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2024 Village Awardee: Barbara Kahn

Village Preservation is very proud to honor playwright Barbara Kahn as a 2024 Village Awardee! Join us in recognizing Barbara and five other remarkable awardees at Village Preservation’s Annual Meeting and Village Awards on Wednesday, June 12th at the historic Great Hall at Cooper Union. The awards ceremony will be emceed by legendary musician, writer, producer, and music historian Lenny Kaye, with registration free and open to all. Click here to register.

Barbara Kahn is a pivotal figure in the New York City theater scene. Her plays have been produced since 1994 by that great platform for new drama, Theater for the New City, and her works have been a cornerstone of the theater’s seasons ever since. Theater for the New City has a rich history deeply intertwined with the cultural fabric of New York City, and Barbara’s plays have been a leading force in its mission to embody the vision of a cultural center for new and innovative theater arts that is truly accessible to the community and its experimental theater artists.

Barbara Kahn

Barbara Kahn is a playwright who has produced dozens of works rooted in history, especially the history of New York and marginalized or oppressed people, with a frequent focus on the experience of women, LGBTQ+ people, and personal trauma. Her award-winning plays have been produced at the Theater for the New City since 1994, though she has produced plays throughout New York, Paris, and London, and her career as a playwright stretches back decades.

Barbara grew up in southern New Jersey, and from a young age pursued becoming an actor and playwright. As soon as she could, Kahn moved to New York City and started working on Off-Off-Broadway performances and building her resume as both an actor and a playwright. In 1990, she co-founded Sisters on Stage, a lesbian theater collective, to provide a platform for lesbian plays and playwrights. Theater for the New City invited Kahn to produce her work there in 1994, and Kahn has continued to write new work for production there each year since. She is the recipient of multiple awards, including the James R. Quirk Award for the Performing Arts, the Acker Award, the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award, and the Torch of Hope Award honoring lifetime achievement in non-profit theater.

Theater for th New City has become a vibrant hub for experimental and socially conscious theater. The theater provides a platform for emerging playwrights, directors, and performers, giving voice to marginalized communities and addressing pressing societal issues. Productions at Theater for a New City often tackled topics such as civil rights, environmental justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and urban life.

Barbara Kahn’s leadership there has been characterized by her passion for theater as a tool for social change. She has both written and championed works that challenge the status quo and provoke critical reflection on contemporary issues. Theater for the New City has become renowned for its commitment to artistic excellence and social relevance.

Birds on Fire by Barbara Kahn at Theater for the New City

Barbara’s play, Birds on Fire, one of her many plays produced by Theater for the New City, tells the tale of what might have been the lives of the four unknown victims of the Triangle Factory Fire. Two women, childhood friends from Eastern Europe in America for five years, have dreams of a better life beyond the factory. They help a recent arrival from Eastern Europe who tries hard to adjust to her new and difficult life in America. The young Italian seaman who helped her on the dock jumps ship to find this woman he loved “at first sight.” The lives of these four converge in the Triangle Factory. The tragic fire that is the climax of the play steals away their future as well as their past.

Over the decades, Theater for the New City has remained true to its founding principles, continuing to produce groundbreaking theater that pushes boundaries and sparks dialogue. Barbara Kahn’s legacy lives on in the enduring impact of the theater and its ongoing contribution to the cultural landscape of New York City.

In 2021, Barbara graciously agreed to sit for a remarkable oral history with Village Preservation, illuminating her experience within our neighborhood’s Off- Off- Broadway theater scene. In her interview, Kahn explored the New York City of her early years, living in various apartments, working union and non-union productions, receiving positive and critical responses to her work, researching historical figures, and developing her approach to writing about political topics. She also speaks in detail about the influence of real estate development and the demolition of historic buildings on the experience of living in the city, a subject she has addressed in her recent work. She also joined us for a program in celebration of the launch of that oral history, the video of which you can watch here. Barbara and friends offered a selection of performances from Barbara herself as well as her longtime collaborator, Robert Gonzales, Jr. The performances of monologues and a song were followed by conversations about Barbara’s process and her work with nonprofit theater groups like Theatre for the New City, a past Village Award winner.

Don’t forget to join us for Village Preservation’s Annual Meeting and Village Awards on Wednesday, June 12th at the historic Great Hall at Cooper Union, with the awards ceremony will be emceed by legendary musician, writer, producer, and music historian Lenny Kaye. Registration is free and open to all — click here to register.

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