Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist Karen Yates has developed an expanded international practice that includes performance creation, stage direction, writing, acting, digital sound art, and social engagement.
Her live ensemble performance pieces and digital sound work focus on U.S. and international issues—current and historical—especially as they relate to economic hierarchy, power, and the commons. She also makes opera.
In December 2015, she was the executive producer and creator of Amok Fest '15 at Links Hall, a weekend fest about colliding cultures and global shifts through the lens of Indonesia. The fest was an offshoot of her ensemble work, Amok. Amok is a theater piece using digital sound, gamelan music, and movement to examine the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa, geoscience, Dutch colonialism, and global capitalism.This past summer, Amok, was part of the "In the Works" residency at the Chicago Cultural Center.
In 2014 she received a six-month residency at Links Hall Chicago to develop the first phase of Amok. For that phase of development, Yates received a Puffin Foundation Ltd. grant and Illinois Arts Council grant.
That same year, she received a City of Chicago DCASE Individual Artist Program grant and a Propeller Fund grant for "Chicago Dream House," a socially engaged project on foreclosure and housing in Albany Park that debuted May 31, 2014.
While studying for her MA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia College Chicago, she was awarded the Albert P. Weisman Award for her 2012 digital sound project American Bacchae Infrasonic, based on her original play. This series went on to become an official selection of the 8th Annual International Streaming Festival of Audio Visual Art, based in The Hague, The Netherlands. In February 2014 the work was exhibited at Xin Wang's The Gallery in Beijing, China.
As a theater director, Yates’ work has been called "masterful," "driven," "vibrant and kinetic," "delightful," "evocative." Productions in which she has participated directorially have made journalists' "highly recommended" lists.
In 2013, she directed and produced the 15-actor workshop production of her play American Bacchae at Chicago's RhinoFest in February and directed the large-scale Ruth Margraff play Stadium Devildare at Red Tape Theatre.
From 2010 to 2014, Yates was the Associate Artistic Director of the adventurous hybrid opera company, Chicago Opera Vanguard, a company named as making the "Best Effort At Keeping Opera a Living Art" by the Chicago Reader. With COV in 2011 she directed workshops of their new opera, The Suitcase, both in Chicago and Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is also writing the libretto for Frequency Response, a sci-fi opera by composer Rob Steel employing interactive technology.
As a director, she has worked with Oracle, ATC, Piccolo Theatre, Actors' Revolution Theatre, Chopin, Chicago Scriptworks, the WTA, TUTA, the Around the Coyote Festival, Stage Left, among others. She has experience with Shakespeare and new plays. Yates has studied movement and devising with Complicité, SITI Company, Goat Island, Wendell Beavers, and Antonio Fava, to name a few.
As an actor, she has worked often with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She has also performed at Writers' Theatre (Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for Ensemble, To The Green Fields Beyond) BackStage, and Eclipse, among others. She also has done significant work in Playback Theater, a non-comedic form of improv that can be used in community outreach and cultural reconciliation, and has been a member of two Playback companies in Chicago. She was the live announcer for the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago, introducing President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.