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United We Are a Force, and Individually We are W.O.N.

Image Courtesy of Torenzo Blair

Women of Note celebrates the unique talents of women of Hampton Roads and seeks to raise awareness of issues women face in the 21st century. We are well aware of the many hats women wear throughout the day as well as throughout their lives and we would like to give women the opportunity to share their experiences juggling these with our community. By sharing our experiences, we hope to inspire others, learn from their perspectives, and foster a dialogue that creates solutions. Today we spot light Karen Turner Ward.

Affiliation(s) (past and present):

Old Dominion Endowed Chair of Fine and Performing Arts, Hampton UniversityProfessor of Theatre Arts

Actor, Playwright, Director, Producer

How long have you been (working in/participating in) your field? How did you get into it?

I have pursuing theatre professionally since 1985. I studied theatre ( acting) in college at The University of Virginia and later went on to Virginia Commonwealth University where I received my MFA in Acting. My first role was on my grandmama’s coffee table after every Sunday dinner. My Uncle Herman would have dress me up like Shirley Temple to sing and tap dance while he passed the hat around to all my Aunts and Uncles.

How long have you been working/ living in in Hampton Roads?

Thirty seven years

What advice would you give young women going into your field?

First, always look for a strong mentor in the field, someone who does what you do, but not the exact same position. Have someone you can trust and confide in, someone that you can ask the difficult questions that won’t lead you down the wrong path. Second, approach each job like it’s the last time you will ever get to do this in your life. Always do your best. Third, work hard but don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Take vacations, make room in your life for family and fun. Memories are the most import things you will cherish when you retire, not how many projects you completed in a year, how many books you wrote, how many plays you directed, how many plays you wrote, how many classes you created or how many roles you portrayed.

Does your gender influence your relationship to your work? In what way?

I don’t believe gender influenced my relationship to my work at all. Depending upon the level of professionalism, in the past women have had a difficult time being accepted as directors, but we have found this to be less and less true more recently.

Have you faced challenges in your field because of your gender or have you found your gender to be an asset? What kinds of challenges or advantages, and how have they affected your life?

I have never had a difficult time because of my gender and if has been a disadvantage or challenge, it was never apparent to me.

Has parenthood impacted your career or shaped your perspective as a professional? In what ways?

? I find that having my daughter as part of my life for most of my professional career has been inspirational. It’s very fulfilling to be a part of paving the way for the next generation of artists and educators. What becomes inevitable to you at some point is that they will in many ways become much better than yourself and much better than you can imagine. And then you can sit back, take a deep breath, and say well done.

What accomplishment is your greatest triumph?

My greatest accomplishment are all of the students I have trained in theatre and who have gone on to pursue careers in the arts. It’s amazing to watch them flourish. I am very humbled to have had a part in their preparation.

What has been your greatest challenge and what have you learned from it?

My greatest challenge remains my greatest challenge because I am faced with this every day even now. My greatest challenge is to let go of things I cannot change. When I’m faced with circumstances that are beyond my control on projects, I must learn to let them go and move on with the best plan possible. This isn’t easy for me. I have never quite mastered that.

Any closing thoughts?

I love the arts…. Theatre, visual arts, music , dance. For as long as I can remember the arts have been the center of my life and played an integral role in my day to day life. Art is everywhere and everything we do. I have spent most of my life working in the arts. I work tirelessly in a profession that I love and would most graciously do for free. In fact, I sometimes find it unforgiveable, selfish and even unkind not share freely what is beautiful, meaningful and most importantly useful with mankind.

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