Adapted by Colin Teevan
From the book by Ryszard Kapuściński
Directed by Walter Meierjohann
Co-Produced by the Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg

“A resonant and troubling metaphor for the great melancholy of power.” — The Guardian

Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA; Jeffrey Horowitz, Founding Artistic Director) kicks off its 2018-2019 season with the U.S. premiere of The Emperor, featuring virtuosic shape-shifting actor Kathryn Hunter and Ethiopian musician Temesgen Zeleke, founder of Krar Collective. Walter Meierjohann directs this parable about power in decline—an adaptation by Colin Teevan of Ryszard Kapuściński’s celebrated and controversial 1978 book of the same title, about the downfall of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. With two performers onstage,The Emperor explores political power by foregrounding the stories of those operating under it, from Selassie’s many servants (including his pillow-bearer, purse-bearer, and dog-urine wiper), to government bureaucrats, to students opposing Selassie’s rule. Performances of this co-production from the Young Vic, HOME, and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg run September 9-30 at Polonsky Shakespeare Center (262 Ashland Place), TFANA’s home in the Brooklyn Cultural District.

The Emperor marks Hunter, Teevan and Meierjohann’s return to TFANA following their acclaimed Young Vic production of Kafka’s Monkey (based on Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy”), which came to TFANA in 2013. Once again, they present an engaging theatrical adaptation anchored by Kathryn Hunter’s riveting storytelling abilities.

Hunter—who has also played at TFANA as a memorable Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (directed by Julie Taymor) and in The Valley of Astonishment (directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne)—is a remarkable artist. The first British actress to play King Lear in a professional production, she transforms to create the physical shapes and inner hearts of characters she plays—female, male, animal, or spirit. When the play made its world premiere at the Young Vic in 2016, the “tiny, nimble, crackle-voiced” Hunter was praised for “her particular mixture of gravity and irony” (The Guardian), and, in a tour-de-force performance of 10 characters in loyal service to the Emperor, for being “probably…genuinely the only performer alive who could possibly pull [her shows] off.” (Time Out) “Tremendous musician” (The Guardian) Temesgen Zeleke, a former student of legendary Ethiopian jazz artist Mulatu Astatke, was praised for “beautifully reinforc[ing] the shifts in mood with his krar and pedal-drum” (The Independent), and as an actor and singer embodying various aspects of insurgency.

Jeffrey HorowitzTFANA’s Founding Artistic Director, says, “The Emperor raises important issues that extend beyond the production. TFANA is presenting this extraordinary work of art in part as an invitation to our audiences to engage in the complex conversations that this parable of power elicits. Our hope is that the dialogue will be as illuminating as the artistry on stage.”

Kapuściński, who many considered a candidate for the Nobel Prize during his lifetime, cagily used The Emperor to illuminate corruption and avarice in his native country, communist Poland. Today, as adapted and performed by this acclaimed theatrical team, the material just as strongly illuminates our world’s continuing and disturbing fascination with despotism. A series of panels will contextualize the production and the questions it provokes, and will be held on September 15, 22, and 29.

The cast of The Emperor is Kathryn Hunter (Southwark Playhouse’s Cyrano de Bergerac; TFANA: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey) and Temesgen Zeleke (leader of Krar Collective). The creative team includes Walter Meierjohann, Director (HOME’s Artistic Director, Theatre; In the Red and Brown Water at the Young Vic, TFANA: The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey); Colin Teevan, Adaptor (The Bee starring Kathryn Hunter, Duke of York’s Doctor Faustus, TFANA: The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey); Ti Green, Design (RSC Swan’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, Watford Palace/Bolton Octogon’s I Capture the Castle); Imogen Knight, Movement (West End: The Birthday Party; Royal Court Theatre’sNuclear War, National Theatre’s AmadeusMike Gunning, Lighting (West End: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice’s Adventures Underground ); Paul Arditti, Sound (The Young Vic’s The Inheritance and The Jungle, National Theatre’s Macbeth); Louis Price, Video (HOME’s The Funfair, the Barbican’s Unleashed); Dave Price, Music (National Theatre’s From Morning to Midnight; Royal Shakespeare Company’s CymbelineA Soldier in Every Son); Kathryn Hunter, Creative Associate; and Cat Robey, Assistant Director.

Performance Schedule, Ticketing, and Other Information

Performances of The Emperor will take place in the evenings, September 9, 11-16, 18-21, 25-28, and October 2-5 at 7:30pm; matinees on September 22, 23, 29, 30, and October 6 and 7 will take place at 2pm.

Panels will be held Saturday, September 15 at 5:30 (before the evening performance), Saturday, September 22 (after the matinee performance), and Saturday, September 29 (after the matinee performance).

Theatre for a New Audience is committed to economically accessible tickets and offers tickets at a range of prices for The Emperor.

$20 New Deal: all Performances.  Age 30 and under or full-time students of any age.  May be purchased online, phone, or at the box office, in advance or day-of, with valid ID(s) proving eligibility required at pickup.

$20 Brooklyn Pass: all Performances. Members of local Brooklyn non-profit organizations through Brooklyn Pass program.

$28 TDF: selected performances. 

$60: all performances with a TFANA subscription.  

Special Discounts: TFANA offers special discounts available by joining TFANA mailing list at

$90-$100: all performances.

$125 Premium Seats: all performances.

Polonsky Shakespeare Center is located at 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn.

About Kathryn Hunter

Kathryn Hunter (Actor). TFANA: The Valley of Astonishment (CICT/Bouffes du Nord, directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne), Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream,Kafka’s Monkey (Young Vic, adapted by Colin Teevan and directed by Walter Meierjohann), and Fragments (CICT/Bouffes du Nord, directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne). Other credits include: Antony & CleopatraKing Lear (RSC); The Diver (Soho Theatre); Yerma (Arcola Theatre); and The Visit (National Theatre), for which she won an Olivier Award for Best Actress. Film includes: A Midsummer Night Dream, Mike Leigh’s All or Nothing and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Her directing credits include: My Perfect Mind (Young Vic/New York), Othello (RSC), The Birds (National Theatre), and Pericles (The Globe).

About Temesgen Zeleke

Temesgen Zeleke (Musician/Actor) was born in Addis Ababa and took up playing the Ethiopian krar lyre against the wishes of his mother, who wanted him to pursue a more traditional education. After performing as a musician and composer in Addis Ababa’s National Theatre, he settled in the UK, where he founded the band Krar Collective, which tours internationally. He performs regularly with Ethiojazz legend Mulatu Astatke.

About Walter Meierjohann

Walter Meierjohann (Director). TFANA: Kafka’s Monkey (Young Vic). His UK directing credits include All My Sons (Curve); The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Liverpool Playhouse);Unleashed (The Barbican); and Romeo & Juliet (Victoria Baths for HOME). Walter was Artistic Director of the Contemporary International Line of The Dresden State Theatre from 2004-2007. His short films include Dear Anna starring Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni. He was appointed Artistic Director of Theatre at HOME, Manchester’s international center for contemporary visual art, theatre, and film, in 2013.

About Colin Teevan

Colin Teevan (Adaptor) is a celebrated playwright, translator, and screenwriter. He returns to TFANA following the success of Kafka’s Monkey, which began at Young Vic and enjoyed a world tour including Bouffes du Nord in Paris. Other work includes Monkey (Young Vic), Doctor Faustus (Duke of York’s), How Many Miles to Basra? (West Yorkshire Playhouse), The Kingdom (Soho Theatre), The DiverThe Bee (both co-written with Hideki Noda, Soho/Setagaya Tokyo); Peer Gynt (Dundee/National Theatre of Scotland); Missing Persons (Assembly Rooms/Trafalgar Studios); and Bacchai (National Theatre). Colin wrote and created the hit TV serials Charlie and Rebellion. His other work for TV includes: SilkVera, and Single Handed. Colin is Professor of Playwriting and Screenwriting at Birkbeck, University of London.

About Ryszard Kapuściński

Ryszard Kapuściński (1932-2007) (Author) was a Polish journalist and writer. He worked as a correspondent for PAP, a Polish news agency, from 1959 to 1981. His texts – which blur the boundaries between journalism, literature, and scientific research – have been published in The New York TimesTime Magazine, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His literary work includes The EmperorAnother Day of Life, and collections such as The Soccer War and Imperium. Kapuściński was elected journalist of the century by the Plebiscite of Polish Journalists in 1999. He died on January 23, 2007, in Warsaw.

About Theatre for a New Audience

Founded in 1979 by Jeffrey Horowitz, Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) is a modern classic theatre. It produces Shakespeare alongside other major authors from the world repertoire, such as Harley Granville Barker, Edward Bond, Adrienne Kennedy, Richard Nelson, Wallace Shawn and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. TFANA has played Off- and on Broadway and toured nationally and internationally.

In 2001, Theatre for a New Audience became the first American theatre invited to bring a production of Shakespeare to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), Stratford-upon-Avon.Cymbeline, directed by Bartlett Sher, premiered at the RSC; in 2007, TFANA was invited to return to the RSC with The Merchant of Venice, directed by Darko Tresnjak and featuring F. Murray Abraham. In 2011, Mr. Abraham reprised his role as Shylock for a national tour.

After 34 years of being itinerant and playing mostly in Manhattan, Theatre for a New Audience moved to Brooklyn and opened its first permanent home, Polonsky Shakespeare Center, in October 2013. Built by The City of New York in partnership with Theatre for a New Audience, and located in the Brooklyn Cultural District, Polonsky Shakespeare Center was designed by Hugh Hardy and H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture with theatre consultants Akustiks, Milton Glaser, Jean-Guy Lecat, and Theatre Projects. Housed inside the building are the Samuel H. Scripps Mainstage (299 seats)—the first stage built for Shakespeare and classical drama in New York City since Lincoln Center’s 1965 Vivian Beaumont—and the Theodore C. Rogers Studio (50 seats). 

TFANA’s productions have been honored with Tony, Obie, Drama Desk, Drama League, Callaway, Lortel and Audelco awards and nominations and reach an audience diverse in age, economics and cultural background. 

Theatre for a New Audience created and runs the largest in-depth program in the New York City Public Schools to introduce students to Shakespeare and has served over 130,000 students since the program began in 1984. TFANA’s New Deal ticket program is one of the lowest reserved ticket prices for youth in the city: $20 for any show, any time for those 30 years old and under or for full-time students of any age. 

Funding Credits

Principal support for Theatre for a New Audience’s season and programs is provided by Booth Ferris Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The SHS Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, Inc. and The Winston Foundation.

Theatre for a New Audience’s season and programs are also made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Photo Credit: Simon Annand 

Press contact: Blake Zidell at Blake Zidell & Associates


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