Michael Kahn will retire as artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) in July 2019 after 30 years with the Washington, D.C., theater company. A national search for Kahn’s successor will begin in 2017. His successor will be announced in July 2018 and will work closely with Kahn to plan the theater's 2019–2020 season.
Kahn joined STC in 1986 with his inaugural production of Romeo and Juliet, which played to sold-out houses and earned Kahn a Helen Hayes Award nomination for best director. Throughout his 30-year tenure he has been integral in the theater’s growth and development, positioning it as one of the nation’s leading classical theaters.
“From the day I arrived in Washington, I have been determined to make this city a destination for lovers of theater and performing arts," Kahn said in a press release. "I wanted to make STC accessible to all and introduce new audiences to classic theater. Thanks to the work of many great artists and collaborators, I believe I’ve achieved these goals. After three fruitful and challenging decades, I feel it’s time to step down and let a new energy and creative talent take the Shakespeare Theatre Company into the next era.” A full transcript of his message to patrons is below.
Kahn has devoted his time at STC to expanding Washington’s performing arts scene and remains committed to delivering first-rate accessible theater to the city’s diverse community. In March 1992, after an association of 21 years, Kahn moved the theater from the Folger Shakespeare Library to the new 451-seat theater in the Lansburgh building in Penn Quarter. In October 2007, the Shakespeare Theatre Company opened the 774-seat Sidney Harman Hall and created the Harman Center for the Arts. Combining the existing Lansburgh Theatre and the new Sidney Harman Hall, Kahn was able to realize his vision for a 21st-century theater, which was reinforced when, in 2012, the company received the Regional Theater Tony Award.
In 1991 Kahn created the annual Free For All, which has since brought free Shakespeare Theatre Company productions to more than 679,000 people. In 2012, he reaffirmed his commitment to young people by launching District Shakespeare, an initiative that provides every public high school student in the District of Columbia with a ticket to each STC production, thus providing them with the opportunity to experience the timeless themes and language of Shakespeare in live performance. When the Text Alive! program launched in 1990, the company went into the classrooms and introduced a new generation to live theater by inviting students onto the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s stage to present their own perspective on Shakespeare’s most familiar texts.
Kahn’s ability to adapt classic works is legendary in the theater community. In 2003, the Company performed his production of The Oedipus Plays at the Athens Festival in Greece, where it received standing ovations and critical acclaim. In summer of 2006, the Company took Kahn’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Complete Works Festival” in Stratford-upon-Avon. In May 2016 the Free For All 25th Anniversary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Ethan McSweeny, travelled to Macao, China, to perform Shakespeare’s iconic comedy at the 27th annual celebration of the Macao Arts Festival. From the beginning Kahn has placed the Company at the forefront of a national movement toward nontraditional casting with its Actors of Color Workshop and its own casting practices.
In addition to leading STC, Kahn is also the founder of the Academy for Classical Acting at George Washington University, which has helped develop and disseminate a uniquely American style of classical acting bearing Kahn’s imprint. He is the former Richard Rodgers Director of the Drama Division at Juilliard, and still teaches at the school.
During his tenure Kahn has been recognized for his outstanding commitment to the arts. In 2013 he was honored by Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts and awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire). In the same year he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, which honors Lifetime Achievement in American Theater, a recognition of Kahn’s more than 25 years as leader of STC, his work as director of eight Broadway shows, and his tenure at The Juilliard School.
“Michael is an extraordinary talent and we are profoundly grateful to him for his passion, leadership and dedication," Executive Director Chris Jennings said in the release. "Over three decades, he has built STC into an internationally acclaimed home for classic theater and has cultivated a wonderful community of artists, patrons, and supporters. Shakespeare Theatre Company would not exist without his vision and artistry. We're excited to have enough time to find his successor, but also plenty of time for us to celebrate his achievements and legacy.”
On the eve of the theater's public announcement, Kahn sent theater patrons a video message. The transcript follows:
"The last 30 years that I’ve been privileged to be the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company here in Washington, D.C., have certainly been the most fulfilling years of the 50 years that I’ve spent as part of the American theater. I’m very proud of what my colleagues and I have accomplished in that time. We brought the Shakespeare Theatre to national and international prominence. We have a history of exciting, innovative productions, looking at the great plays of the past, especially our resident playwright William Shakespeare. We’ve done a lot of Shakespeare’s plays that had never been seen in this city before. We’ve also brought a lot of new plays, new adaptations of plays by great authors that have never been seen in America, had them join the repertory of American theater. And we’ve also brought a new generation of directors and actors to this material. I’m also very proud of the extraordinary efforts in education that we’ve done: we have reached so many, many children and have offered over 600,000 people free Shakespeare at Free For All over the years.
"I have thought for a couple of years now though that it actually was time for the theater and for me to move on. I love this theater. It’s my home, but I’m also very aware that it’s time for another generation to come in with new ideas, the same energy, the same vision that I had when I got here and to take this wonderful institution into the future.
"I’ve always felt that it was very important that my successor have a chance to be able to plan their own first season, which means that they needed to be engaged at least a year before that season and to be ready to present the 2019–2020 Season as their own. So, I will be resigning in July of 2019.
"I'm very grateful to you, not only those of you who have donated your time and your money to the work of this theater but also to those of you who supported us by your attendance, by your faith in us. And I'm very, very grateful to the city of Washington, D.C., for its huge support not only in my work but in all the work of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I look forward to the future of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. It's bright, it's exciting, and it is going to be a tremendous future for all of us."
February 14, 2017