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Michael Kahn Introduces the Cast of 'Hamlet'

December 14, 2017

The Shakespeare Theatre has a great tradition of introducing the casts of its plays as they begin rehearsals. That tradition continued on Tuesday evening with the introduction of the cast of Hamlet which opens on January 16th. I was fortunate to be there and have the opportunity to chat for a moment with the lead actor. 

 Federico Rodriquez (Horatio (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Federico Rodriquez (Horatio

There is a large and very impressive cast beginning with Hamlet himself, Michael Urie. Michael was last seen in DC in the award winning one man show Buyer and Cellar, about the mall in Barbra Streisand’s basement. He was hilarious just as he was on TV in Ugly Betty. He recently finished a stint in New York in Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy where he got rave reviews. 

So what about his distinguished career sets him up to play Hamlet? If you ask his director, the extraordinary Michael Kahn who was also his teacher at Juilliard, it was his doing a scene from Hamlet in school with classmate, Jessica Chastain. 

Hamlet, who many consider the greatest character of Western literature confronts the meaning of life, the bonds and limits of flesh and blood, and the line between madness and inspiration. In the wake of his father’s abrupt death, Hamlet returns home from university to find his personal and political world changed as he never imagined it could—his mother remarried, his uncle on the throne and a world seemingly gone insane. When his father’s ghost appears and demands vengeance, the increasingly desperate Danish prince must decide: submit or resist. Accept or avenge. Live or die. 

Urie will be joined by some new to the STC stage, others very familiar, others from around the world and award-winning including Oyin Oladejo (Star Trek: Discovery) as Ophelia; Robert Joy (King Charles III) as Polonius; Alan Cox (Translations on Broadway) as Claudius; Federico Rodriguez as Horatio; Madeleine Potter (An Ideal Husband on Broadway) as Gertrude; Gregory Wooddell as Osric/Marcellus; Ryan Spahn as Rosencrantz and STC Affiliated Artist Keith Baxter as the Ghost.

Madeleine Potter (Gertrude) applauds Michael Urie (Hamlet) (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Madeleine Potter (Gertrude) applauds Michael Urie (Hamlet)

Kahn said, “I have been eager to explore this masterpiece with Michael Urie as Hamlet. Now that we have assembled such a deeply talented cast to fill the world around him, I know we are going to see some extraordinary performances. I am happy to welcome back some STC veterans and other gifted artists who will make their debut on our main stage.” He went on to say “As artistic director I feel a responsibility to produce classical theatre that resonates with modern audiences and speaks to people across cultures and generations. I want to ignite conversation. Hamlet is a play about the elusiveness of certainty and the ambivalent nature of revenge, about trust, doubt and finding the truth—or not. I’m curious to see how today’s audiences respond to it.” 

Audiences will find what I know will be an exciting evening in the theater enhanced because of the productions’ award winning design and artistic team which includes John Coyne (Set Designer; Broken Chord, the team of Sound Designer Daniel Baker and Composer Aaron Meicht; Costume Designer Jess Goldstein; Lighting Designer Yi Zhao; Fight Choreographer David Leong; Voice & Text Coach Lisa Beley; Assistant Director, Craig Baldwin; Production Stage Manager Joseph Smelser; Assistant Stage Manager, Rebecca Shipman.


Shakespeare’s most celebrated tragedy will run January 16–February 25, 2018 at Sidney Harman Hall

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Spotlight on ARTS Education: A DC Commission on the ARTS and Humanities Program

December 11, 2017

Kudos to Rhona Wolfe Friedman, a member of the DC ARTS and Humanities Commission, for organizing an amazing program at the Library of Congress. For those who don’t know her Rhona is a lawyer and real estate agent in DC who has spent many years fighting for better ARTS programs and curriculum in DC schools. She is passionate and works tirelessly to ensure the ARTS get their appropriate due in our city.

This program, with a standing room only audience, was held in the Montpellier room at the Madison building of the Library of Congress. We were welcomed by Susan Vita who is head of the music division at the library. She gave an overview of what is available to the public at the library across all their collections and it is stunning how broad and deep their collection is. 

Then Rhona welcomed everyone on behalf of the Commission and introduced Jane Chu who is the Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts. She spoke eloquently about what the arts mean to the nation and how important they are to each individual throughout our lives. We can only hope her passion translates to an administration that clearly has no appreciation of the arts. 

Rhona Wolfe Friedman (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Rhona Wolfe Friedman

The first panel in the program titled Innovation, Access and Equity in ARTS Education was ably moderated by Mario Rossero who heads the arts education program at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Panelists included Dr. Alexander Panteyat, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He spoke about how research shows music is a language that can help everyone from children to adults do better in every facet of their lives. He gave a beautiful violin performance “Meditation from the Opera Thais”. Christopher Morgan from Dance Place spoke of how his organization works within the community to bring people together and continues to provide programming for hundreds of young people. Nathan Diamond, DC Public Schools, spoke about the new programs currently in the schools. He talked about how youngsters are encouraged to both learn about and also participate in the arts from a very young age. He agreed the arts are a language that needs to be introduced to children at a young age. He talked about a music program that is allowing every child to not only listen to music but to participate in composing music from the earliest grades. He then introduced an amazing young man, Jose Andre Montano who is a sixth grader at the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens. But much more he is a jazz pianist who has performed at the Kennedy Center and around the nation. His music bridges jazz, rock, blues, bossa nova, and more. He was born in Bolivia and taught himself to play at a young age. He is a prodigy and a totally charming young man. He played two pieces he composed and received a well-deserved standing ovation. The final panelist was Asha Gardner, a twenty-two year old young woman who is a rising lyricist/spoken word artist who is a third generation Washingtonian. She has performed with Alice Walker, Rachel Mckibbens and Grammy nominated Carolyn Malachi. She works with the Split the Rock program in DC schools and shared how she succeeded in school through the arts. She is a shining example of a DC school graduate who now comes back to work in the schools helping other students to succeed. 

At the conclusion of the first panel Library of Congress staff shared information on artifacts at the library and shared materials they have for teachers to use which led into the second panel Creativity and Inspiration Using Primary Source Materials in Arts Education Programs. This part of the program was moderated by Lee Ann Potter, Library of Congress and panelists included Erin Elman, University of the Arts; Johanna Siebert, National Association for Music Education; Katherine Tuchman, Library of Congress; Sasha Dowdy, Library of Congress; and Erin Durham. University of Maryland –musical story time performance.

Once again congratulations to Rhona Wolfe Friedman and the Arts and Humanities Commission for putting on such a great program. It was clear everyone who attended walked away with something that would help them as they worked with students and members of the community in every possible area of the ARTS. 

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Donna Brazile Sells Out, A Sad Way To End A Career

November 5, 2017

Her new book will only hurt the party she claims to love.


Only a few weeks ago I signed a petition to keep Donna Brazile on the Democratic National Committee (DNC). I defended her as a good Democrat who worked hard over the years to elect Democrats. What a difference a few weeks make.


Today I am sorry for signing that petition. She has not only bought into the Bernie Sanders campaign story for profit, selling her book, but has hurt the Democratic Party she claimed to love when she spent years as vice-chair of it.


Brazile is too smart not to know releasing her book now wasn’t going to be used by Republicans to block out everything wrong they are doing from tax cuts for the rich to covering up the disgusting behavior of Trump and his campaign. She knew she was going to set Democrat against Democrat once again and for that many will never forgive her.

What is amazing to me is in trying to trash Hillary Clinton for saving the Democratic National Committee she actually throws President Obama under the bus. He was president and controlled the party operations after 2012. He left it millions in debt and owing money to banks. He left Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) in charge knowing she was a disaster, just look at the mid-term elections. He could have changed the leadership of the Party at any time but didn’t want to bother. As early as 2008 he started Obama for America as the way to go around the Party. Now all that is known but did Brazile have to throw him under the bus for it now when he is finally working in tandem with Eric Holder his former Attorney General to raise money to rebuild state parties and win legislative seats for Democrats fighting gerrymandering.


Let’s start with facts. The DNC, which Brazile claims rigged the primary for Clinton, was the organization saying to states it was OK for Sanders to run in their primaries even though he was not a Democrat. Sanders himself said were he not allowed into the Democratic Primary he couldn’t have run. “He was deemed “extremely disgraceful” by Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, when he said “In terms of media coverage, you had to run within the Democratic Party,” he observed, adding that he couldn’t raise money outside the major two-party process. The DNC shared its voter lists with him and he knew that was the only way to get them he could afford. In the middle of the primary he fired some staff for stealing Hillary’s voter information from the DNC. Both campaigns signed agreements with the DNC to raise money. They both had the right to set conditions in those agreements with how the money they raised would be spent especially considering how the DNC was broke and had a record of squandering its money under Wasserman Schultz. Sanders really didn’t care about that as clearly he never had any intention of raising a nickel for the party. One fact that people need to remember is Clinton won the primary by nearly 4 million votes. There was no way to rig that. Sanders’s goal was always to tear down the party and that is obviously still his goal if you listen to the leadership of Our Revolution, the group he started after the campaign.


So what does Brazile accomplish by having Politico release a snippet from her book? Maybe she hopes Sanders supporters will run out to buy it? Maybe she hopes Republicans who hate Hillary and Obama will buy it? Maybe she hopes to get hired now that she has trashed the DNC, Obama and Clinton. Whatever it is she has effectively ended her career as a Democrat.


Over the years I have crossed paths with Donna Brazile many times at Democratic events. We were never friends but acquaintances and she would occasionally comment on columns I wrote or comments I made in the press. I don’t expect to hear from her after this column.


What she has done as we move toward the 2018 elections for Congress, governors and state legislatures is try to reignite the fire between the Clinton and Sanders wings of the Democrat Party and re-litigate the 2016 election hurting the Democratic Party which is just beginning to recover. I see that as a career-ending move, even if she makes a few shekels from her book.

Democrats have a real chance to move forward beginning with wins next Tuesday in New Jersey and Virginia. We have a slew of great candidates who announced they are running for Congress next year and great candidates running in the 36 state governor’s races, as well as for state legislature. While the DNC is still struggling to raise money, individual Democratic candidates are doing well, as are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). The DNC has hired Jess O’Connell as CEO and she comes with a strong record of accomplishment from EMILY’s List. So despite Brazile’s nasty and from the excerpts I have seen half-truths, Democrats will prevail. The Democratic Party and our candidates will stand up to Trump, McConnell, Ryan and Steve Bannon and the hate they spew. Grassroots Democrats will be working hard to ensure decency, equality and telling the truth will once again prevail in the government of the United States.


This column first ran on HuffPost.

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