Q: You have been Artistic Director here at The Shakespeare Theatre since 1986 and have spearheaded a number of significant changes leading to the steadily increasing national reputation of the theatre. What do you foresee as major challenges to address in the next decade?
MK: To be a great classical theatre, we should provide experiences that no other theatre in America can provide. We should continue to produce innovative and illuminating productions of classical works including those plays that people rarely get to experience. A great classical theatre should measure itself not only on how well it can do Macbeth and Hamlet , but also on how well it can do Timon of Athens , Volpone , Henry VI and Peer Gynt .
We also need to have continuous senses of occasion--ones that will draw a local as well as a national audience to us. Perhaps it's very good that we are doing Henry VI in one evening; but how much more exciting it would be if we were to do Henry VI complete, all in one day, or parts one, two and three over a weekend or the Oresteia . These are events that could draw Shakespeare lovers from far away.
Q: Shakespeare Theatre audiences have enjoyed appearances by a number of guest artists of national as well as international renown. But the caliber of the core company that you have developed has grown tremendously as well.
MK: It has been gratifying to watch our company of actors deepen and expand over the past decade. To be a great classical theatre, everyone on stage has to be truly gifted and must act with authority and skill.
Looking into the future, I wonder where the next generation of classically trained actors will come from. Who teaches this? Juilliard* does, but only 16 students graduate each year, pursuing a variety of options in theatre, television and film.
There are other training programs but none really gives the actors concentrated time in classical theatre--Shakespeare, Shaw, Moliere--plays of language, plays of style. This is of great concern to me as I look at the future of The Shakespeare Theatre, and also at the future of classical theatre across the country.
Q: Lengthy and detailed articles have appeared recently in the major press cautioning arts institutions about the "greying" of the American arts audience. How are you addressing the development of an audience of the future for Shakespeare and the classics?
MK: We are deeply committed to the partnerships our education department has developed with area public schools. Over the past decade, we have been able to provide exposure to Shakespeare for hundreds of thousands of area students through programs such as Text Alive! and the Young Company.
The Shakespeare Theatre Free For All has helped us attract a significantly younger audience to Shakespeare. It's free and many young people--students, recent graduates, young families--just can't afford to go to the theatre. I am hopeful that, if these audiences have a positive first experience with Shakespeare, they will return and make theatre going a regular part of their lives. We are committed to continuing the Free For All, but every year the staff must raise an additional $500,000, virtually from scratch. Permanent funding needs to be secured to sustain the Free For All for all audiences.
We have another unique challenge and that is to develop an audience for the classics beyond Shakespeare. We feel it is meaningful for this theatre to illuminate plays that people do not know such as Volpone , but to do lesser known classical plays will require a much more significant effort to bring an audience along with us.
Q: Given the rather precarious nature of funding for the arts in general, and the continued demise of federal and other government arts resources, what unique financial challenges does the theatre face?
MK: I am proud that we have successfully balanced our budget for the past eight years, and we currently have a $500,000 cash reserve. But we have a minuscule endowment fund--nothing to begin to address the scope and scale of ensuring the artistic integrity of the theatre and the future of the Free For All. Shakespeare's scope, breadth and majesty are expensive to produce. Henry VI , for example, features 34 actors playing 143 roles, wearing 221 costumes. A record number of subscribers--15,500--are joining us this season, representing more than two million dollars of revenue. Yet, ticket sales account for only fifty percent of our annual six million dollar operating budget. The balance is raised, each year, from more than 300 corporations, foundations and organizations and more than 5,000 individuals. I am extraordinarily grateful for the successes we have achieved during the past ten years. And as I look ahead to the next ten years, I do so with the assurance that we have a strong and loyal audience of subscribers and supporters, who share my vision for the future of The Shakespeare Theatre.
*Michael Kahn is Director of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School in New York City.
About Michael Kahn
Since his appointment as Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Theatre in 1986, Mr. Kahn has directed landmark productions of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, The Winter's Tale, All's Well That Ends Well, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It, Twelfth Night (Helen Hayes Award for Best Director), The Merry Wives of Windsor with actress Pat Carroll, Richard III with Stacy Keach in the title role, and Much Ado About Nothing and Measure for Measure with Kelly McGillis. His production of Hamlet with Tom Hulce in 1992 marked his 100th production and earned four Helen Hayes Awards, including awards for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Resident Production. Mr. Kahn also directed Richard II with Richard Thomas in the title role and Mother Courage and Her Children with Pat Carroll, which earned two Helen Hayes Awards, including Outstanding Director. The 1994-95 season opened with Mr. Kahn's adaptation of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 for which he received his fourth Helen Hayes Award. Last season, he continued his exploration of the histories with his acclaimed Henry V with Harry Hamlin in the title role, and he welcomed Pat Carroll's return to The Shakespeare Theatre in Ben Jonson's Volpone .
Mr. Kahn is the Director of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School and has been on the faculty since its inception. He has also served on the faculties of New York University's Graduate School of the Arts, Circle in the Square Theatre School, and Princeton University. Mr. Kahn was Artistic Director of: The American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut for 10 years; The McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey for 5 seasons; and The Acting Company.
Among Mr. Kahn's Broadway credits are Henry V, Othello, Showboat (Tony nomination), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Elizabeth Ashley (both also at the Kennedy Center), Whodunnit, Night of the Tribades with Max von Sydow, Death of Bessie Smith , and Here's Where I Belong . He recently directed Otabenga , a world premiere by John Strand, for the Signature Theatre and Vanessa for the Dallas Opera and The Washington Opera. His Off-Broadway productions include Sleep Deprivation Chamber , Funny House of a Negro, Rimers of Eldritch, Three by Thornton Wilder, A Month in the Country, Hedda Gabler , Vargas Llosa's The Senorita from Tacna , and for the New York Shakespeare Festival, Measure for Measure (Saturday Review Award). He is the recipient of the John Houseman Award for his commitment to and development of young American actors.