In a person’s lifetime, achieving 150 of anything is unusual. So when you factor in the countless hours, mental energy and physical endurance that go into directing just one classical theatre production, it makes Michael Kahn’s achievement of directing 150 shows throughout his career truly exceptional.
This celebration of Kahn’s 150th production should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with his long-term dedication to classic theatre. In 1992, Kahn’s direction of Tom Hulce as the title character in Hamlet marked his 100th production and was one of the first performed at the Lansburgh Theatre. Now, 17 years later, Kahn and the rest of the Shakespeare Theatre Company are excited to celebrate with The Alchemist, the company’s 2009-2010 season opener.
With The Alchemist, Kahn revisits the English Renaissance playwright Ben Jonson for the third time. Kahn previously directed two of Jonson’s plays, Volpone in 1996 and The Silent Woman in 2003, both at the Lansburgh Theatre.
As artistic director of STC, Kahn has also worked with many guest directors. “Beyond his own 150 productions, most audiences can’t know how helpful he has been to guest directors,” actress Helen Carey said. “He is always there after a dress rehearsal offering support and clarity to the director, always working to make each production as good as it can be.”
Since the early 1960s, Kahn has directed at theatres across the country and the world: in New York City, both on Broadway and Off-Broadway, as well as at the American Shakespeare Theatre, the Goodman Theatre and the McCarter Theatre. Kahn was the Richard Rodgers Director of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School from 1992-2006, where he has been a leading faculty member since 1968. Through these and other artistic relationships, Kahn has created an immense reputation for himself and the quality of classic work he produces.
Ultimately settling in Washington, DC, nearly 50 of Kahn’s productions have been at STC, and half have been produced in the DC area. This deep saturation in the nation’s capital has given Kahn a better understanding for what this city’s audiences expect and enjoy.
In 1989, Kahn invited Sabrina LeBeauf to read the part of Rosalind in a casting symposium for As You Like It. “Michael wanted to bring Shakespeare to a wider and more diversified DC audience and thought that my presence, here, could help to accomplish that,” LeBeauf said of the show’s non-traditional casting.
For Andrew Long, who has performed in 15 of Kahn’s productions, one of his favorites was his first show with Kahn, Henry VI. “Not only was it a wonderful production but it was a great experience for me to see such a hugely talented company of actors working their tails off to do their best work every minute of every rehearsal. That is what Michael expects of you. And it plays an integral part in the great success of his shows.”
Kahn’s history of success and dedication to this art form bodes well for his future. “One hundred and fifty productions and he’s better than ever,” affirmed Ted van Griethuysen, whose extensive career has enabled him to work with Kahn more than any other director. “In the truest way, he becomes more avant garde with every year, for with every year he gets deeper and closer and freer with the very beginnings of Shakespeare.”
“He is innovative without being fake; he has the splendid appetite of a man who loves his craft. He is not ashamed of a big crowd-pleasing showbiz moment, but he equally guards and nourishes the tenderest nuances in the text.” Keith Baxter reflects on Kahn’s artistic integrity.
“He seemed to relish the role of conductor, shaping the various ideas we brought to rehearsal—using some, banishing others. ‘I like that but use it here, not there.’ We all had a giddy time in an atmosphere of controlled insanity! I think Michael did as well.” Helen Carey, who performed under Kahn’s direction in Volpone.
“I’m keen on working with Michael because he has high expectations of everyone on a production, and it always feels good to know that bringing your best to any endeavor—whether spotlighted or seemingly in the background—is noticed and valued.” Colleen Delany, who most recently performed in Kahn’s The Way of the World.
“Working with Michael Kahn on Love’s Labor’s Lost [performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in England] is probably the highlight of my career and I am forever grateful that he gave me that opportunity. Now I can die happy!” Sabrina LeBeauf on Kahn’s production of Love’s Labor’s Lost.
“His work ethic is relentless. He is consumed by the play he is working on. His skill as a storyteller is the best I have ever shared a rehearsal room with; that is why I covet working with Michael and why I hope to continue to do so.” Andrew Long on working with Kahn.
“He put the ground under my feet and gave me the freedom to fly. I would love to do Lear again some day, but if the chance doesn’t come, I would be happy to rest with ours.” Ted van Griethuysen about his performance as the title role in Kahn’s King Lear.