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English-Speaking Union

Michael Kahn Receives 2007 Gielgud Award

Michael Kahn, John Andrews
Michael Kahn, John Andrews

As the six-month celebration of England's most famous poet and playwright drew to a close in Washington, D.C., its curator, Artistic Director Michael Kahn of the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC), received the 2007 Gielgud Award for Excellence in the Dramatic Arts. The award pays tribute to performers and directors of Shakespeare's work, and was named after renowned British actor Sir John Gielgud.

Lady Manning, Sir David Manning, Michael Kahn, John Andrews, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Lady Manning, Sir David Manning,
Michael Kahn, John Andrews,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The reception took place at the British Embassy on May 21st, and was hosted by British Ambassador Sir David Manning and his wife Catherine (Lady Manning) in collaboration with the Shakespeare Guild and the English-Speaking Union. The guest list at this year's event included John Andrews, executive director of the nation's capital branch of the English-Speaking Union, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, award-winning actors Helen Carey and Ted van Griethuysen, STC Chairman Landon Butler, and former BBC broadcaster Lord Watson of Richmond, among others. Letters of congratulations and proclamations were received from Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Zoe Caldwell, Stacy Keach, Keith Baxter, and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.

¹The following are excerpts from the ceremony:

Lord Watson of Richmond observed how fitting it was that an American producer of England's leading author was being lauded on the 400th anniversary of a brave New World venture that introduced the language of Shakespeare to the Western Hemisphere and provided the context for what is now cherished as the most evocative phrase in The Tempest.

Justice Ginsburg dubbed Mr. Kahn the "maestro of SHAKESPEARE IN WASHINGTON," a six-month festival for which the awardee had "orchestrated the efforts of some forty arts organizations to honor the Bard through presentations of theatre, music, dance, art, and films." She noted that he had been a "precocious child," having "made up his mind to be a stage director at the tender age of five." She singled out his achievements as a teacher and made special mention of the ACADEMY FOR CLASSICAL ACTING that he'd created as a joint venture of the SHAKESPEARE THEATRE COMPANY and GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. She alluded to such "star students" as William Hurt, Kelly McGillis, Patti LuPone, and Christopher Reeve. And she illustrated the diversity of Mr. Kahn's talents by citing his successes in the field of grand opera.

In a letter from Zoe Caldwell:

"Michael, it is right and just that Shakespeare is giving you his award, and saying thank you for all the care you've given him."

In a letter from Stacy Keach:

"Congratulations, Michael, and thank you for giving us your passion and your imagination, for sharing your love of Shakespeare with all of us, but mostly for inspiring us to dig deeper in our search for the soul of artistic expression."

In a letter from Keith Baxter:

"Every actor, director, or designer who worked in the profession [in the 20th century] was somehow influenced by him. An unknown Richard Burton, a young Jessica Tandy or Paul Scofield. No one attempting one of the great roles could resist asking his advice, which was always practical as well as illuminating. We've all heard about his witty counsel to Alec Guinness, who was about to do his first Lear. "For God's sake, Alec, get a small Cordelia. You have to lug her around for hours, and you don't want to end up with a hernia." He was a pictorial director, and he revolutionized the whole concept of stage design. And, like you, he was a dazzling director of Shakespeare..."

"Sir John's obsession with the theatre is what drives you, Michael, and that is what makes you so splendidly worthy of this award. You juggle pragmatism and idealism with a sure pair of hands..."

In a letter from Dame Judi Dench:

"Dear, dear Michael, I'm so pleased about this award. You really are a marvel. With dearest love, Jude."

William ShakespeareTo conclude the ceremony, Mr. Kahn shared his insights on Shakespeare. In a manner that may well be unique, he observed, this remarkable genius always seems to transcend our efforts to pluck out the heart of his mystery. The reason is that "Shakespeare doesn't tell us what to think so much as what to think about."

¹ The Shakespeare Guild Media Advisory June 2007

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