Assistant Professor, Irish drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies

email: obrien@email.unc.edu

phone: CDA #220


Karen specializes in drama, theatre, and performance studies. Her research interests include critical inquiries in artistic, cultural, and textual performance, particularly in the geopolitical context of Irish Studies. Her current book project analyzes the ways in which the vital plays of two internationally acclaimed Irish playwrights–Marina Carr and Conor McPherson—engage with cultural myth, the supernatural, and nonhuman representations while traversing the process of globalization.

Karen’s publishing record includes additional interdisciplinary research interests in cultural studies, gender studies, film studies, and the environmental arts and humanities. In a double review for Theatre Journal, she covered a three-month festival aimed at strengthening cultural bridges between international communities through critical and creative engagement in the works of Enda Walsh at The Studio Theatre (Washington, D.C.). She also published an article on portrayals of gendered injustice in adaptations of the Medea myth in the international journal Études Irlandaises. In the environmental arts and humanities, she uses the lens of ecocriticism to explore the relationship between human and other-than-human realms and also makes interdisciplinary inquiries in performance and ecology. Her work at the intersection of ecocriticism and Irish drama is published in journals and texts: Journal of Dramatic Criticism and Theory; Contemporary Literary Criticism; ‘Out of Earth’: Ecocritical Reading of Irish Texts (Cork University Press, 2010); and The Theatre and Films of Martin McDonagh (Methuen Drama, 2012). She also has begun a second book project, which draws on her previous research in ecocriticism/environmental humanities and her current interdisciplinary teaching in performance and socio-ecological sustainability to investigate new directions in the environmental arts.

Karen currently teaches “Contemporary Irish Drama: The Dark Side of Globalization” (late 20th into 21st centuries), “Modern Irish Drama: Performing Nation” (20th century), “Theatre History and Dramatic Literature III” (Western drama from the 1930s), and “Ecology and Performance” (first-year seminar). In “Ecology and Performance,” she guides first-year students through the process of: analyzing the environmental arts as a tool for social change; conducting student-directed research involving issues related to food, animals, energy, and/or water; practicing creative performance techniques; and collaborating with peers to devise new performance pieces that promote socio-ecological sustainability and community betterment. As a faculty member affiliated with UNC’s Curriculum in Global Studies, she also is dedicated to teaching students to engage with interdisciplinary and international perspectives.

Karen has creative interests in theatre directing, practice-based research, devised theatre, theatre for social and ecological change, and solo performance. Her current artistic projects include writing a community-engaged performance project on the environment/climate change, a solo performance project on a woman artist, and a stage adaptation of a novel.

Karen holds a Ph.D. in Drama and Theatre from the Joint Doctoral Program at the University of California, Irvine and San Diego. She also received an M.F.A. in Directing from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.