Karin Barile, who’ll receive her award Sunday, August 30th, at The Orpheum Theatre during the 32nd annual Ostrander Awards, isn’t originally from Memphis. She grew up outside of Washington, D.C., was educated in Georgia, and spent her early professional years working as an actor for the Flat Rock Playhouse in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
“I’m a transplant, but I have definitely put down roots in Memphis,” says Barile, the long-serving director for Playhouse on the Square’s Theatre Education & Engagement Program.
In 1979, Barile went to the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) auditions in Atlanta looking for work as an actor. While there, she heard from a friend that Playhouse on the Square’s executive director, Jackie Nichols, had launched a theatre for the deaf called Show of Hands. He was looking for one more performer.
“I knew about 50 signs, and I knew the alphabet. And I thought it was such a beautiful language,” says Barile, who was hired on the spot.
Show of Hands was created with the assistance of a government grant, and there was only enough money to sustain the company for two years. Barile figured it wouldn’t be too long before she’d be back at SETC auditioning. She begins her 37th season with Playhouse on the Square in September.
By the time the initial grant money for Show of Hands ran out, the troupe had forged partnerships with the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Memphis Arts Council (rebranded ArtsMemphis). The group was conducting workshops and performing in schools, daycares, correctional facilities, and nursing homes.
“I thought Show of Hands would be a cool experience,” Barile says, remembering when she imagined Memphis to be a stepping stone. “It lasted about 19 years.” She also went from being a performer to running the program.
Around 1985, Memphis actor Jay Kinney approached Nichols about starting an actor training program for kids. Kinney was in graduate school at the U of M, and was inspired following a Playhouse on the Square production of To Kill a Mockingbird.
“I wasn’t being paid for it, but I started performing in shows for Jay,” Barile says. And when Kinney moved on, she took over as director of a program. In 1998, the program was reimagined as Education & Engagement. It has grown to include Summer Youth Conservatories, touring companies, and after-school classes.
“I may not be the visionary, but I am the workhorse,” Barile says modestly.
Barile has taken home a few Memphis Theatre Awards, but this is the first time she’s been recognized since the honors were named for Jim Ostrander, an actor she worked with and admired.
When asked about the best part of her job, Barile pauses and starts to name actors and educators who came through her programs and are now giving back to the city in various ways. Prominent alumni include Jordan Nichols, who’s currently performing in Buyer & Cellar at the Circuit Playhouse, and Carly Crawford who got her start in the company of Peter Pan and who recently launched Q & A, an open and accepting queer youth theatre group.
Barile is so good at creating schedules and making the trains run on time it’s easy to forget what a fantastic performer she is. Favorite roles include the manic dwarf in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the wicked witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.
The 32nd annual Ostrander Awards will be held Sunday, August 30th, at the Orpheum Theatre. Cocktails and gossip begin at 6 p.m. Awards at 7. Tickets are $10.
The Ostrander Theatre Awards ceremony is proudly sponsored by Memphis magazine and ArtsMemphis.