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An Interview With...William B. Kahn


How did you get started in theater?
I guess I got started out through singing in the school
chorus.  I really enjoyed being up under the lights and
seeing the audience, and I wanted more.

What hooked you? Was it your first school play-movie-
first time seeing a Broadway Show?  What inspired you
to be where you are today?
My older brother Rob (look for him on the October 6 episode of "The
District" starring Craig T. Nelson) was in a play at the Burr's Lane Junior
High School (now the home of Five Towns College) in Half Hollow Hills.  I remember during the intermission looking at my mother and saying, "I want to do this!"

What was the first play you ever saw?  Ever performed in?
My first show was performed at Burr's Lane about two years after seeing my brother's show.  It was a play called "Going Places," which was written by a local teen named Joe Schorr, and starred fellow LI Actor, Carol Carota. True to form, I performed in my second show within two weeks of closing that one.  The first play I ever saw was also written by Joe, but I don't remember the name of it.  Is that horrible of me?

Did you study acting?  If not, how did you get into it?
I didn't study acting until I went to college.  I had a couple of wonderful
instructors who really showed me how to get into a character's head and tell their story.


What was your first audition?
My first audition was actually held in my own living room.  I had been sick on the day of the original auditions, and my brother convinced the director to come and see me at home.  To put it in perspective, it was a summer production of an unknown play populated entirely by teens.  He only had me read scenes from the show, and then he taught me a portion of the score to sing.

How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
That question's so black and white.  All of those things factor in, but
usually what dictates it to me is how the character speaks to me.  If I can
find something likable or challenging, then I go for it.

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
OH GOD.  In theory, I hate it.  You never know who is going to show up at an audition that would blow the selected actor out of the water.  If that
happens you want to go with the best person for the role, but if you've
already committed, you're dead in the water.  In practice, knowing that
you've got an ace in the hole can make casting go much more smoothly, but only if everyone has been alerted to the fact that actor X is already cast.  Having directed in the past, I chose not to precast.

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast?
I've played everything from a gay composer to a hypersexual heterosexual married man with a desire for wife swapping.  Old men to teenagers.  I don't feel typecast other than not being the typical leading man (although I've played those as well).  Luckily I've been blessed with features that can work in many directions.

Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a
certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly?  When directors look at a
certain role, what do you think they see as a "Bill Kahn" type?
I'm cast more often in character roles.  Several directors have told me that I'm too talented to play the lead, and that they need me to play a smaller role.


What is your approach to developing your character?
I try to create a rough history for the character.  For instance, he was an
only child who was abused.  Sometimes you can glean information from the script, but not always.  Where a character comes from flows into why he feels the need to do what he does. You have to know his relationship to everyone else (even if they've never met) or you can't accurately become the character.  Once I've done that, I put it away and forget it.  You've got to be in the moment, and nobody remembers all of that stuff every waking moment.  I think the best advice I've ever heard is, "You're acting, stop it!  I don't want to see you acting the character.  BE the character.  Just BE!"

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
I've liked too many to choose a favorite, but I do love to play a villain.

What do you think were your best roles?  your worst?
The best (gauging from audience reaction) was probably the Emcee in Cabaret.   The director asked me to go very dark with him and not make him a clown.  He really represented the hatred and xenophobia that was rolling across Germany at the time. 

The worst role?  Sheesh!  I gotta go back to Jr. High for that one.  I was the waiter in a group scene of "Annie Get Your Gun".  I missed cues and completely lost track of where I was.  I became the actor's nightmare.

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you think you met the challenge?
Well, I'm actually in rehearsal for one of them right now.  Jan Warwick in
"The Unexpected Guest."  He's emotionally disturbed.  Before this, The Emcee in Cabaret was difficult, because everyone expected the clown, and that's not where we went.  Rev. Hale in "The Crucible" was challenging in language and trying to find compassion in a dispassionate character.  Other roles have been physically challenging, or vocally, but I like to think I've succeeded more often than not.

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
For the most part I've been very satisfied with the performances I've been in.  I don't like to look back and say, "Gee, I wish I'd done that."  It's
counter-productive.  If I did my best, that's what counts.  Although, it
would be nice to go back to last year's production of "Camelot" with TTG and get all the words out in the speech I messed up.  Mordred really shouldn't babble.

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
ZAZA in "La Cage..."


How do you feel when you perform?
Alive.  It's the most incredible feeling when the audience is right there
with you.  You can feel when they click in, and it's like a light switch
turning on.  Suddenly, everything feels electric.

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
I literally can't imagine my life without it.  I have to act.  Just like dogs have to sit down in the middle of a living room and lick themselves in front of company.

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?"  Why do you do it?
I don't feel jitters anymore. I feel a surge of energy.  It's really a rush, and it's a challenge to take that energy and use it productively on stage.  It's amazing how much higher a leap in a dance number can be on opening night.


What is your favorite theater story?
It's actually a story about Lawrence Olivier.  He walked off stage, after what was undeniably his finest performance ever and stormed into his dressing room, slamming the door behind him.  When his friends got to the dressing room to praise his performance, he was crying.  They said something to the effect of, "why are you crying, your performance was better than it's ever been?"  He looked at them and said, "I know... but I don't know how I did it."

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable,
crack up on stage?
I'd be lying if I said no.  I remember looking at Joel Markowitz during a
production of "Sylvia" with what must have been sheer panic on my face because I went up on my line.  Actually, not just the line, but the whole scene. I couldn't have gotten us back on track in a million years.  It felt like three freight trains, and a convoy of trucks could have rolled across that stage in the time that it took for us to get back on track.  I gotta hand it to Joel, he got us back on track about two lines after I went up, and the audience didn't notice a thing.  My regret there is that I lost one of the best laughs in the show.

What was your worst theater experience?
I had one director who didn't know how to interact with people without

What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
Gee, I must've blocked it out...


Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
High production values.

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
I hope so.

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with?
My brother Rob.  SueAnne Denehey.  Dawn DeMaio.

Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
I've always said that I love working with Carol Carota.  She is one of the
most gifted actors I've ever shared a stage with, and is probably the most giving of herself in her performances.

Who is your favorite performer?
Kate Hepburn.

Favorite L.I. performer?
Carol Carota


How do you maintain your career and do theater?
Theater IS my career.  My job pays the bills.

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
I'm a single gay man with no children.  I have very little life outside of theater and work.

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
Not originally, but they've come around over the past few years.

How has performing enriched your life?
Too many ways to discuss.  My best friends come from theater.  I've become more outgoing and more involved with others.  It would be easier to ask how it's hurt my life.  It's the best thing that ever happened to me.


What brings you the greatest joy?

What really irks you?
someone driving right in front of me who's driving slower than I want to go.

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would.
quit my job and start auditioning full time.

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Yes.  Rich people can devote their time to theater, and ugly people can
still act.

What's your favorite word?

When you reach the pearly gates what do you want St. Peter to say?
The religious right got it wrong... Welcome Home!


Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of?
Township Theater Group is doing a production of "The Unexpected Guest" on October 19, 20, 26, 27 at 8pm and 21 at 2pm at the Walt Whitman High School on West Hills Road in Huntington Station.  Tickets are available by calling 631-421-9832.

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, or the Leading Player in, "Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern Are Dead."
The End