Karina Pal Montano-Bowers

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A 1999 graduate of the Department of Theatre & Dance with an emphasis in theatre, Karina Pal Montaño–Bowers left for New York to extend her education as a Paul A. Kaplan Theatre management intern in marketing with the Manhattan Theatre Club. After spending a year at Siliman University in Dumaguete, Karina Pal Montano BowersPhilippines as a speech and theatre teacher, she arrived in Houston, TX ready to audition and find a company that appealed to her artistic sensibilities.

In 2001, she landed a role in Infernal Bridegroom Productions (IBP) Tamalalia, an iconic original Houston musical known as The Tamarie Cooper Show, that changes every summer. Joining The Catastrophic Theatre in 2008, Karina continues to work with many of the same artists from IBP and more while utilizing her diverse training through musical theatre and children’s shows drawing more on dancing, singing and physical skills. Employing her earlier experience in arts administration, Karina has held a position with the Houston Ballet Academy as an assistant registrar, marketing assistant for Express Children’s Theatre, as well as teaching opportunities with Main Street Theatre and The Alley.

We are thrilled Karina took a moment to talk with us about her time at Lamar as our featured alumnae.

Karina, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)?

Personally, I have a daughter that I reconnected with and am now a grandmother! While I was in high school at West Brook, I got pregnant and placed my daughter for adoption. We reconnected in 2016. Being a part of her life and my grandkids life...I mean, how can you top that. And of course, the painful experience of giving up my daughter and the joy of reconnecting with her shaped me as a person and an artist.

Professionally, that’s hard to say. I’m grateful and amazed every day that I get to earn a living doing what I love. I’m in a feature length film called Lone Star Deception that just became available on Amazon Prime, so that’s pretty cool. Before the lockdown, I closed Maria Irene Fornes’ Fefu and Her Friends with Catastrophic Theatre, which was an absolute joy. Now, I have a Zoom reading in the works with Mildred’s Umbrella for the Asia Society.

So, I guess you could say my greatest accomplishment is working consistently as an artist. Once you leave school, it’s tough out here. Not all your friends will stick with it. For many, being an artist demands too much and offers too little. Finding a way to stay in the fight is an accomplishment of its own.

However, two productions that come to mind as far as great successes were the Amazing Living Theatre and Karina Pal Montano Bowers Wilhelm Reich in Hell by Robert Anton Wilson. I co-directed Wilhelm Reich with fellow Lamar grad, Julie Boneau, under our company Theatre Illuminata. Our venue was an open-air warehouse where we were literally running clip lights and extension cords all over the place to light the thing. I was co-directing, choreographing, running box office, painting sets, oh...and did I mention I was stage managing too? It was ridiculous and wonderful all at once. We opened the show to a line down the block, got great reviews and even had to turn people away some nights.

Many years later, I was awarded a Houston Arts Alliance - Individual Artist Grant and I created the Amazing Living Theatre, an interactive comedy, set in an apocalyptic Houston which followed a group of underground misfits who longed to create theatre. It was another sold out show and a huge milestone for me in taking the creative lead on the project.

In what way(s) did your time at Lamar University impact your career or who you are today?

As you begin to work in the industry, you’ll meet artists from all kinds of schools. Some actors come from huge programs where they never got to be on stage the first two years. At Lamar, I got to do it all. Although my practicum hours were mainly in box office, during my time I also stage managed, I did set construction, helped hang lights, etc. I got to “get in there and get my hands dirty,” so to speak.

Also, let’s face it...if you’re at Lamar you’re most likely from the Golden Triangle or surrounding area. For us, we weren’t kids from the big city who got to see shows all the time or spend the summer at TUTS. There was something about that, that made my group hungry and competitive. I loved that and I honestly missed it once I left.

Of course, I couldn’t talk about my time at Lamar without mentioning Dr. Adonia Placette. Adonia has the ability to make you laugh while tearing your performance to shreds. I appreciate her brutal honesty and her demand for discipline. The little things, like being on time, or how you conduct yourself at ACTF... they count.

One of the most influential experiences that shaped my artistic viewpoint was getting to train with Aquila Theatre, headed by Pete Meineck. In the mid 1990’s, they were a young theatre company who became Artists in Residence at Lamar. They brought productions of PHILOCTETES and WASPS, as well as ran workshops with the students, doing a lot of movement and Greek Chorus work. The staging and beauty of Philoctetes in particular was life changing. Plus, their troupe of actors could do it all. They all could sing, dance, do acrobatics, play instruments and were the nicest, most down to earth people with cool UK accents, and I really wanted to be them. Towards the end of their residency, I’ll never forget Peter advised us to “get out there, steal some of this equipment if you have to and make some theatre.”

What is your most fond memory or favorite story of your time at Lamar University?

Going through these questions brings back lots of wonderful memories, it’s hard to choose. I especially cherish all those “little moments” both on and off stage with my LU family. I guess that’s what I take away most. Being in college is a unique time. You’re forming into young adults together and you get to spend time with people who are just as passionate as you are about something you love. The friends I made at Lamar are still some of my closest friends to this day.

Some little moments that make me smile... during West Side Story, holding the first rehearsal with a full orchestra and running the opening to the dance at the gym (where Tony and Maria meet).

The main stage flooding (as in the roof collapsed) and not being able to use it for a year and half.

Being in the catwalks of the Montagne Center and helping set up for Le Grand Ball. For some reason, I ended up handing lights down to Jeff Wisor who was in the score board while it was swinging over the basketball floor. Yikes!

My senior awards banquet!!!

Plus, many other “events” with classmates that are not appropriate for this interview!

What advice would you give current students and young alumni in your field?

For one, take advantage of and enjoy this unique time in your life!
But also...
Several years ago, I was selected to take part in a program curated by DiverseWorks of Houston and Creative Capitiol (NYC) aimed at helping artists develop strategic planning skills. I would say, as you continue in your career, it’s worth looking into. This type of planning considers not only your artistic goals, but what is important in all areas of your life, such as financial, spiritual or family goals. It helps you determine your specific priorities. Creating this picture can help you better inform your career and personal choices. Much like how an organization writes mission and vision statements that keeps them on track. Strategic planning can help you create your personal mission and vision. For example, I’ve often been asked if I plan to go off to New York or L.A. Personally, I’m completely happy to be here in Houston making meaningful, thought provoking, sometimes original, art with people I cherish. For me, there is an artistic voice here in Texas and the South that is different from east or west coast, and I love exploring it (Plus, more lately I’ve been reflecting on my experience as an immigrant growing up in the Golden Triangle...so there’s an original piece brewing in there somewhere)! But I had to learn this about myself first.

On the other hand, I did realize I wanted to explore film, commercials and voice overs. Now I’ve been with my agency for more than 10 years, am SAG eligible and roughly half of my yearly income comes from media work. Those were some of my personal goals and they may not be yours. You’re in charge of your career, so it’s up to you to figure out what form you want it to take.

Finally, don’t take “rejection” personally. Learn from every experience, be nice to everyone and keep putting out good work.

Karina, thank you again for taking the time to speak with us. Do you have any final words?

Stay tenacious. Be professional. Keep challenging yourself.