Because of financial pressures and her own health issues, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre Artistic and Executive Director Carmen Khan has announced suspension of productions for the rest of the year, a move from its longtime home, and a refocus of the company on its education mission. This news comes despite the company achieving one of its most critically acclaimed and box-office successful seasons in its 20-year history.
"The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre is entering a metamorphosis," she wrote in a letter to her patrons. "Three forces have presented themselves in combination that we need to address": rising overhead costs and rent, institutional sources of financing "retrenching," and her own recent bout with cancer.
"If only one or two of these fresh challenges were before us, we would plunge once more into the breach," she wrote. "But with all three combined, the message is inescapable: it is time to reinvent ourselves."
The company is leaving its downtown Philadelphia home at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, which has been the theater's host for 20 years and suspending productions for this year. Although institutional sources of financing have dwindled, its individual and corporate support "is stronger than ever," Khan wrote. Regarding the cancer surgery she had last winter, "although I am cured, I need real time to exercise and recover my health and strength."
She plans to use the time as a transformational period for the company, focusing on expanding the company's "much-demanded" educational residency and tour programs. "And we will begin getting our celebrated plot charts and script analyses into publishable form, so that we can share with a wide audience the insights won during two decades of full-time study of Shakespeare's endlessly fascinating plays," she wrote. "It is a moment to pause; to look back at what's done and look forward to what's to come, as 'twere with an auspicious and a dropping eye."
With her health restored and continuing growth in individual and corporate support, Khan sees Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre returning to the public stage. "Looking forward, you can hardly imagine how much time and energy will be liberated by this transition. Fantastic possibilities are taking shape on the horizon to be announced in the future," she wrote.
Over its 20 years the theater has produced 56 plays. In addition to the patronage of Shakespeare and theater lovers, "a hundred thousand school students have arrived grumpy and wary, then departed wide-eyed, bubbling over with excitement about how 'awesome' Shakespeare is," she wrote. "I am filled with gratitude to all of you, and to the wonderful City of Brotherly Love, for welcoming me and giving me this opportunity which even many successful, lifelong theater professionals never get: the chance to really do justice to these peerless scripts; to bring them to life on the stage, swept clean of four centuries' accumulation of dust and rust; to reveal in full light all the magic and power that Shakespeare imbued them with, as bright and fresh and glorious as on the first day they opened at the Globe. It has been a great honor and a privilege."
June 18, 2016