Professor Spotlight: Karen M. Dabney

Image retrieved from staff profile.

Image retrieved from staff profile.

Sam White, Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Professor Karen M. Dabney has been teaching theatre at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse since the fall of 2020. She originally got her Ph.D. in theatre from the University of Colorado-Boulder and started teaching at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. She taught there for two years before accepting an assistant professor position at Westminster College in Pennsylvania.

After Westminster decided to eliminate the theatre major, Dabney applied to be an assistant professor in the theatre department here at UWL. “I got the job offer at the very end of February and I signed my offer the second week of March, and within a week most schools had announced that they were going remote for a couple of weeks, which ended up being for the rest of the semester, and I was calling the dean, to make sure that I still had the job offer,” said Dabney.

Dabney officially started in the fall of 2020, while everything was still remote. She explained that adjusting to a new school was challenging; she met most of her colleagues for the first time over zoom and had to adapt to directing shows that were filmed and put online, instead of being live.

“This year has been nice but also weird because it feels like my first year again. In some ways I’m doing things for the very first time and in other ways, oh no I’ve been doing this for a year, so it’s not brand new,” explained Dabney.

Dabney said one of the reasons she chose UWL was because of her colleagues in the theatre department. She said that the questions and discussions she heard throughout the day proved that the department really cared about the students.

While Dabney had originally planned on staying in La Crosse for a while, she was recently offered a great opportunity at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Instead of teaching students, Dabney will be working with faculty and staff to use applied theatre to facilitate all sorts of training and workshops focusing on issues of inclusion and diversity. This is one of only a handful of programs like this in the country.

“In these types of workshops, the audience plays a key role in the show itself. they are asked to engage in such a way that they can rehearse for real life,” explained Dabney. “Having that setting where you can practice how you would go about saying or doing something and it’s not to correct behavior but it’s really to have a dialogue and to start a conversation.”

Applied theatre is something Dabney has a long history with. While she was getting her doctorate at CU Boulder, she was part of a group called “The Interactive Theatre Project” which also uses theatre and audience members to tackle social issues. “I’ve always been very excited about it, I’ve always as a director really sought out theatre that really tackles things like identity, mental health, race, and sexuality,” said Dabney.

While Dabney wasn’t actively looking for a new job, she saw the posting and knew she had to apply, since this type of theatre is something she has been so passionate about for so long. “I was just one of those things I just could not pass up the opportunity to apply and then I got the interview, and then I got another interview….” She eventually toured the campus to see if it would be a good fit and then accepted their offer.

Dabney will be finishing out the semester at UWL and then heading to Virginia in January. She wants to thank her colleagues here for being so understanding of her quick departure. “I think it would be very different if I was leaving to go to another teaching position with another theater program somewhere else…but it’s just such a good opportunity and everyone at UWL seems supportive.”

After the fall semester is over, Dabney will spend the first few weeks working remotely while she wraps up her time here. She hopes to move out to Virginia at the end of January.