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SBHS Class of 1976 Alumnus Actress: Karen Kahn

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

By Adam Khan (‘23)

This is the fourth article in a series covering SBHS alumnus actress Ms. Karen Kahn.

The previous articles discussed Ms. Kahn’s time in the film industry and her experience moving out West.

In her recent career, Ms. Kahn starred as Coroner Wellman in the movie, Nash Bridges.

Ms. Kahn said, “Don Johnson, he was a big actor, does a lot of movies, was big on Miami Vice, and then he did the show Nash Bridges. He just made a movie of it, it was a really popular show, and that was the last big thing I worked on.”

A popular show Ms. Kahn appeared on was 13 Reasons Why, which follows teenager Clay Jensen, in his quest to uncover the story behind his classmate and crush, Hannah, and her decision to end her life.

Ms. Kahn, who played secretary Miss Douglas, had this to say about what it was like working behind scenes, “Fantastic! The young kids were just amazing. They were very friendly, and over time they become a little family. All of the big names of those kids on the show, each one of them came up to me and would say, ‘Hey, you’re back that’s so great! Hey great to see you!’ That’s unusual, and I was really surprised. They’re just a group of great, talented young people. It was a very welcoming atmosphere.”

Initially, when the show premiered, it was met with controversy and backlash over its graphic depiction of Hannah Baker’s suicide and this prompted the show to alter the scene.

Ms. Kahn gave her thoughts on the controversy, “At first I thought what don’t people get? Stuff like this happens, and we should have conversations about it, so that people are aware, not just like a deer in the headlights, like, ‘Oo did you hear what happened?!’ When I went to high school in New Jersey, I remember- you know, how there was some big party somewhere, and the next day rumors were going around the school where a girl was drunk and a bunch of guys did a train on her and it was all over the school. I remember hearing it and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is horrible’ as far as the poor girl goes. Then guys’ names were coming up who were supposedly a part of it. So to me, hello people, what do you think? This stuff doesn’t happen? Let’s have a conversation. Let’s equip kids if they see something like this going on to be able to be sensitive to the victims and not just try to handle everything by themselves. That's what kids do. I didn’t understand the controversy at all.”

In spite of this relatively recent controversy, over the years, Ms. Kahn gained a solid network that allowed her to play or be recommended for roles in films and shows.

She said, “Usually my agent or sometimes a past client will contact me saying, ‘Hey, would you mind sending in an audition for this-’ or, ‘Hey can you shoot this? I think you’d be perfect’ because everything’s really changed since COVID. Before we used to go into a space and audition. Now, everyone self-tapes from their home.”

During the rise and peak of the COVID epidemic, the film industry, like other businesses, was severely hurt. Actors, casting directors, and agents could no longer meet at the auditions, causing disappointment to Ms. Kahn and others.

Ms. Kahn said, “Now when we have to go on the sets, we have to have a COVID test the day before, make sure you’re negative, and then you see people and it’s like ‘Oh my gosh I haven’t seen you in so long!’ Makeup artists, hair stylists, wardrobe people, these were my people.”

After many years in the film industry, Ms. Kahn has decided to semi-retire in her career, taking more focus on enjoying life rather than seeking out roles, and instead giving young actors the opportunities to play roles she would have filled.

As far as where fans can expect to see her in future years, Ms. Kahn responded humorously, “Reruns!”

Ms. Kahn’s advice for young students who also aspire to be actors is, “ACT! Get involved with theater. Get involved with voice-over. Take lessons, the more you do it, the more you’ll learn. There is no one way. It's whatever works. There have been times when I didn’t know what to do, and I kind of just faked something and I had the director come to me and go, ‘That was great, do that again!’, and I go there thinking, I have no idea what I just did, just tried to make it work. But you learn through taking classes and the more you do it, the better you get. I would say get involved with theater first, theater is very different from film. Just start doing it. You will develop and learn, and have a great time. It's fun, it's really fun.”

From a small start participating in the roles of school theater to now being a part of the film industry, Ms. Kahn worked her career up, and despite facing challenges, persevered and found a way to continue her dream.

As students, SBHS offers aspiring actors the opportunity to participate in various activities to learn and gain experience, from electives such as Writing in Film and Media, Theater Arts to Public Speaking, or Advanced Video Production. All it takes is having the passion and initiative to make your own mark, just like Ms. Kahn.

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