Staging an Epic: A Four-Part Documentary Series from Shakespeare Theatre Company

After 33 years as Artistic Director, Michael Kahn has directed nearly all the world’s greatest classical plays, worked with some of the biggest actors in the world and built the Shakespeare Theatre Company to its international reputation as the best classical theatre in America.

Rad Pereira as Electra and Josiah Bania as Orestes in Shakespeare Theatre Company's 'The Oresteia.' Portrait by Tony Powell.
Rad Pereira as Electra and Josiah Bania as Orestes in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘The Oresteia.’ Portrait by Tony Powell.

Now, for his final show, Michael Kahn is about to tackle the one play he’s been dreaming of since he was an undergraduate: The Oresteia. The only surviving Ancient Greek trilogy, it is notoriously difficult to stage for a contemporary audience. With a world-premiere adaptation by playwright Ellen McLaughlin, it promises to be a momentous show for everyone, from cast to crew to administrative staff, who will make this dream a reality.

DC Theater Arts is delighted that Shakespeare Theatre Company is offering our readers an all-access pass behind the curtain to see the creation of this project, from first rehearsal to opening night.


CHAPTER ONE, FIRST REHEARSAL: For more than two years, Playwright Ellen McLaughlin and Michael Kahn have been collaborating on a new version of Aeschylus’ monumental trilogy—and now it’s just three days away from the vital first rehearsal of The Oresteia. As Michael and the Company prepare to welcome the cast and put the play on its feet, they confront the realization that the time has come to turn this dream production into a reality—and that this day marks the beginning of the end of Michael’s 33-year tenure as Artistic Director:

CHAPTER TWO, PRODUCTION: Curtain cannons. Gold gowns. Buckets of blood. And the floor is lava. For Ellen McLaughlin’s The Oresteia, STC’s Shops must design and construct dozens of complex effects and elements—from Clytemnestra’s wig to her volatile house, to the volcanic floor she walks on—and then test to ensure everything works safely on stage night after night. The pressure is on to build the physical world that the actors will inhabit once they leave the rehearsal hall and go on stage for the first time.

Chapter Three: The day The Oresteia moves from an intimate rehearsal hall to an elaborate set in the theatre is a pivotal threshold. Some actors have even called this process a religious experience, when weeks of planning and imagination must be made manifest. But adding complicated technical elements and movement in a new space, along with costumes, light and sound, is far from easy – not to mention that their first steps on stage will be in front of a packed audience. Only days away from opening, the cast and designers shift into overdrive to achieve perfection, down to every last detail.

Chapter Four: The moment has arrived: it’s Opening Night for The Oresteia at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. As they prepare to take the stage, the artists who have built the production piece by piece reflect on the process and the meaning of their accomplishment—the final piece of Director Michael Kahn’s celebrated career and a part of theatre history.

The Oresteia, Michael Kahn’s final production as STC Artistic Director, plays from April 30 to June 2 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall – 610 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call or go online.


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