Karin Coonrod

Judith, Workshop Performance created by CAST Visiting Artist Karin Coonrod and MIT professor Diana Henderson. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

“…this experimental director has a knack for transforming high concepts into accessible theater”
The New York Times

Workshop performance of Karin Coonrod directs Judith, MIT W97, 2019. Photo: Sham Sthankiya Photography.
Workshop performance of Judith, MIT W97, 2019. Photo: Sham Sthankiya Photography.
Workshop performance of Judith, MIT W97, 2019. Photo: Sham Sthankiya Photography.

Far-reaching inventiveness

About the Residency

Professor Diana Henderson hosted theater maker and artistic director Karin Coonrod at MIT to develop text-based theatrical works. Henderson collaborated with Coonrod’s theater company Compagnia de’ Colombari for an international production of The Merchant of Venice in the Venetian Ghetto. At MIT, Coonrod focused on crossing boundaries between the arts and humanities and working with old and new technologies and texts such as the Old English companion manuscript to Beowulf, known as Judith.

A music/text/chamber/hybrid/opera, Judith builds on Coonrod’s breadth of experience, including her medieval mystery plays in Orvieto, Italy (2004-2006) and New York City (2005-2013), the development of her play texts and beheadings/ElizabethR (2015), extensive work in the Shakespearean canon—including Henry VI (1996), King John (2000), Julius Caesar (2003), Love’s Labor’s Lost (2011), The Tempest (2014), The Merchant of Venice (2016)—and a new adaptation of Monteverdi’s Orfeo performed in Orvieto, Italy (2014). Judith privileges a Hebrew/Old English modern heroine as a strong-hearted deliverer of her suffering people. Drawn from the Old English epic fragment of the same name, Judith investigates the psychology of the heroine in confrontation with the tyrant through the lens of the story of the English language. Coonrod created a text to be sung and spoken in Old English and in modern English rooted in Old English. The opera’s composer and musical director is Paul Vasile, with whom Coonrod collaborated closely on the medieval mystery plays performed in Orvieto and New York City.

This artist residency was supported by the Abramowitz Memorial Lectureship Fund. 


Past Events

Workshop & Class Visits
March 1 – 6, 2019

Judith Workshop Presentation
Tuesday, March 5, 2019 / 7:30pm
MIT Building W97
345 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA

Collaborators at MIT

Diana Henderson, Professor of Literature, MIT

William Cutter, Director of Choral Programs and Lecturer in Music, MIT

Arthur Bahr, Associate Professor of Literature, MIT


Karin Coonrod is a theater maker whose work has been seen and heard across the country and around the world. Born in Chicago with first memories in Noli, Italy, Coonrod studied English at Gordon College in Massachusetts and Theater Directing at Columbia University, where her mentor was Liviu Ciulei.

Coonrod has founded two theater companies: Arden Party in downtown New York (1987-1997) which re-imagined the classics and Compagnia de’ Colombari (2004-present) an international company based in New York, which began a new tradition of theater in Orvieto, Italy with the medieval mystery plays in public spaces.

Known for her Shakespeare productions including an epic Henry VI (1996) and surprising Love’s Labor’s Lost (2011), both at The Public Theater, Coonrod was Artist-in-Residence there from 1995-96. Others include King John (2000), Julius Caesar (2003), and Coriolanus (2005) with Theatre for a New Audience, and Othello at Hartford Stage (2005). More recently, Coonrod produced The Tempest at La Mama Experimental Theater (2014) and The Merchant of Venice, which was staged on the stones of the Venice Ghetto to honor the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Ghetto in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The Merchant of Venice has been on tour in North America since 2016.

Other seminal productions include Coonrod’s own creation for the stage of non-dramatic material: Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge developed at the University of Iowa, Sundance Theatre Lab and premiered at New York Theatre Workshop (2001); Anne Sexton’s Transformations with Arden Party (1991-95); a cabaret adaptation of Lorca’s “Poeta en Nueva York” with flamenco dancer La Conja at New York University (2002); and More Or Less I Am, a music theater piece drawn from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” She prepared new translations of Vvedensky’s Christmas at the Ivanovs with Julia Listengarten (1996), Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba with Nilo Cruz (1997), and Victor or Children Take Over with Frederic Maurin (1994); all of which she directed in acclaimed productions. With John Conklin she adapted Monteverdi’s Orfeo and directed it in the courtyard of the Palazzo Simoncelli, Orvieto, Italy (2014).

Coonrod’s own work includes texts&beheadings/ElizabethR, drawn from the speeches, prayers, poems and letters of Elizabeth I at The Folger Theatre in Washington, DC and at BAM/Next Wave Festival (2015), and is currently developing Judith, a chamber opera sung and spoken in Old English and modern English rooted in Old English.

New plays by other writers include I Killed My Mother by Andras Visky in Chicago and New York (2010 and 2012), and Babette’s Feast (drawn from the short story by Isak Dinesen) by Rose Courtney (Portland Stage and Off-Broadway St. Clement’s 2018).

Coonrod’s work is featured in American Theatre Magazine, Shakespeare Bulletin, Image, Sipario nel Mondo (Italian theater journal), and Scena.Ro (Romanian theater magazine), among other publications.

As a guest artist and teacher Coonrod has developed work at NYU, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Cal Institute of the Arts, Fordham, Colgate, Gordon College, and Univ of Iowa. She is on the faculty at Yale School of Drama.

More about the artist: Karin Coonrod

Paul Vasile is pianist, organist, conductor and composer. He is a composer for the international theater collective Compagnia de’ Colombari based in New York City. Recent projects have included performances with the San Francisco Girls Chorus, performing works for organ and choir as well as world premieres of Lisa Bielawa and Aaron Jay Kernis for the NY Philharmonic Biennial. As an artist-in-residence at Judson Memorial Church in New York City during the 2015-16 season, Vasile collaborated with award-winning mezzo soprano Sarah Craft in a series of innovative song recitals.

An abiding interest in contemporary music has led to premieres of new piano, organ and choral works by Lembit Beecher, Lisa Bielawa, David Crowell, Nathan Davis, Yotam Haber, Alice Parker, Elliott Schwartz, Carl Schimmel, Aaron Spiegel and Pēteris Vasks. Vasile has performed recitals of American Romantic organ music in Germany and New York, and was invited to perform at the Organ Festival “Rīgas Domā” in Riga, Latvia in 2013. He also continued a relationship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art as one of a handful of artists selected to perform on the historic Appleton pipe organ in the Musical Instruments Collection.

From 2008-2014, Vasile served as Minister of Music at Park Avenue Christian Church and Artistic Director of Arts at The Park, a church-sponsored concert series presenting some of New York City’s finest performers and ensembles. His music is also found in Glory to God, the recent hymnal of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and he has written hymns, choral anthems and service music for congregations and choirs around the country.

Sarah Heltzel (Judith) has performed with Compagnia de’ Colombari in Strangers and Other Angels, More or Less I Am, and workshops of Orfeo, Judith and The World is Round Is Round Is Round. Select opera credits include Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale (Melbourne, Australia), Carmen (Tacoma), Eboli in Don Carlo (Wichita Grand), Siegrune in Der Ring des Nibelungen and Flora in La Traviata (Seattle), Desirée and Charlotte in A Little Night Music (Syracuse, Phoenicia Festival), Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana (String Orchestra of Brooklyn), Jo in Little Women and Musetta in La Boheme (Opera on the James), and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly (Indianapolis, Amarillo, Syracuse, Nevada & Opera on the James). Up next, Sarah returns to Wichita Grand for Carmen.

Born in Bombay, India, Sorab Wadia has performed internationally as an actor and singer in an eclectic mélange of projects ranging from The Play of Daniel, a medieval music-drama, to the notorious Jihad! The Musical in London’s West End. He has sung in operas in the USA, Italy, Israel, France and India. His oratorio repertoire spans Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 to Honegger’s King David and Orff’s Carmina Burana, and includes almost all the mass settings of Mozart, Haydn and Schubert.

In 2016 Wadia was honored to play Shylock #1 and Gratiano in Coonrod’s historic production of The Merchant of Venice performed outdoors in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, Italy, and the premiere of Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. He tours internationally with The Kite Runner, a one-man adaptation of the novel by Khaled Hosseini directed by Wynn Handman. He garnered rave reviews for his performance as Ali Hakim on the Broadway tour of Trevor Nunn’s production of Oklahoma! Off-Broadway shows include Babette’s Feast (Theater at St. Clements), The Tempest (LaMama), Bunty Berman Presents… (The New Group) and Nymph Errant (Prospect). TV credits include Blacklist: Redemption, Madame Secretary, Law & Order: SVU and 30 Rock.

In the Media

“…this experimental director has a knack for transforming high concepts into accessible theater”

The New York TimesSeptember 2017