NMU Alumna Writes Two Plays Set in Upper Midwest

Wednesday 21, 2018

Northern Michigan University alumna Karen Saari’s (‘96 BS) play, "In a Clearing," will have its world premiere this summer under the direction of NMU alumnus Andrew Gall (‘95 BS), interim managing artistic director of Magnetic Theatre Company in Asheville, N.C. Another play by Saari, "Bad in Bed," is set in Marquette and features characters who are NMU alumni. A developmental production of "Bad in Bed" is taking place through Saturday, Feb. 24, at Acadiana Repertory Theatre in Lafayette, La.

Gall directed Saari in several theater productions when they attended NMU together.

“I can’t wait to see 'In a Clearing' done as a full production by someone I hold in such high regard,” said Saari. “It is going to be surreal. I remember being blown away in college by how Andrew could look at a script and see it in a completely different vision than I could have seen at that time. I remember thinking, ‘I need to learn how to see things beyond the page like that. That is amazing.’”

"In a Clearing," a dramatic play, is a semifinalist for the 2018 Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference. It has received some developmental workshop feedback, such as at the 2015 Wisconsin Wrights New Play Festival. After that festival, Gall contacted Saari and asked to read the play, which ultimately led to the collaboration.

“'In a Clearing' is a better, stronger play now thanks to festival and workshop feedback,” said Saari. “I got a rejection letter from the O’Neill conference last time I submitted this play. This year it’s a semifinalist, so that says something about the development process, too. I used to take my writing for granted. I knew I could write a story or play. I hadn’t really pursued playwriting until I had 'In a Clearing' burning a hole in my head. This play and the Wisconsin Wrights festival experience lit the spark within me to become a playwright.”

'In a Clearing' is set in a fictional Wisconsin town that Saari describes as being similar to the Upper Peninsula.

“The reason my plays are set in the Midwest is a combination of familiarity and, honestly, because we see a lot of plays set in places like the south, L.A. and New York. We don’t see many plays based on these far-north rural characters. For 'In a Clearing,' I worked really hard to make my characters fleshed out and real.”

Because of the Marquette setting for "Bad in Bed," Saari said she decided to make it about NMU alumni. Some characters are embellishments and combinations of people she knew at NMU. There is even a lot of Saari in one character. She said there are also a few Marquette ties in the play, like Yooper accents, that feed into the comedy.

Saari credits her NMU educators for encouraging her to read and analyze text while in college.

“Theater professor Shelley Russell taught me about how you can use language as imagery to help solidify who characters are and what is motivating them. Having done a little bit of everything theater-related at NMU really helped prepare me as a playwright. Having all of that exposure helps you as a writer because you can then consider various perspectives of how the play will be feasible. It helps you consider the big picture.”

Saari is a native of Mass City. She was a broadcasting major and theater minor at NMU. In addition to being a playwright, she is a marketing copywriter, voice talent, actor and mother of two. She lives in the Madison, Wis., area.

Jill Vermeulen
Student Writer

Karen Saari