For eight years, Dr. Karen Berman has served as the chair of the Georgia College Department of Theatre. During that time she has consistently focused on bringing diversity of thought to not only her students, but also the patrons of her department’s performances.
Her career has spanned broad horizons including directing off-Broadways plays, teaching both at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and Georgia College, as well as co-founding a theatre company called Washington Women in Theatre, which strives to give voice to new women playwrights. The theatre company recently took part in the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival, debuting “Just Between Us: a piano, a mic and a memory” with Marilyn Hausfeld.
“Washington Women in Theatre was created 12 years ago by myself and Sidra Rausch,” said Berman. “During that time, more than 50 plays by women playwrights have been performed through our theatre company, some fully produced and others just read. To allow audiences to hear the play read by actors is exposure for these playwrights.”
Her passion for being a conduit for women in the industry to be seen and heard was fueled by an experience early in her career.
“When I was just out of college, I applied to be a directing intern at a prestigious theatre in Washington D.C.,” said Berman. “I was asked by the intern director ‘why would you want to direct when there are no women directors?’ She told me I’d never find a job directing, and that was devastating for me. I knew then that women needed a voice in the industry.”
From that experience, she decided to be the voice for the voiceless, and that has taken several forms over the course of her career. Whether it’s her work through Washington Women in Theatre or courses she teaches, Berman embodies the idea of using theatre to combat societal issues.
“At Georgia College, I teach a class called Theatre for Social Change, and in that, college students work with middle and high school students at Early College,” said Berman. “The college students work with younger students to create and perform plays focusing on social and health problems they may face.”
Learning through this and other similar courses she’s taught is twofold.
“Both the college and younger students are educated on the problems associated with risky behavior through their interactions. Meanwhile they are also exposed to diversity, a lifestyle different from their own and can see how they can actually make a difference in their community, and that can be even more impactful than the facts they learn.”
That focus on making a difference in students goes beyond the classroom for Berman as well. Aside from the countless late night rehearsals and meetings to mentor students, she also is dedicated to using her connections in the business to help her students get their feet in the door.
“Since I was a casting director for many years and have had a number of opportunities in the industry, I always try to use those contacts to help my students get internships so they can then make their own connections in the industry,” she said.
On top of her “day job,” Berman stays involved in the theatre scene nationally through the College of Fellows of the American Theatre, in which she was inducted in 2008 and was elected the new dean beginning in April 2016. Berman has also served as president of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) from 2004 to 2007.
“My goal is to always serve as an advocate for emerging artists and for young people to be able to explore and enjoy the arts, no matter their background,” said Berman.