‘A labor of love’

School awards volunteer with service award


Courtesy of Karen Karnuta

Karen Karnuta poses with her ‘Karen Karnuta Volunteer Service Award.’

Many people attend school plays, but not very many people know what goes on behind the performance. All the backdrops, costumes, and props are put together through hours of work from parents and teachers.

Karen Karnuta spent around five-10 hours a day working on the backdrops for shows from Seussical, The Musical to Grease. For the past 12 years, Karnuta has been in the district and worked with the theatre program.

“Karen has been our resident scenic artist and scenic designer for our big musicals,” theater director Jessica Brewster said. “This means she would meet with the director, draw out designs, get them approved, and then work with our students and community volunteers to complete the sets needed.”

Karnuta first became part of the program when both her kids participated in theatre their high school years. While picking up her daughter from Beauty and the Beast rehearsal, she noticed that the set design the directors were working on included a staircase going into the wall which was “impossible.” Although she could have left, Karnuta grabbed a paintbrush and jumped right in.

“After that, we realized we make a great team, “ Brewster said. “She has worked on every musical after until her retirement in 2019.”

Each set design Karnuta is a part of, seniors, lead roles, and members who spend more time on these projects get hidden “easter eggs” painted on the backdrops. These little paintings are not seen by the audience but can be seen when sets are looked at closely. Many people wait all 3 years for their chance to get an “easter egg” painted on the set. Some include a dog, gnome, Where’s Waldo, and even a Mary Poppins’ hat.

“All these easter eggs are all over the sets,” Karnuta said. “I do not do one for everyone, it’s always all the leads that would get one, all of the seniors would get one, and all of the kids that would come in on their own time would get one.”

Karnuta was not always behind the scenes. As a singer, Karnuta started taking art classes around 19 years ago. She has always been interested in it but never had time for both choir and art classes

“I take a lot of classes at Collin College,” Karnuta said. “I have been teaching an art camp for the summer which I still do, and now I’m an art teacher at The Guthrie School in Allen.”

As an art teacher, Karnuta has very little time. Balancing family, art classes, and the theatre  ultimately lead to her retirement from the theatre program. Her 12th show being Grease. In a way to honor her, Karnuta was awarded with the Karen Karnuta Volunteer Service Award by the school.

“The award stemmed from my many years working as the volunteer set designer and lead scenic artist on the annual high school musical,” Karnuta said. “A labor of love.”

The award was a “complete surprise” to Karnuta. She thought she was just going to be thanked for many years of service to the district. After her five years notice, Karnuta says her goodbyes to the theatre program, directors, and students.

She has impacted the program in such a positive way,” senior Riley Bergwall said. “ She really made everyone feel apart of the family and has made us all a family.”