Karena Johnson

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civilisation, democracy, diversity, emotion, everyday life, interculturalism, lifestyle, love, marginalisation, sexuality, Society
Performing Arts (children & youth, general, theatre)
Europe, Western
England (UK)
London, Liverpool
created on:
February 12, 2007
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Passion and Power

The immediate response of theatre

Karena Johnson is an independent theatre director and producer. She was Acting Artistic Director of Contact Theatre, Manchester, Head of Programming at Oval House Theatre, London and Artistic Director of Kushite Theatre Company. She has also has worked and directed plays for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Young Vic, Tricycle Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East.
Karena is Britain´s first and only black female Artistic Director of a producing theatre she is a powerful pioneering force in British Theatre with a vision to programme a new theatre from a diverse voices. Johnson has programmed a succession of inspired productions, including Dipo Agboluaje´s ´Early Morning´ a satire about Nigerian cleaners mounting a coup in London at Oval House Theatre and ´For all the Wrong Reasons´ a co-production between Contact Theatre - Manchester and Victoria - Belgium for the Manchester International Festival.
Her other works include ´3 Short plays from Africa´ by Maissa Bey, Moussa Diagana & Rodrigue Norman (first production in English) for the Momentum Festival ´Safe´ by David Hermenstein West Yorkshire Playhouse ´The Bridge´ by Pedro Obaseki, an international co-production between Oval House Theatre and Don Pedro productions Nigeria; ´The Oddest Couple´ by Geoff Aymer at the Theatre Royal Stratford East; ´Vengeance´ by Wayne Buchanan on a National Tour; ´Yerma´ by Federico Garcia Lorca at the Young Vic/ Jerwood Space; ´The Key Game´ by Pat Cumper at the Riverside Studios; ´The Front Room´ by Jenny Davis on a National Tour; ´Under Their Influence´ by Wayne Buchanan at the Tricycle Theatre; ´Gods and Bad Guys´ by Tunde Euba; ´Two´ by Jim Cartwright; and EMMA Award nominated premier production of Vengeance by Wayne Buchanan at the Oval House Theatre.
Johnson´s final production for Kushite Theatre Company was ´Sweet Yam Kisses´ which was conceived by her and written by Courttia Newland and Pat Cumper at the Lyric Hammersmith. The battle of the sexes through the eyes of three generations of lovers in Black Britain, Sweet Yam Kisses follows three couples as their relationships evolve from getting together to staying together. Woven into the script are video interviews of real people talking about their experiences of love. The piece asks is modern love in a state of emotional emergency? What is love and how can we make it last?
Some of Kushite’s productions:
Vengeance written by Wayne Buchanan, which was a play about two brothers. One was a Buppie and the other had recently left jail, it dealt with the latter’s resentment for his sibling.
Under their Influence; set in a hospital room and it gave the audience the chance to get inside the schizophrenic character’s head and see his alter ego.
Gods and Bad Guys was a one man comedy and political satire, written by Tunde Euba. It focused on a failed and dying Nigerian drug dealer and user. God and Yoruba mythology were important elements.
Karena is passionate about creating access for emerging talent in addition to working as a dramaturg with many young playwrights over the years she has been involved in a number of workshop programmes both nationally and internationally. These include: Visiting Arts/ British Council ´Producers workshops in Shanghai´, ´Live and Direct´ a two week course for emerging black directors and Breaking Cycles ´Process´ sharing theatre making tools with young hip hop performers.
It is passion and dedication that drives her. Says Karena: ´Having your own company gives you the opportunity to make work that you are passionate about, you can do what you want´ to this end she launches her new company Loud Talkin´ with the aim of making ´high quality conceptual performance focusing on the personal political´.
Loud Talkin´ will be co-producing Underneath/Nothing as silent as snow as part of Black/North SEAS
Author: Annika Salomonsson


Karena Johnson is a British Theatrical Director/Programmer. She is Britain´s only black female theatrical Director/Programmer, who first started working at London´s Oval House Theatre. She was born in South London, and studied drama at the Royal Holloway, University of London and at the University of Leicester, Leicester, England.


98-99 Fast Track Senior Arts Management Developement Program, The Arts Council of England

96-97 MA Theatre Studies, Royal Holloway Unviersity of London

92-95 BA Honours in Drama & Psychology, Nene College, Unviersity of Leicester


´05-present Acting Artistic Director, Contact Theatre

´98-´06 Artistic Director, Kushite Theatre Company

´00-´05 Head of Theatre Programming, Oval House Theatre

2000 Summer School Director, Oval House Theatre

´99-´00 Associate Director, Theatre Royal Stratford East

08-´99 Theatre Writing Tutor, Goldsmiths University

´99 Associate Producer, Nottingham Playhouse

06-11/´98 Associate Producer, Now nintey8 Festival, Nottingham

´97-´98 In-House Director, Oval House

´95-´98 Centre Manager, Oval House


Sweet Yam Kisses

Production / Performance,
By Courttia Newland and Pat Cumper. Produced by Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

Oddest Couple

Production / Performance,
Written by Geoffrey Aymer. Produced by Theatre Royal Stratford East, London, UK

End of Summer Love

Production / Performance,
by CYAC, Contact Theatre

The Bridge

Production / Performance,
by Pedro Obaseki. Oval House, London UK


Production / Performance,
Writtn by Wayne Buchanan (National Tour) (1st production EMMA award nominated & Best production ’98 New Nation Newspaper) British Council Showcase Edinburgh, Bristol Old Vic

The Front Room

Production / Performance,
Written by Jenny Davis (National Tour). Produced by Bristol Old Vic

The Key Game

Production / Performance,
Written by Pat Cumper. Produced by Riverside Studios London UK

Under Their Influence

Production / Performance,
Written by Wayne Buchanan, Produced by Tricycle Theatre (UK Tour).

Under Their Influence

Production / Performance,
Written by Wayne Buchanan. Produced by Oval House Theatre, Green Room – Manchester, Nottingham Playhouse

Gods and Bad Guys

Production / Performance,
Written by Tunde Euba. Produced by Nottingham Playhouse


Production / Performance,
Written by Jim Cartwright. Produced by Oval House Theatre.


Jerwood Young Directors Award at the Young Vic Theatre, 2003

Young Directors Residency at the Royal National Theatre Studio,2000

Nominated for the Carlton Multicultural Awards in 2003

Nominated for an EMMA award


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Black/North SEAS

The SEAS Platform 2008-2010

(02 December 05 - 31 December 10)
Oddest couple