Karen Allen was inspired to become an actor after seeing Jerzy Grotowski’s Polish Theatre Laboratory in a performance of Apolcalypsis Cum Figuris in 1972. She attended George Washington University and studied and performed in numerous theatre productions with the Washington Theatre Laboratory in Washington DC and co-produced performances at the Washington Project for the Arts for four years before moving to New York City to work in the theatre.
In NY she portrayed Helen Keller in William Gibson’s The Monday After the Miracle directed by Arthur Penn at the Actor’s Studio. It then traveled to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and onto Broadway in NYC. Her performance won a Theatre World Award. She next played Marjorie in William Mastrosimones’ Extremities at the Westside Arts Theatre, and performed in Strinberg’s Miss Julie at the Actor’s Studio directed by Peter Stormare. She starred in productions of The Country Girl, The Miracle Worker, and Speaking in Tongues at the Roundabout Theatre, played Laura in The Glass Menagerie at the Longwharf Theatre directed by Nikos Psachoropolis, produced and performed in Beautiful Bodies by Laura Cunningham at the Whole Theatre, and has worked at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (Tennessee Williams: A Celebration, The Royal Family and The Glass Menagerie), The Berkshire Theatre Festival, Shakespeare and Co. (Rosalind in As you Like It), and the Westport Country Playhouse (Temporary Help). In the Fall on 2012 she starred in the US premiere of Norwegian playwright Jon Fosses’ A Summer Day with Rattlestick Theatre at the Cherry Lane in NY.
As a director in the theatre she has done two productions of Michael Weller’s Moonchildren at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, and a production of Joan Ackerman’s The Batting Cage. Most recently she directed an award winning production of Mastrisimone’s Extremities and Lucy Thurber’s world premiere of Ashville for Rattlestick Theatre at the Cherry Lane in New York which won an Obie Award in 2014. In the summer of 2015 she will direct Terrance McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune at the BTF in Stockbridge, MA. Ms. Allen is on the faculty of the Theatre Department at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, has taught acting and directing at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in association with NYU, and is a lifetime member of the Actor’s Studio.
Her films include Animal House, The Wanderers, A Small Circle of Friends, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Shoot the Moon, Cruising, Until September, Starman, Animal Behavior, The Glass Menagerie, Backfire, The End of the Line, Scrooged, The Sandlot, King of the Hill, Falling Sky, The Perfect Storm, The Basket, In the Bedroom, Malcolm X, Poster Boy, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, White Irish Drinkers and Bad Hurt which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015. She recently complete filming A Year By the Sea based on the best selling memoir by Joan Anderson. It will be released in 2016.
In the spring of 2016 she will direct her first film based on Carson McCullers’ short story, A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud.
On television she has been seen as Abra in the mini-series of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, as Christa Macauliffe in The Challenger, and in Secret Weapon, Voyage, All the Winter’s That Have Been, My Horrible Year, Rapture, November Christmas, Law and Order, and Bluebloods.
Karen studied textile and clothing design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC when she was 17. In 2010 she received an honorary doctorate from FIT and the State University of NY for her design work with her company Karen Allen Fiber Arts in Great Barrington, MA where she presently has a design studio and store that represents dozens of textile and clothing designers who she admires from around the world, as well as her own cashmere knitwear line.
Karen divides her time between western MA and NYC and between her work as an actor and director and her design studio. She is an active Board member of the Berkshire International Film Festival and the Amazon Conservation Team. She has a 25-year-old son, Nicholas, who is a professional chef.