Karen J. Gilmer

  • Teaching Associate Professor
  • Costume Designer

Ms. Gilmer is a Lecturer II in Costume Design in the Theatre Arts Department at the University of Pittsburgh.  She designs costumes and directs for departmental productions, serves on departmental committees, and teaches classes such as Costume Design I, Introduction to Theatre Design, Directing I, and Introduction to Performance.

In addition to costume design, Ms. Gilmer has previously directed productions of The Mountaintop with St. Michaels Playhouse in Vermont, Pittsburgh’s Shakespeare in the Parks all women version of Hamlet, University of Pittsburgh’s productions of Intimate Apparel, Flyin’ West and Tom Arvetis’ Spark.  In the Spring of 2023, Ms. Gilmer will direct August Wilson’s Seven Guitars in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library celebration of the acquisition of August Wilson’s Archives.

Ms. Gilmer earned her BA in French at West Chester and an MFA in Costume Design at Boston University. She has traveled extensively designing costumes for Opera, Theatre and Dance.  Some of her favorite designs include Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, She Kills Monsters, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, Marie Antoinette by David Adjimi, Kander and Ebbs’ The Scottsboro Boys, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Intimate Apparel, The Royale, All My Sons, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Way of the World, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Carmen Jones and Rodeo with Point Park Dance Company.  

Her national and regional theatre credits: Orlando Shakes, Pittsburgh Opera, Quantum Theatre, City Theatre Company, St. Michael’s Playhouse of Vermont, Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, Arden Theatre Company, Everyman Theatre Company of Baltimore.

Ms. Gilmer is a consent forward artist that currently trains with Theatrical Intimacy Education and Intimacy Directors and Coordinators.  Her recent intimacy directing credits include Orlando Shakespeare’s Intimate Apparel, St. Michael’s Playhouse’s The Mountaintop, University of Pittsburgh’s Stages productions of Oblivion directed by Sean Cook, Drag Seed, Carrie, and Francie directed by Becca Hobart. Her classrooms, rehearsal and production spaces strive to be consent forward in best practices.

Her work as a theatrical intimacy director supports the consensual crafting and staging of stories with content of sexual nature, race, disability, religion or age with appropriate cultural context and competency. Her intimacy directing practices support trauma informed, brave, creative spaces in classrooms, rehearsals, and all production areas, especially for BIPOC artists. 

In 2019, Gilmer's proposal for  “Intimacy Directing: Safely Staging Scenes of Intimacy, Nudity, and Sexual Violence for the Academic Performer”, received University of Pittsburgh’s Momentum Award Funds for contributing to the awareness and prevention of Sexual Assault. 

Ms. Gilmer, in an artistic response to the lack of awareness of violence against Black women and girls, the Say Her Name Memorial Gown was created. The gown memorializes Black women and girls who are missing from the narrative and are also victims of state murder, violence, brutality, systematic racism and its structures. The design of this gown was conceived and inspired by the images of the Black fashion models of the 1960’s who were regulated to one of two magazines by, about and for African Americans, Ebony and Jet.

She has received grants and awards for her work in Costume Design, Diversity in Curriculum, Black Excellence in Service-Faculty Category and Awareness in the Prevention of Sexual Assault.

Say Her Name Memorial Gown Website

Research Interests

Ms. Gilmer's research and scholarly interests include African American theatre history, history of costume, fashion and dress, Stage makeup and wig design, fabric dyeing, painting and modification, millinery.

Education & Training

  • MFA-Theatre-Costume Design, Boston University, Boston, MA
  • BA-French-West Chester University, West Chester, PA