Karen Saari
She, her, hers
Madison, WI
Playwright of "Rain on Fire," "Bad in Bed (A Fairy Tale)," "In a Clearing," and "Joyland." Based in Madison, WI
Biography

Karen Saari writes plays with themes of redemption, hope and humor in the face of obstacles. Her early roots in Michigan's Upper Peninsula come through in most of her work.

Her play 'Rain on Fire was awarded a 2022 staged reading in NYC with Broad Horizons Theatre Company. This followed inclusion in Flint Repertory Theatre's 2022 New Works Festival. 'Rain on Fire earned Karen the 2020 Talk Back Theatre Playwriting Prize, the 2019 Br!nk Festival Residency Award by Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theaterworks and a reading with L.A.'s The Blank Theatre in 2020.

In a Clearing celebrated its professional world premiere via Magnetic Theatre Company in Asheville, NC in 2018 and was a semi-finalist for the 2018 O’Neill NPC. In a Clearing was a 2015 Wisconsin Wrights New Play Festival winner and was awarded a PlayLab at the 2017 Last Frontier Theatre Conference. In a Clearing was also a finalist for the 2017 ATHE Award for Excellence in Playwriting.

She was commissioned by Music Theatre of Madison to co-write a musical, Ten Days in a Madhouse, which had a successful world premiere run in Aug 2022. Its four-year development process included a public reading in Dec. 2019 and a workshop podcast (a COVID-forced alternative to original plans) and was awarded two NAMT development grants.

Her comedy Mornings with June was given Honorable Mention by Panndora Productions' 2022 New Works Festival, was a 2022 O'Neill NPC semi-finalist, 2022 ATHE Judith Royer Excellence in Playwriting finalist, 2022 Wisconsin Wrights New Play Festival finalist and was awarded a staged reading with Vintage Theatre Company's New Comedy Play Festival (Aurora, CO).

Her comedy Bad in Bed (A Fairy Tale) will celebrate its world premiere with Madison Theatre Guild (Wisc.) in early 2023 after a developmental premiere in 2018 at Acadiana Repertory Theatre of Lafayette, LA. Bad in Bed was also a semi-finalist for the 2021 Princess Grace Fellowship Award and the 2018 Garry Marshall Theatre New Works Festival.

Karen's one-acts--most notably Joyland and Gun Story--have been performed around the country. Karen is a 2022 William Inge Festival New Play Lab Playwright. Karen is a member of Dramatists Guild and Playwrights Center and holds an MFA in playwriting from Augsburg University (Minneapolis) in 2021.

Plays

by Karen Saari

Marie comes home to plan her addicted mother Lorraine’s funeral. "Rain" left a surprising final wish for Marie and her cousin Caleb, a meth user, to fulfill together. Marie struggles with her anger and loss in a tense, and often funny, play that deals with the opiate crisis in Michigan's northwoods.

2023 World premiere, Flint Repertory Theatre

2022 Broad Horizons Theatre Company, Staged Reading, NYC

2022 Flint Repertory Theatre New Works Festival, Flint, MI

2020 The Blank Theatre, Living Room Series, Hollywood, CA 

2020 Talk Back Theatre Playwriting Prize, Orange County, CA

2019 Br!nk Festival residency, Renaissance Theaterworks, Milwaukee, WI 

2018 Austin Film Festival "second-rounder" (top 20%), stage play category

Cast:
3M, 3W
by Karen Saari

Mark is a newly recovering alcoholic living in his hometown of Carp Lake, Wisconsin. He's recently grown close to Pam, a childhood friend who is back home following a family tragedy. As Mark copes with a life of sobriety, he begins having flashbacks to an event that threaten the life he is trying to rebuild. This play shares an often humorous look at addiction recovery and loss, especially in the rural midwest. 

2019 Semi-finalist, Normal Ave. NAP New Play Series, NYC

World premiere: The Magnetic Theatre Company, Asheville, NC, Aug. 24-Sept 9, 2018 

Semi-finalist, 2018 Eugene O'Neill National Playwriting Conference 

Public reading: Workshop Stage, Madison, WI, July 2017

PlayLab, Last Frontier Theatre Conference, Valdez, AK, June 2017

Finalist, 2017 ATHE Award - Excellence in Playwriting

2015 Wisconsin Wrights New Play Festival, winner

Cast:
2M, 2W
by Karen Saari

Charles’ third wife has just informed him she’s leaving. As he reels from the news and the reason she gives, he spends a weekend with his best friend Jack and their college friend Betsy, an up and coming author. Betsy, a former Wiccan, reveals a secret from their college days that could be the reason for Charles’ failed relationships.

Can Betsy help Charles win back his wife? Maybe, with the help of a Finnish coven.

World Premiere Wisconsin participant, March 2023, Madison Theatre Guild

2021 Semi-finalist, Princess Grace Fellowship Award

Developmental Premiere, Feb. 2018, Acadiana Repertory Theatre, Lafayette, LA

2018 Semi-finalist, Garry Marshall Theatre New Works Festival

Cast:
2M, 3W
by Karen Saari (Book & lyrics), Jennifer Hedstrom (Music & lyrics)

In 1887 journalist Nellie Bly got herself committed to the notorious Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum. Her coverage of the atrocities she witnessed brought about changes in mental health treatment, journalism and Bly herself. This musical is a commissioned project for Music Theatre of Madison. 

Aug. 2022 World premiere 

2020 Workshop/Podcast, 5-episode podcast featuring a current draft, seeking and discussing audience input

2020 National Alliance of Musical Theatre development grant, Frank Young Fund for New Musicals

2019 Staged reading, Lakeside Coffee House

Cast:
by Karen Saari

Lorna is a young single mother who needs a job. When she applies for a retail gig at a Disney-like corporation, she is screened by an automated interviewer who is an android/princess with an agenda of her own. A class-based battle of wits ensues in this one-act comedy.

2022 Finalist-The City Theatre National Playwriting Contest 

2021 The 4208 Group, 10-Minute Taste Festival, Washington, D.C., Sept. 12 (Audience Favorite Award)

2021 Open Door Playhouse podcast, Audio play version

2021 Spark Creative Works, Virtual reading series, NYC (date tbd)

2019 Otherworld Theatre Paragon Festival, Chicago, IL

2019 Buffalo State College One-act Festival, Buffalo, NY 

2019 Viterbo University's New Play Festival, La Crosse, WI (reading)

2018 Stray Dog Theatre New Works Laboratory, St. Louis, MO (professional)

2018 Eden Prairie Players Night of Women's One-acts (Eden Prairie, MN)

2017 Broom Street Theatre, Madison, WI

Cast:
2W

Two parents of high school athletes meet and discover they have a connection through their kids. An offhand joke triggers a surprising reaction in this story related to the gun debate.

2022 Reading, William Inge Festival honoring Lynn Nottage, Independence, KS

2022 Production, First Run Theatre Spectrum 10-Minute Play Festival, St. Louis, MO

2022 Reading, Pittsburgh New Works Festival Reading Series

2021 Audio production, Open Door Playhouse podcast

2020 Reading, TAPIT New Works 3rd Annual Women Playwrights Speak Out

Cast:
1M, 1W
by Karen Saari

While their loved ones undergo their cancer treatments, two people bond during their weekly time together in the waiting room. Their friendship becomes a bright spot for both of them during an otherwise painful time.

2020 Pittsburgh New Works Festival, Virtual Reading, Pittsburgh, PA

2019 Pittsburgh New Works Festival Reading Series, Pittsbugh, PA

2019 What She Said Play Festival, The Underground, Duluth, MN

2018 One-act Play Festival, Pend-Oreille Playhouse, Newport, WA

Finalist: 2018 Shakespeare in the 'Burg festival, Williamsburg, VA

Cast:
Written for 1M, 1W but ripe for gender-neutral casting
by Karen Saari

Nothing to see here. Just a robot, a clown and their pal slogging away at a telemarketing firm, discussing life, love and their supervisor's eyebrows in this one-act play that tosses out-of-context characters into an everyday setting. 

2017 Renaissance Theaterworks Br!nk Festival, Br!nk Briefs (professional)

Cast:
3M, 1W
by Karen Saari

Rain, a lonely widow, has a growing addiction to painkillers and forms a close bond with her kind but unstable nephew Caleb. Caleb, fighting his own demons, tries to help her cope with
her growing dependency and her grief. They both risk falling prey to the trappings of the
drug trade in their hometown.

A look at the opiate crisis in rural America, particularly Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Companion piece to 'Rain on Fire.

March 2023, New Script Development Festival, Workshop/Reading, The Shattered Glass Project (Seattle)

2021 Finalist, Relative Theatrics Playwrights Voices Festival

Cast:
2W, 1M

June is a once successful radio personality who has returned to her northern Michigan hometown after a series of personal and on-air disasters. Living with her mom, she grudgingly takes a job as a morning show host at the town's radio station, shabbily run by the overworked Wilbert. June is also forced to collaborate with her high school tormentor, Melanie. As June struggles to start over, she may need make peace with more of her past--and herself--than she expected.

Honorable Mention, Panndora Productions Sweet 16 New Works Festival, 2022

Second-rounder, Austin Film Fest, Stage Play Category, 2022

Vintage Theatre Comedy Play Festival (Aurora, CO), Staged reading June 4, 2022

Semi-finalist, O'Neill National Playwriting Conference, 2022

Finalist, ATHE Award-Judith Royer Excellence in Playwriting, 2022

Finalist, Wisconsin Wrights New Play Festival, 2022

3W, 2M

Cast:
3W, 2M

Successes

TRAGEDY SOUND has been selected for a workshop with The Bechdel Group's New Play Development series. A virtual reading will take place Monday, March 18. 

My play TRAGEDY SOUND was a semi-finalist (top 15 out of 1,000+) in the Playwrights Realm Scratchpad Series.

Flint Repertory Theatre produced the world premiere of my play 'RAIN ON FIRE, Sept. 15-Oct. 1 in Flint, Michigan. 

My play TRAGEDY SOUND has been selected for the 2024 Br!nk Residency Award by Milwaukee's Renaissance Theaterworks. The play will receive a workshop process culminating in a staged reading. 

ROCKHOUND received a staged reading with The Shattered Glass Project of Seattle. The play was workshopped for a week leading into the in-person and live-streamed reading.