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August 19, 2004

Texas Actress Karen Kuykendall Inducted Into Austin Arts Hall of Fame

Karen Kuykendall, a well-known Texas actress and active member of the Austin Equity Liaison Committee, has been inducted in the Austin Arts Hall of Fame. Karen was saluted by the Liaison Committee at its recent “Spring Fling” meeting prior to her induction.

Karen is a “regular” on Austin stages, appearing in diverse roles in plays like LUV and ROMEO AND JULIET, and in musicals ranging from THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW to NINE. Critics applauded her for her memorable performance as Hannah in ANGELS IN AMERICA, and she recently reprised the role of Fraulein Schneider in CABARET at the Zachary Scott Theater Center.

Her involvement in the arts community extends beyond performing. She is on the Board of Ballet Austin, and has served on a number of boards in the past, including Conspirare, the Austin Musical Theatre and the Girl Scouts. She also has been a willing and effective fund-raiser for numerous charities and non-profit organizations.

Karen attributes her interest in acting to her parents, Chester and Mary Faulk Koock, who required dinnertime performances from each of their children in the grand old Austin house that was their home - the house that in the 1950s became the Green Pastures restaurant. She describes the power of that influence this way: "I think it was good training. Especially one time when I walked into the orchestra pit during the run of 'Mame' in Cleveland – fell right into the drums 'For God's sake' (I said,) 'get me out of here before the lights come up!' "

Equity spoke with Karen about her career and the theatrical scene in Austin:

Austin has a national reputation as a thriving arts center. What do you find appealing or interesting about Austin, that is say, different from being in New York or Los Angeles ?

It really is not a good idea to begin with “but here in Austin”. After all New York IS. However there is a healthy theater community doing interesting projects and wonderful collaborations. The alternative paper The Chronicle does write a “News of the Weird” column. As you may know we are the Music Capital of Texas. Willie lives here.

What have been some of your favorite roles ?

I have worked with the Rude Mechanicals Theatre in BIG LOVE, the Charles Mee play. I was Bella. At the Off Center Theater, I did THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW playing the Narrator as Andy Warhol, which was a big hit. I played Diana Vreeland in FULL GALLOP at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center.

What are some of the most memorable theatre moments, for you personally ?

I would have to say ANGELS IN AMERICA, Part I & Part II, in which I played Hannah. Tony Kushner was here and of course, met with our cast. When I asked him when he was going to see the show, he declined, joking “it’s too long”. I loved that.

I toured the East Coast with BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIR playing the Mother and the Midwest in MAME as the slightly alcoholic Vera Charles – that’s when I fell into the pit in Cleveland. I am pretty sure that was supposed to be an upstage exit.

When did you become interested in theatre ?

I always had an interest in the theater and in music. My parents had excellent voices and my father sang professionally in Chicago. We kids - I am one of eight siblings – all took lessons: piano, violin, voice, tap and ballet. We even had our own string quartet at one time. I began in the Children’s Theater of Austin in junior high school, and we toured all the schools in the winter and the parks in the summer doing plays like “TOM SAWYER” and “LITTLE WOMEN”. College was in Washington, DC and I studied voice and acting and I mean seriously. I did summer stock in Vermont and then a big detour to marry a rancher in Mexico, where we lived smack in the middle of a big, beautiful ranch in Coahuilla. Not too much theater there! When I moved back to New York City in the 1980s, I worked all the time, mostly tours and regional. Of course, I can do that in Texas and did and have.

What else is on your schedule?

This past April and May I played the Nurse in “ROMEO AND JULIET” with the Austin Shakespeare Festival at The Playhouse. I am currently starring in Anna Devere Smith’s HOUSE ARREST at the Zachary Scott Theatre Center.

Besides being inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame this month, I won along with my singing partner, Sterling Price-McKinney, a Critics Table award for our cabaret show last May. But wait there is more - I loved our competition: Jennifer Holiday and Maureen McGovern ! I can’t believe it. We recorded that show for an upcoming CD.





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