Actor, director and playwright are not just what I do. They are who I am. Before I ever saw a play, I wanted to be an actor. I made scrapbooks of clippings from the Arts section in newspapers, and I read all the theater biographies in the local library, looking for clues on how to enter the world of acting. In junior high school, I gave a book report on the history of London’s Drury Lane Theater and speeches about ‘The Star System in Hollywood’ and ‘The Barrymore Family.’ I learned to love silent movies at the nickelodeon in the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. When my Aunt Bea finally took me to see a touring production of “The Miracle Worker,” I was totally and irrevocably determined to pursue my dream.
In high school, I joined a professional acting workshop in Philadelphia and later earned a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Adelphi University on Long Island, NY. I appeared in plays Off-Off Broadway before graduation. After graduation, I studied in a professional acting workshop and privately with acting coaches. The many talented artists I worked with provided invaluable experience – especially directors Ron Link and Bob Dahdah, actor Marilyn Roberts and that force of nature, Ellen Stewart of La MaMa E.T.C., to name just a few. Crystal Field at Theater for the New City has been my producer, mentor and friend since 1994. Throughout my career, colleagues who led the way have generously shared their knowledge and experience with me. I follow their example by coaching other actors and playwrights.
I began directing professionally when I replaced a director who had been fired two weeks before opening. This led to more offers to direct in New York, including a production that moved to Théâtre Lucernaire in Paris and then to the National Theatre in London.
Artists have stories inside us that we nurture and share– legacy stories of our ancestors, stories from our life experience and stories we imagine. Brecht’s “Mother Courage” is my favorite play, reminding me of my grandmother’s bravery and ingenuity fighting against prejudice and oppression. With four children including my father, she was trapped in a European war, unable to join her husband and oldest child who were already in the United States. After years of danger and struggle, she brought her children to safety.
I have written more than twenty-five historical plays with the goal of holding a mirror to the present. My plays have been presented in the United States and Europe. I write about the history of prejudice in the United States and abroad, about racism, antisemitism, misogyny, homophobia and anti-immigration. Putting a personal face to injustice has a power that reading history books cannot duplicate. As a reviewer wrote, “Barbara Kahn is something rare in theater: an historian and playwright… Aiming for our heads and our hearts she tweaks our intellect and kindles our emotions.” Paulanne Simmons, NYTheatre-Wire.com, Feb. 17, 2012,
Acting is my first love. I wrote roles for myself, including two one-character plays that I perform whenever the opportunity occurs — “Cyma’s Story” and “CO-OP.” I am a longtime member of the Dramatists Guild, AEA and SAG-AFTRA. Along with stage work, I have appeared in several films.
My life in the theatre has been governed by a passion for justice and for quality. In the 19th century, George Sand wrote: “All I want is for people to question the accepted lies and call out for the forgotten truths.” Portraying the truth gives me fulfillment as an actor. Directing with integrity and insight is what I offer other actors. Preserving the truth is why I write plays.