Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: A Farewell to Michael Kahn

This is an extension of a hand written letter I sent Michael Kahn on the eve of his final production as artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. You might call this an ode to my love of storytelling on the stage, or more specifically a personal reflection on the importance of having access to theatre as a young adult.

Dear Michael Kahn,

I would like to start this message simply by saying thank you. For over a decade my experience with the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) included joy, wonder, terror, and awe — mostly in part due to your deft handling of the company’s artistic vision.

I don’t know when I began to truly love Shakespeare. It might have been when I was in middle school watching Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet or even later when I joined a college troupe of players known as Shakespeare in the Dark and ran props. But for a few years after that, subsumed beneath the weight of graduate work, I stepped away.

It was a dark time. (Ha).

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Michael Kahn’s statue dressed for Twelfth Night. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

About ten years ago, a few years after getting my first real job, I signed up for my first under 35 season ticket package with STC.  I felt like I had rediscovered a missing piece of my heart. While my first STC production was Julius Caesar a few years earlier, it was seeing Stacy Keach as an addled King Lear and the all male Romeo and Juliet that pushed me to jump back into my love of the Bard’s work.

Since then there are snapshots in my head of everything I have seen. From the falling flower petals on a starkly white stage from Twelfth Night, to the recent house of horrors of Richard III.

Of course, I can talk about my love of Much Ado About Nothing all day long,  but one of the strengths of your vision are the non-Shakespeare productions — the exposure to new stories. From Noel Coward plays and French farce, to musicals and the incredible women’s voices series that brought us Noura and Vanity Fair you have opened my mind to new narratives.  Specifically, there are two productions that you brought to DC that I will never forget — productions that (at the time) reminded me of what theatre could do, and how it could make you feel: The Royal Scottish Theatre’s Black Watch and the Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.

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Flier from the Vanity Fair ReDiscovery performance in 2017.

As is the case with many of STC’s productions these exports pushed me to reconsider how we tell stories on the stage, to examine the mechanisms of how they engage, connect, and pull at our senses in unexpected ways. Whether it is the intimacy of sitting just a few feet away from a changing regiment, or the mystical wonder of being seated in Bier Baron’s tavern while Prudencia battled with the devil on a cold winter’s night, my friends and I count those as being some of the most magical moments of theatre we have ever experienced.

After all, great storytelling carries weight.

There is one more element about this experience I have yet to address, and that is friendship. There is a real danger after graduating (at any phase of life) of friends falling by the wayside, of lacking the ability to make time for each other.

While the number of people I have a season package with has waxed and waned with time (because of geography, children, or interest) many of us have a standing date every couple of months to meet for dinner before I attend one of your shows. In making theatre accessible at a time when disposable income was not readily available you made it possible for a bunch of twenty-somethings to stay connected. It might be hyperbolic to say we wouldn’t have been friends without the STC, however I do think that it played a role in tightening those threads.

With that, I’ll just say I am looking forward to seeing your final production, The Oresteia, later this week. While I am optimistic about what the new season (and artistic director) might bring, we will always have your statue in the Harmon Center as a sometimes fanciful reminder about your influence on the arts.

Thank you!

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