Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2017

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Rainbow Company director like a theater mom


Leila Navidi

Karen McKenney watches a rehearsal Thursday of a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Charleston Heights Arts Center. McKenney is artistic director of the Rainbow Company, a youth theater group with an ensemble of 42 actors, ages 10 to 18, who learn how to make costumes, build sets and do lighting and sound, in addition to act.

Click to enlarge photo

McKenney directs her cast Thursday. "It's not just about theater," she says. "We teach them time management, responsibilities. I encourage education. I push them physically. They make good friends."

Name: Karen McKenney, artistic director of Rainbow Company

Age: 55

Education: Bachelor’s in performance, University of Rhode Island; master’s in child drama, Arizona State University

Who she is: McKenney is the third artistic director of the Rainbow Company. She has taught acting at UNLV and College of Southern Nevada.

Rainbow Company: The award-winning youth theater company was formed in 1976. It offers professional training and drama classes and has an ensemble of 42 actors, ages 10 to 18, who are selected through auditions. It presents five productions annually, including an original touring play on Nevada history. Ensemble members learn each aspect of production — acting, costumes, set building, lights and sound. Not all students plan to pursue theater after high school.

“It’s not just about theater,” she says. “We teach them time management, responsibilities. I encourage education. I push them physically. They make good friends. Some have made lifelong friends. I’ve also had kids here where this is the only home they knew.”

Its audience: “We have people who have been Rainbow Company ticket holders for years. Former members bring their kids — a lot of families. It’s affordable so you can bring the family to a show. Having brought up four kids myself, it gets expensive. When you have high ticket prices, you make theater an exclusive art form.”

Being artistic director: “I’m passionate about the company, the kids and about the work we do — as is the staff, who have been here a long time. In some cases, we watch them go from elementary to high school. We grow attached to them. If we’re in production, the kids are with me Monday nights for meetings, Tuesday through Friday nights for rehearsal and Saturday afternoon for rehearsal.”

Getting started: McKenney dabbled in elementary school theater, then made her directorial debut at age 13 when she directed “Alice in Litter Land,” a one-act play about conservation for her mom’s garden club. High school performances included roles in “The MatchMaker” and “Cheaper by the Dozen,” but she wanted to be “realistic” about a career and chose to major in education.

Education: McKenney noticed that teaching degrees outnumbered teaching positions and was inspired to switch her major to theater in her sophomore year. “I decided that if I’m going to be unemployed, at least I’ll do what I really want to do.”

Rather than hitting the stage, she headed to Arizona for a master’s program. “My friends were all packing up and going to New York. I just wasn’t ready. I took stock. There were really talented people at school. I’m not bulletproof. I’m very sensitive. I couldn’t push myself through the rejections. Besides, I really loved kids. I loved teaching.”

Getting to Vegas: She was waiting tables after a temporary stint at the California Theatre Center when a friend in Las Vegas called to tell her about a costume-design position at a children’s company here. Was she interested? She worked her way through college in the costume shop and had some design experience.

“I thought, ‘Do I want to work in a theater or do I want to work at Bob’s Big Boy for the rest of my life?’ ”

She arrived here in 1980.

Interests: Camping with family, ghost towns, the Boston Red Sox and the gym. She works out every day. She has three sons and a daughter and is married to Thomas Dyer, exhibits manager at Nevada State Museum.

“During the season there isn’t a lot of down time. In the summer I try to feed my soul. I love museums, plays. I love to go to New York. I’ve dragged my kids to every ghost town within driving distance.”

Sticking around? “I don’t see myself going anywhere in the next 10 years. After retirement, it depends on where my kids are.”

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