It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Karen Sabo that she is destined for greatness — one and off the stage — and her latest in a long line of accomplishments proves that to be true.
The announcement came late last week that Sabo, who is a local director, teacher, writer and actor, has been named the 2019-2020 recipient of the esteemed Leighton M. Ballew Directing Scholarship.
Awarded to a graduate student studying directing at an accredited university, the scholarship is named after Dr. Leighton M. Ballew who served as chair of the Drama Department, now Theatre and Film Studies, at the University of Georgia, for more than 40 years.
“I’m excited to be the sole incoming Masters of Fine Arts Directing Student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa,” Sabo told High Country Press on Friday. “They take one student a year — and I’m it for the upcoming year. I’ve been given a tuition scholarship and a stipend as a teaching assistant, which will actually be a little easier than continuing as a college adjunct, which I’ve been doing for the past 13 years, on and off.”
The scholarship, Sabo explained, will help with uncovered expenses, like books and fees at the university, as well as travel expenses to New York City in October to perform a solo play, Furrow, which was written by her husband, Derek Davidson.
“We premiered the show in the Asheville Fringe Festival this past January, and are excited to bring it to New York, and to have some funds to help do so.”
The funding will also help her to become acquainted with the work of some well-known theatres in the Alabama area, she added, like the Birmingham Children’s Theatre, the Red Mountain Theatre Company, and the Alabama Shakespeare Company.
Fortunate also to have earlier received a regional artist grant from the Northwest North Carolina Arts Councils, Sabo used that funding to do a directing observership of a Florida production of the Tony-award-winning play “Indecent” by Paula Vogel, directed at GableStage in Coral Gables by Joseph Adler, the artistic director of GableStage.
“I’m hoping to be able to do another directing observership with these funds, and am currently pursuing a couple of possibilities,” she said.
Sabo wishes to thank those who recommended her for this latest scholarship opportunity, she said, and especially Keith Martin, who knew Leighton Ballew personally from her involvement in the Southeast Theatre Conference, the largest regional theatre conference in the country.
Along with winning the scholarship, Sabo explained, comes a one-year membership in SETC and attendance at its spring conference Louisville, Kentucky. “That’s where I lived when I got my equity card, my membership, in the stage actors’ union, so it will be a special place to return to.”
She is applying to lead a workshop and perform her solo piece at the conference, too, she explained, “hoping to make the most of this opportunity.”
Sabo has been a member of three different resident acting companies, including the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Va., where she was also a resident director, dialect coach and eventually, director of education. She studied acting with the American Conservatory Theatre, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Saratoga International Theatre Institute and Shakespeare and Company.
Sabo has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Hampshire College, and a master’s in liberal arts from East Tennessee State University. As a writer, her plays have been produced in New Mexico, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia, and she has had dozens of articles published, including in Southern Theatre magazine.
Sabo also runs Performing Excellence, which uses acting and improvisational skills to improve customer relations and worker happiness for businesses. She has led three non-profit organizations, including In/Visible Theatre of Boone, which she co-founded.Sabo is thrilled and grateful, she said, to be the recipient of the Ballew Directing Scholarship and to be a masters of fine arts directing candidate at the University of Alabama.
“Thanks to all who have helped me get to this place,” she said. “I’m thrilled to use these funds during my upcoming time in Alabama. I’ll miss my most dear husband, but look forward, for the next couple of years, to immersing myself in the field I most love. I’ve been very fortunate in many ways this spring, since I decided to focus more on just what I want to be doing, instead of things I thought I should be doing.”