November 11, 2010 | by Peter Rosenstein
Theater icon Michael Kahn honored

A group of celebrated actors praised gay director and D.C. theater icon Michael Kahn this week, including Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Christine Baranski and Laura Linney. (Photo by Scott Suchman; courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company)

Michael Kahn, the renowned local gay director, was honored with the Richard Bauer Award from the Washington Area Performing Arts Video Archives (WAPAVA) on Nov. 8. WAPAVA is one of only two equity recognized theater archives in the nation.

Most theater aficionados in Washington and around the nation know that Kahn is one of the foremost directors of Shakespeare in the nation today. What many people don’t know is that he was the head of the acting department at Julliard for many years where he mentored and taught hundreds of actors and directors working in theater today.

At Monday’s awards ceremony at the Harman Theater, many of those actors and directors either came in person to pay tribute or sent letters because they were working in productions in cities around the world.

The audience was first treated to a reading of “The Rehearsal” by Maurice Baring that was directed by Alan Paul, the talented associate artistic director at the Shakespeare. The actors, including the brilliant Tom Story, who played Lady Macbeth, and Anthony Cochrane reading Macbeth, were all there to honor Kahn.

Then David Muse, the new artistic director of Studio Theatre, began the tributes with a heartfelt thanks to Kahn, crediting his mentoring and teaching as the reason for his success. Some of the letters read to Kahn — many brought tears and laughter to both Kahn and the audience — came from his friends. They included words from Terrence McNally, who was a student with Kahn at Columbia and who reminisced about being directed by him in a play and their set designer being Andy Warhol. Additional funny and heartfelt tributes came from Elizabeth Ashley, Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, Christine Baranski (who ended hers with “call me”), Laura Linney and Zelda Fichandler from Arena Stage.

Then a surprise guest, lesbian actress Kelly McGillis, came to the podium. She spoke of her first audition for Kahn when she auditioned to enter Julliard more than 30 years ago. She has since performed in nine plays in Washington for the Shakespeare Theatre. She has had a successful stage career, though she remains best known for her starring role opposite Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.”

The evening came to an end with Halo Wines presenting the Richard Bauer Award. Kahn spoke, reminding the audience that he is not only a talented director and teacher, but also a wonderfully warm and funny human being.

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