SBHS Class of 1976 Alumnus Actress: Karen Kahn

By Adam Khan (‘23)



This is the first article of a series covering SBHS alumnus actress Ms. Karen Kahn.

“We’ll see her name in lights soon,” reads Ms. Kahn’s SBHS yearbook photo. Ms. Kahn is a professional actress who graduated from South Brunswick High School back in 1976. She has appeared in various media including film, television, commercials, corporate films, theater, trade shows, and professional presentations.

Some of the movies and shows she has appeared in are: John Carpenter’s Village Of The Damned, Inchon, The Pursuit Of Happyness, Mrs. Doubtfire, Th1rteen R3asons Why, and more.

In an exclusive interview with The Viking Vibe, Ms. Kahn recounted her experience growing up in South Brunswick.

She said, “I had a great time in high school. I’m thankful for Facebook because I’m still in contact with so many people from my graduating class, and even those not in my graduating class. It was great! I’m even in touch with teachers I had back then which is amazing. I only have good memories of high school. I liked it!”

The advent of the internet and technology allowed many of Ms. Kahn’s former classmates, teachers, and other SBHS students who attended school simultaneously with her to reconnect. One of them is permanent substitute teacher, Mr. James Zinsmeister, who was a grade below her.

He said, “Right now we have about 3000 students in the building, and also 200 teachers and staff members. When I went to SBHS, there were only about 1000 students, and maybe 50 teachers in support. The school was a third as big, so everyone in their grade level knew each other. Karen and I were not friends, but I’d often see her in the halls. She was hard to miss because she was really beautiful.”

During this time of South Brunswick's history, the construction of Levittown family houses in Kendall Park was fairly new, causing a population boom in the small farm town of South Brunswick. Recalled by Mr. Zinsmeister, there was not much racial tension, but more so between the newly-arriving urban families from the boroughs of New York and the suburban farmer families already settled in South Brunswick.

Compared with how it is today, South Brunswick had a quieter, more small-town feel back then. But Ms. Kahn didn’t know anything but her own experience growing up.

Regarding what inspired her interest in acting, she said, “It was my father. With my ethnicity, I’m Japanese-German-Jewish. My mother is from Japan and my father was a German Jew from the Bronx, and he loved theater and musicals. As a kid, he would go to Broadway and buy cheap tickets that weren’t sold, so he grew up on that. So when I was born, I didn’t listen to the Beatles and all that- I listened to Rodger and Hammerstein musicals and danced around the living room. I think what really started me was when I was put into ballet when I was super little.”

Mr. Zinsmeister described Ms. Kahn in high school as he remembered her, “Karen was definitely outgoing. She was friendly and demonstrably talented, well-liked by students and staff, and not snobby.”

Ms. Kahn was a member of the National Honor Society and the Society of Distinguished American High School Students. She would also appear in high school plays such as Play it Again Sam in her junior year, and Man of La Mancha in her senior year. In 1976 she was one of the two hosts for “Mr. South Brunswick”, which today is now known as Mr. SBHS.

Ms. Kahn’s passion for acting however was not only restricted to high school.

She said, “I remember at Constable school during either my second or third grade, they did a production of The Gallant Little Tailor, and my father saw the script and convinced me to audition for the lead role. He worked and worked and worked with me on this part and I had to sing and all this kind of stuff, and I got the part! I remember it was a great show, and because I already had stage experience through ballet, I wasn’t afraid. The whole school gave a standing ovation, and I remember that feeling of being there and everyone applauding, and the principal made us do the finale again, and that was kind of the bug that bit me, it was like, ooo I like this feeling.”

In her youth, Ms. Kahn grew up in the Heathcote area of South Brunswick off Raymond Road. She performed in ballet productions and community theater at the Princeton Ballet School. Right after high school, Ms. Kahn attended the Lee Strasburg Drama Program at New York University, which offers a variety of acting programs and classes. The program is known for its exclusive “Lee Strasberg Method”, which specializes in actors learning to express powerful emotions and encourages them to leave behind conventional, superficial, and clichéd expressions in search of their own unique artistic voices.

After university and acquiring her added acting skills, Ms. Kahn landed her Equity Card performing summer stock productions with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. An Equity Card comes from the Actor’s Equity Association, a labor union representing theater performers and stage managers. Being a part of a performing arts labor union means that artists are protected in their workplace, both onstage and in their work environment. Having an Equity Card would allow Ms. Kahn to work on bigger projects, one of those types of projects being commercials.

While doing commercials, Ms. Kahn received her Screen Actors Guild Card. The difference between the Screen Actors Guild and The Actor’s Equity Association is that the Actor’s Equity Associated is a labor union representing theatrical actors and stage managers across the United States. The Screen Actor’s Guild negotiates contracts for film, television, and radio performers. With these associations, Ms. Kahn would have many of her acting opportunities arise for her as her company began to expand to the West Coast.

In the next article, we’ll cover Ms. Kahn’s career on the west coast and her introduction to appearing in major films and television shows.


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