Karen

This work is a two-part investigation that uses theatrical languages and techniques to form an embodied exploration of "Karen" meme culture and object-symbols often associated with white femininity. It examines spectrums of female emotional display (ranging from subtle to grotesque) and how it causes aesthetics of comedy, tragedy, horror, and realism to intersect.

I use photography to document and frame performance exercises that engage with principles of Butoh dance, the gestural language of masked theater traditions, and portrayals of "high drama." These movement practices are rooted in my training in Butoh, physical comedy, and somatic movement.  

The work's second element are variations of a recorded monologue being performed by actress Christine Behrens. I developed the monologue's text based on the literary protagonist "Karen" found in Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale The Red Shoes. Anderson's "Karen" was inspired by his half-sister (whom he reportedly loathed), and he depicts her as a little girl undergoing a series of painful and humiliating circumstances as a means of divine retribution for her desire to wear red shoes to church. He concludes the tale with Karen's remorseful state being witnessed by an angel who mercifully explodes her heart, killing her. The final paragraph reveals Karen is taken to heaven, where "no one ever mentions the red shoes again."

 

This monologue is written from the perspective of adult "Karen", a woman who struggles with feelings of repression, embarrassment, a questionable sense of invisibility, weaponized anger, and confusion around empowerment. I asked Christine to record the monologue in various emotional tones, and through this, I found four distinctive variations.

As a whole, these pieces examine the role of "female emotion" as a tool within comedy, tragedy, and political drama. It uses "Karen" as a vehicle to raise questions about female characters who elicit schadenfreude, sympathy, rage or laughter from any given audience. It asks the viewer to consider the ideas of "tantrum", "hysteria", and "melodrama" and the protections they are given within both theater and societal status quo.

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She is relatable

00:00 / 05:43

She is condescending

00:00 / 05:49

She is snarky

00:00 / 05:57

She is hysterical

00:00 / 05:36