ashley, which began as part of the summer repertory season at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn. Also, Kahn’s American Shakespeare Theatre productions of Othello and Henry V (with Len Cariou) were transferred to Broadway. Night of the Tribades, which Kahn originally staged at the McCarter Theatre, moved to Broadway with Max von Sydow (in his American stage debut), Bibi Andersson and Eileen Atkins.
His highly successful work in opera includes Lysistrata or The Nude Godess for Houston Grand Opera and New York City Opera; Vanessa for Washington Opera and Dallas Opera; Showboat for Houston Grand Opera, which then represented the United States in the inaugural season of the National Cultural Center Opera House in Cairo, Egypt; a new production of Carmen for the Houston Grand Opera and Washington Opera; and Handel’s Julius Caesar for the San Francisco Spring Opera. He directed Carousel for the Greater Miami Opera and was the Artistic Director for Texas Opera Theatre’s One Aria Opera Project.
Kahn’s numerous regional credits include the inaugural production of Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s new theatre; Harold Pinter’s Old Times at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, for which he won a MacArthur Award; Sam Shepard’s The Tooth of Crime, also at the Goodman and for which he was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award; Antony and Cleopatra with Diana Sands, Robert Lansing and Daniel J. Travanti for Los Angeles’ Free Shakespeare in the Park; Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Shubert Theatre in Boston with José Ferrer, Kate Reid and Len Cariou; ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the American Repertory Theatre; The Duchess of Malfi at the Guthrie Theater; and the world premiere of Otabenga at Signature Theatre in Virginia. For radio Kahn has directed The Devil’s Disciple, in partnership with Voice of America, The Smithsonian Associates and L.A. Theatre Works, with actors Richard Dreyfuss, Pat Carroll and Derek Smith.
Artistic Director of the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut
Appointed Artistic Director in 1969, Kahn then staged The Merchant of Venice with Morris Carnovsky at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Conn. Among the 20 productions he directed for the American Shakespeare Theatre are Richard II with Donald Madden, the “rock-and-roll” Love’s Labor’s Lost, the “anti-war” Henry V with Len Cariou (which moved to Broadway), The Three Sisters with Kate Reid, Brian Bedford and Marian Seldes, All’s Well That Ends Well with Roberta Maxwell and Eva Le Gallienne, Othello with Moses Gunn (which also transferred to Broadway), the first major revival of Mourning Becomes Electra with Sada Thompson and Jane Alexander (recorded by Caedmon Records), Romeo and Juliet with David Birney and Roberta Maxwell, Macbeth with Fritz Weaver and Rosemary Murphy, and Measure for Measure. The last two transferred to the Kennedy Center, along with Kahn’s acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ new version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea, Fred Gwynne and Kate Reid, which broke box office records following a highly successful run on Broadway that garnered a Tony nomination for Ms. Ashley. Meanwhile, Kahn returned to Stratford to stage Our Town with Fred Gwynne, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Eileen Heckart and Kate Mulgrew, The Winter’s Tale with Donald Madden, The Crucible with Don Murray, and As You Like It with Eileen Atkins and George Hearn.
Producing Director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey
Appointed Producing Director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., in 1974, he proved his unique ability to lead two major theatrical institutions simultaneously. The McCarter achieved national prominence with his productions of O’Neill’s Beyond the Horizon, which he filmed for PBS’ Theatre in America series; ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, for which he won the New Jersey Critic’s Award and which toured to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre; Mother Courage with Eileen Heckart, which won him the Daily News Critic’s Citation; the premiere of A Grave Undertaking with Pat Hingle and Chris Sarandon; The Heiress with Maria Tucci, for which he won a second New Jersey Critic’s Award ; A Streetcar Named Desire with Shirley Knight and Glenn Close; the world premiere of Sam Shepard’s Angel City ; The Torchbearers with Peggy Cass; and A Month in the Country with Tammy Grimes and Amanda Plummer, which then played a season at the Roundabout Theatre in New York. He directed the American premiere of Night of the Tribades at the McCarter, which was restaged for Broadway with Max von Sydow (in his American stage debut), Bibi Andersson and Eileen Atkins. Mariette Hartley returned to the stage for his final production at the McCarter, the world premiere of Anne Commire’s Put Them All Together.
The Chautauqua Conservatory and The Acting Company
Kahn was invited to The Chautauqua Institute to create an acting training program with a professional theatre company component. He headed The Chautauqua Conservatory for five years and directed The Glass Menagerie with Tom Hulce, Melissa Gilbert and Teresa Wright as well as Key Exchange with Jennifer Beals and Anthony Edwards. At the same time, he was one of two master acting teachers at the Circle in the Square Theatre School — a post he held for eight years. He served as Artistic Director of The Acting Company from 1978-1988. There he directed the celebrated off-Broadway production of 10 Tennessee Williams one-act plays titled Ten by Tennessee, which he reprised for the 1987-88 touring season as Five by Tenn. Another version of this production opened at the Taganka Theatre in Moscow in November 1990 and toured in the Soviet Union and countries in Eastern Europe. Other credits for The Acting Company include Women Beware Women, The White Devil, The Merry Wives of Windsor and A New Way to Pay Old Debts.
Moving to Washington, D.C.’s Folger Library
In 1986, shortly after The Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger was formed as a newly incorporated, not-for-profit institution separate from the Folger Shakespeare Library, Kahn became Artistic Director and guided the theatre into national prominence. In his first three seasons, he directed landmark productions of Romeo and Juliet, for which he received a Helen Hayes Award nomination, The Winter’s Tale, All’s Well That Ends Well (Helen Hayes nomination), Macbeth (Helen Hayes nomination), Antony and Cleopatra and As You Like It. Kahn won his first Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Director for Twelfth Night, featuring Kelly McGillis. In 1990-91 he directed Richard III (Helen Hayes nomination) with Stacy Keach and King Lear with Fritz Weaver.
Moving The Shakespeare Theatre to the Lansburgh
In March 1992, after an association of 21 years, The Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger became simply The Shakespeare Theatre with its move to the new 451-seat theatre in the Lansburgh building in downtown Washington, D.C. Kahn directed the inaugural production, Much Ado About Nothing, with Kelly McGillis and David Selby, and continued with acclaimed productions of Measure for Measure with Kelly McGillis and Keith Baxter, Hamlet with Tom Hulce (the 100th production directed by Kahn) and Mother Courage and Her Children, with Pat Carroll. Kahn received Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Director for both Hamlet and Mother Courage. With the 1993-94 season, Kahn began his cycle of Shakespeare’s histories directing Richard II, with Richard Thomas, followed by Shaw’s The Doctor’s Dilemma. He continued his exploration of the histories with his epic adaptation of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, for which he won his fourth Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Director. The 1995-96 season marked Kahn’s 10th anniversary with The Shakespeare Theatre and featured his production of Henry V (Helen Hayes nomination) with Harry Hamlin. Kahn followed with Ben Jonson’s Volpone (Helen Hayes nomination) with Pat Carroll as the male lead, and the 1996-97 season opener Henry VI, his stunning single-evening adaptation of Parts 1, 2 and 3, for which he won his fifth Helen Hayes Award for direction. Kahn finished the 1996-97 mainstage season with his production of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra, with Kelly McGillis as Lavinia, the first modern American classic performed at The Shakespeare Theatre. In spring 1998, Kahn directed Henrik Ibsen’s phantasmagoric masterpiece Peer Gynt, followed by Tennessee Williams’ haunting, violent meditation on aging and celebrity, Sweet Bird of Youth, featuring Elizabeth Ashley and Michael Hayden. During the 1998-99 season, Michael Kahn directed three shows at The Shakespeare Theatre: Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, featuring Dixie Carter as Mrs. Arbuthnot; the Washington premiere of Shakespeare’s rarely produced King John ; and the season’s closer, The Merchant of Venice featuring Hal Holbrook as Shylock. The 1999-2000 season opened with Kahn’s psychological, apocalyptic production of King Lear. In January of 2000, Kahn’s production of Coriolanus opened, followed by his production of Tennessee Williams’s Camino Real, which opened in May, and the June remount of his Merchant at the Free For All. For the 2000-2001 season, he directed the Washington, D.C., premiere of Timon of Athens, Schiller’s Don Carlos (Helen Hayes nomination) and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler with Judith Light. The 2001-2002 season opened with Kahn directing Nicholas Rudall’s new adaptation of Sophocles’ Theban Trilogy, The Oedipus Plays, with Avery Brooks as Oedipus. Next he directed Kelly McGillis in the title role as The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster. The 2002-2003 season began with Kahn directing William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale featuring Helen Hayes Award-winners Philip Goodwin as Leontes and Tana Hicken as Paulina. Later in the season, he directed the Washington, D.C., premiere of Ben Jonson’s stunning farce The Silent Woman, which became one of the most critically and popularly acclaimed productions of the Theatre’s history. The 2003-2004 season began with Kahn and the cast of The Oedipus Plays traveling to the prestigious 2003 Athens Festival in Greece for a series of performances. In spring of 2004, Kahn directed an evening of one-acts titled Five By Tenn as part of the Tennessee Williams Explored festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The season ended with Kahn directing a new adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac by Barry Kornhauser, a production that won Helen Hayes Awards for both Outstanding Director and Outstanding Resident Play. The 2004-2005 season began with Kahn directing Kelly McGillis in Macbeth. Kahn then staged an evening of Tennessee William one-acts, titled Four by Tenn, at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Four by Tenn grew out of The Shakespeare Theatre’s production Five by Tenn, which was part of the Kennedy Center ‘s Tennessee Williams Festival in 2004. In January 2005, Kahn directed the Washington professional premiere of Alfred de Musset’s French Romantic classic Lorenzaccio. Kahn opened the 2005-2006 season with Othello, featuring Avery Brooks and Patrick Page. The season ended with Kahn’s 1960s-inspired production of Love’s Labor’s Lost, which traveled to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in August 2006. During the 2006-2007 season, Kahn directed the world-premiere of a new adaptation of George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem. In January, he directed Geraint Wyn Davies in the title role of Richard III. The season ended with Kahn’s production of Hamlet, featuring Jeffrey Carlson in the title role. Also in 2007, Kahn curated the Shakespeare in Washington celebration, a six-month citywide presentation of theatre, music, dance, art and film presented by more than 40 arts organizations. His production of Richard III and Hamlet were both part of the festival.
The Opening of Sidney Harman Hall and the Harman Center for the Arts
In October 2007, the Shakespeare Theatre Company entered a new era with the opening of the 774-seat Sidney Harman Hall and the creation of the Harman Center for the Arts. Comprising the existing Lansburgh Theatre (Seventh and E streets NW) and the new Sidney Harman Hall (Sixth and F streets NW), the Center is a 21st-century expanded stage for the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Washington’s performing arts community. For the inaugural production in Harman Hall, Kahn directed a new adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, featuring Avery Brooks in the title role. The production ran in repertory with Marlowe’s Edward II, directed by Gale Edwards. In the spring and summer of 2008, Kahn directed Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, featuring Suzanne Bertish as the Egyptian Queen. Antony and Cleopatra ran in repertory with Julius Caesar, directed by David Muse.
Shakespeare Theatre Company Free For All
In the summer of 1991, Kahn inaugurated The Shakespeare Theatre Free For All with a revival of The Merry Wives of Windsor with Paul Winfield, which was seen free of charge by an audience of more than 30,000 people at Carter Barron Amphitheatre. During the past 17 years, the Shakespeare Theatre Company Free For All has presented Kahn’s revivals of As You Like It with Sabrina LeBeauf, Much Ado about Nothing, The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night with Kelly McGillis, which played to a record-breaking audience of 50,547 during its two-week run, Measure for Measure, Henry V featuring Harry Hamlin, All’s Well That Ends Well featuring Sabrina LeBeauf, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, Love’s Labor’s Lost and Hamlet. Over the past 17 years, close to 500,000 Washington-area residents have attended productions at the Free For All.
In 2008, Kahn announced that the Free For All will move from its previous location at Carter Barron Amphitheatre to Sidney Harman Hall. The move will increase the Metroaccessibility of the event, prevent weather-related cancellations and delays, and allow the Shakespeare Theatre Company to maintain the artistic integrity of Free For All productions thanks to the stateof- the-art capabilities of Sidney Harman Hall. The inaugural Free For All production at Sidney Harman Hall was a restaging of The Taming of the Shrew, in September 2009.
Training America’s Classical Actors
In 2000, Michael Kahn and the Shakespeare Theatre Company, in conjunction with The George Washington University, launched a Master of Fine Arts program to develop actors for the classical theatre. Academy for Classical Acting (ACA) is a one-year intensive graduate program that focuses on the specific craft of acting Shakespeare and other classical texts.
In addition, he has been on the faculties of New York University Graduate School of the Arts, the Circle in the Square Theatre School and Princeton University. His reputation as an acting teacher is confirmed by the careers of former students, including William Hurt, Laura Linney, Harvey Keitel, Val Kilmer, Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Kelly McGillis, Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams. Kahn, born in Brooklyn, attended New York ‘s High School for the Performing Arts. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia College of Columbia University and an Honorary D.D.L. from Kean College.