News

Member Spotlight – Karissa Barber

Jamie Chapman
May 29, 2024

Born in Pennsylvania, Karissa Barber's childhood was marked by frequent relocations across many states and countries, but she always found a home on the stage.

After graduating high school, Karissa traveled to Europe, where she honed her craft performing at a German dinner theatre. After living abroad for three years, she returned to the U.S. and earned an international studies and theatre degree from Southeastern University. She recently graduated from the University of Idaho with a master’s in directing and performance pedagogy.

Now settled in Central Florida with her husband and four children, Karissa's passion for the stage is evident, culminating in a career that spans acting, directing, producing and playwriting. Her work with adults with disabilities, unhoused populations, and racial justice, along with her experience as a transracial adoptive mother, informs the type of work she is drawn to as a theater maker. Barber's directing style focuses on creating a collaborative, trauma-informed, consent-based environment, prioritizing the process over the product to establish a sustainable theater practice for all involved artists.

Karissa's impressive resume includes notable performances such as Doris Walker in “Miracle on 34th Street” with Garden Theatre and Margaret Leavitt in "Silent Sky" with Tampa Repertory Theatre, where she garnered awards for her outstanding portrayals.

With a commitment to mentorship and education, Karissa shares her passion for the theater as a directing associate at Polk State and the theatre operations & production manager at Florida Southern College. She also serves as an acting coach, guiding aspiring artists of all ages and abilities towards their creative aspirations.

Let’s get to know Karissa!

Why did you accept the invitation to join Phi Kappa Phi?
I accepted the invitation to join Phi Kappa Phi because I am extremely proud of my achievements in grad school. I was never a high-achieving academic student, so the invitation to join Phi Kappa Phi marked what I had accomplished in graduate school while working full-time, freelance directing and being a wife and mother of four.

How did your passion for theater originate?
Growing up, my church put on theatre summer camps, and my family signed me up every year. In a musical called “Oh Me, Oh My, Oh Nehemiah,” I had a very large monologue, and it felt easy to memorize and perform, receiving praise for what felt natural. From that moment on, I was captivated by the idea of telling stories through live performance.

What is your secret for juggling family life and a busy work schedule?
My secret to juggling a family life of 6 and my work schedule is a dynamic partner: my husband, Craig Barber. We both equally share the responsibilities of balancing our 4 kids’ schedules and our careers through clear communication. Teamwork is the key to our success. My husband received his master's in educational leadership in 2021 and wholeheartedly supported me when I started in 2022.

What was your favorite role to play and why?
My favorite musical growing up was “The Sound of Music.” When I lived in Germany, I went on The Sound of Music tour in Austria, twirling and singing on the very hills where the movie was filmed. One year after having my second child, I fulfilled my childhood dream of playing Maria in the musical, and it will forever hold a special place in my heart. I’m still very close to my co-star who played Captain von Trapp, Mark Hartfield, and he became my directing mentor when I was ready to transition away from acting exclusively.

What did you learn from frequent moves during your childhood?
Moving often in childhood made me aware of the people on the fringes who need to be drawn in and included. I think theatre is often a great place to tell stories of those who are marginalized, and my childhood of moving frequently helped me to be mindful of people on the fringes and how we should include them because I often was that kid.

What motivates you to work hard?
I am motivated to work hard because I know that theatre has the ability to impact people, broaden perspectives, give identity and bring a night of enjoyment in a 3-hour live package.

What do you enjoy most about directing?
Directing is rewarding because it allows you to meld many creative ideas into one story while facilitating the learning and “aha” moments of your cast. It is a beautiful collaboration between many artists.

How do you unwind and reduce stress?
Unwinding is hard when my schedule is packed, but a rule my husband and I have is to put our phones to bed around 9 pm every night in the kitchen. We do not have work email on our phones, and we keep strict boundaries around when we are “clocked in” and when it is downtime. This simple mindset shift has allowed a reduction in stress and space for me to unwind.

What is your favorite meal to prepare?
My favorite meal to prepare is often a new one. Cooking is a creative expression for me, and it feels like love to cook a meal for my family, especially when it is a big hit for all 6 of us.

To learn more about Karissa and connect, visit her profile within our online member community here.

Is there someone you would like to see in the spotlight? Send your nomination to engagement@phikappaphi.org, and include background information for the nomination.