Karen Wilson fondly remembers the wonderful sights, sounds and emotions of attending a Broadway show with her New York City classmates.
“It was a magical experience,” Wilson said.
As director of youth theatre for the King Center for Performing Arts, Wilson has for almost a quarter of a century connected Brevard County school children with the wonder of live theatre.
“I’ve always had a passion for the performing arts,” she said.
During her long tenure with the Space Coast’s premier performing arts organization, Wilson has touched the lives of thousands of kids, many of whom had never been exposed to live theater. Prior to COVID-19, attendance for youth programs averaged more than 10,000 children. Last year, attendance plummeted to nothing, but Wilson is optimistic that the future will soon again bring young people back to the King Center.
With friends in Brevard and a desire to stop shoveling snow, Wilson moved to Brevard in the 1990s. Although she loved the performing arts, she opted for the more secure paycheck using her business training, a background that helped her land jobs with local FM radio station WAIA before she joined the King Center in 1997. Her business background continues to help her as she maneuvers through marketing programs, negotiating with artists, working on collaborative opportunities within the community, securing additional funding for the youth program and building community relations.
Although she is often onstage to introduce acts, she is not usually onstage to act, except for rare occasions such as her performances with the Cocoa Village Playhouse in productions such as “Dreamgirls” and “Aida.”
Although youth shows were non-existent last year, Wilson kept herself busy with “Rakonto: Voices of Brevard’s Heroes,” a collaborative project with Brevard Achievement Center and Eastern Florida State College, a longtime vision of Wilson. Grants she secured from Florida’s Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of Arts and Culture and the National Endowment for the Arts enabled the telling of the powerful story of 11 Brevard residents all living with, as Wilson calls it, “differently-abled abilities.” These are individuals who never allowed physical challenges to veer them from achieving their dreams. Wilson’s experience with her blind father inspired her pursuit of the project.
“He was a great role model,” she said.
When out in the community, Wilson loves it when a youngster she passes by remembers her as “the lady from the theater.”
“They may not remember my name, but they remember the experience,” she said.
Wilson cannot imagine a better job and has no plans to retire, she quipped.
“I enjoy working with the kids because they keep me youthful,” she said.