Michael Kahn, the artistic director of the Acting Company and chairman of the acting department at the Juilliard School in New York, has been named the new artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger. He will assume the position July 1, replacing John Neville-Andrews, who submitted his resignation last month, citing his intention to pursue free-lance theatrical activities at the end of the current season.
Kahn's appointment, rumored for weeks, was confirmed yesterday by R. Robert Linowes, chairman of the theater's board of trustees, who said, "We believe Michael is the just the right person to take over the leadership of the theater at this time."
Kahn, 45, who for 10 years served as artistic director of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Conn., said: "I am glad to associate myself once again with a theater whose artistic policy is determined by the plays of Shakespeare. I see my job at the Shakespeare Theatre as the logical outgrowth of what I do at Juilliard and the Acting Company, where I spend a good deal of time training actors for the classical theater."
Kahn's first season at the Shakespeare Theatre will open Oct. 7 and will consist of four plays (as opposed to five under Neville-Andrews), probably all by Shakespeare.
Among the Shakespearean titles under consideration: "Romeo and Juliet," "Macbeth," "The Winter's Tale," "Love's Labours Lost," "As You Like It," and "Richard II."
Although the Shakespeare Theatre currently employs 13 resident actors, Kahn is expected to recruit his own company. "I hope to attract a group of talented directors and actors, skilled in the classical repertory," he said, adding that he had "already talked formally to a good many artists in the country, who have expressed interest in associating themselves with the theater."
Kahn, who plans to direct "one, maybe two" productions the first year, said he will retain his positions at Juilliard and the Acting Company. He is currently directing "Ten by Ten," two evenings of one-act plays by Tennessee Williams, featuring alumni of the Acting Company and scheduled to open in New York on May 18.
Kahn's appointment is seen as part of an overall effort to upgrade the Shakespeare Theatre and give it the sort of prominence that will attract national funding.
Subsidies from the Folger Shakespeare Library, which have helped keep it afloat, will cease at the end of the next season. At that time, Linowes estimates, the theater will have to raise $600,000 to $700,000 annually.
Linowes also foresees closer ties with academic institutions. Each of the theater's productions next season will be preceded by a lecture by a prominent scholar in the field of classical drama, he said. While Kahn indicated he would also stage classical plays by other authors that "complement Shakespeare," he emphasized that "the center of all our work will be Shakespeare."
Kahn has an extensive list of regional theater, off-Broadway, Broadway and opera credits. His directorial work ranges from the Broadway revival of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," starring Elizabeth Ashley, to the off-Broadway premiere of "The Rimers of Eldritch" and the Houston Grand Opera's production of "Carmen." While he was artistic director of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre, he also served in a similar capacity for the McCarter Theater in Princeton.