Red Deer College’s first theatre grad comes back to direct

Karen Johnson-Diamond feels she’s come full-circle with her latest gig

One of Alberta’s most successful theatre actors, Karen Johnson-Diamond, is back where her dreams were kindled.

After being Red Deer College’s first and only theatre graduate of 1987 (the first year of the program), Johnson-Diamond went on to act professionally. She created some of her own opportunities (co-founding Calgary’s Dirty Laundry improv theatre), was talented or “lucky” enough to land others, and eventually found herself one of Alberta’s regularly employed actors/directors and teachers.

Now she is back to her Alma mater to guest-direct RDC’s next theatre production, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding (which opens Wednesday in Studio A of the Arts Centre).

And she couldn’t be more excited.

“It feels so terrific to pass by my (former instructor) Larry Reese in the hallway and think, I’m here because of you!” said Johnson-Diamond, who credits Reese and her other RDC instructors for being incredibly encouraging.

Johnson-Diamond had been warned an acting career would take a lot of hard work and perseverance. But “nobody at Red Deer College ever told me I couldn’t do this,” recalled the 50-year-old, who believes her can-do attitude was inspired by the college.

At first, finding jobs was a struggle.

The Edmonton native, who now lives in Calgary, recalled supplementing her theatre income with restaurant jobs. But soon, Johnson-Diamond (whose sister is local poet and writer Kimmy Beach) was teaching at student summer camps and school workshops — which she loved.

Because she enjoys interacting with children, she spent a lot of time in youth theatre, including as administrator of ArtsTrek. In fact, Johnson-Diamond and Tom Bradshaw (now an RDC acting instructor), co-founded the local group that became Red Deer’s Tree House Youth Theatre during a summer stint when they were both artists-in-residence at RDC after her graduation.

She has performed in improv, comedy and even edgy drama, because “I was lucky enough that someone decided to cast me against type.” She appears regularly with Theatre Calgary, Vertigo Theatre, Lunch Box Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects and other companies.

One of her recent roles was in Falling: A Wake, by Ontario playwright Gary Kirkham. She played half of a married couple who have a wake for the body of a young man who falls out of the sky into their yard. Through grieving for this stranger they make peace with the fact that their son, who disappeared at age 12, will never be coming home.

“If you can believe it, it’s a dark comedy,” said Johnson-Diamond appeared twice in this play when it was staged in Chemainus, B.C., and then Calgary.

The married mom has one son, who’s now 20 years old and is studying acting at the University of Alberta. Johnson-Diamond is clearly proud of him and excited that he’s also getting to do what he loves.

She advises young actors to volunteer with theatre fundraisers, etc., to do a good deed and become known outside the audition process. That way if certain directors need a girl for a role, it will occur to them “Hey, Karen’s an actor, maybe she can do this part!”

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