Karen M. Dabney comes to UVA Acts from the world of higher education, having taught as a full-time Tenure-Track or Visiting Assistant Professor from 2015-2021. She holds a Ph.D. in Theatre at the University of Colorado–Boulder, an MFA in Directing at the New School for Drama in New York City, and a B.A. in Women’s Studies with a minor in American Racial and Multicultural Studies at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
Ms. Dabney has always been committed to creating and participating in diversity and inclusivity programming as well as to conduct research on intersectionality, approaching it all as Applied Theater (also known as Community-Based Theater). As a proud and active member of the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Interactive Theatre Project, she directed, performed, and facilitated several short performance pieces that dealt with issues of identity, prejudice, and privilege from 2012-2015. Karen continued this Theatre for Dialogue work as a full-time educator, at Midwestern State University in North Texas (2015-2017), at Westminster College in Western Pennsylvania (2017-2020), and at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (2020-2021). At the first two schools, she annually rehearsed and facilitated a piece on consent entitled “Since Last Night” for mandatory orientation programming and athletic Title IX training, as well as pieces on race, sexual assault, and online bullying. At the final institution, she guided an ensemble of four to devise a children’s play about gender identity.
An extension of Ms. Dabney’s involvement in and passion for Community-Based Theater is her investment in understanding and advocating the role of theater produced by and for the U.S. Army community in the last fifty years, highlighting the community-based theater methods employed in this particular enclave of American culture. Additionally, she has written and presented several papers exploring the playwright David Henry Hwang’s understanding of the fluidity of cultural identity, has directed and produced works by Adrienne Kennedy, Amiri Baraka, and Ntozake Shange which centralized the presence of black bodies on the stage, and has coordinated on-campus events that use excerpts from full length plays to engage the college community in discussions on issues such as DACA, immigration, gay marriage, religion, sexuality, gender in athletics, and peer pressure These events were modelled after Bryan Doerries’ ongoing Theatre of War Project which utilizes excerpts from classic Greek tragedies to engage targeted audiences in dialogue (military regarding PTSD and mental health, medical care provides regarding end of life care and medical ethics, correctional officers regarding liminal spaces and humane treatment, etc.). Ms. Dabney’s other research interests include pedagogy, improvisation, and new work development. For the Mid-America Theatre Conference, she recently co-chaired the Pedagogy Symposium and currently co-chairs the Anti-Racism Ad-Hoc Committee. Her article "Ms. Gendered: An Educator’s Journey Devising a Children’s Play about Gender Identity" was published in the peer-reviewed online journal Etudes in December 2021.