Karen is fluent in spoken and written Indonesian and Malay, has reasonable fluency in spoken and written German, and some reading knowledge of the Jawi Arabic Malay script, Dutch and French.

Karen Kartomi Thomas (PhD) is Research Fellow in the Sir Zelman School of Music in the Monash Academy of the Performing Arts, and teaches in the Monash Centre for Theatre and Performance. Her recent publications are on Indonesian masked theatre in Lampung, and she is currently researching Malay theatre forms in Indonesia’s Riau Islands. She recently returned from field-trips to Tanjungpinang, Natuna, and Lingga in the Riau Archipelago where she focuses on gender in Indonesian-Malay theatre.

Karen trained in Malay, Balinese, and Javanese dance including Sundanese masked dance in Indonesia and in Melbourne for over 15 years. In the past she performed frequently at Melbourne community performance events. Karen’s research and teaching areas include Theatre and Performance Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Indonesian language and theatre, and Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity. Her research and teaching experience is in both intercultural and Asian forms of contemporary and traditional theatre performance.


PhD (UCBerkeley)
MA (UCBerkeley)
BA First Class Honours (Monash University)
Grad.Dip Business Human Resource Management (Swinburne University of Technology)


Karen has directed and produced adaptations of Indonesian plays by well-known playwrights including Rendra and Riantiarno. These plays were performed by students of Indonesian language, staged at The University of Melbourne and Deakin University. She conducted practical workshops in which students produced original creative works based on Malay theatre conventions for assessment.


Karen has performed on numerous occasions in large-scale and small-scale dance drama productions including the Golden Deer in ‘Rama and the Golden Deer’ held at Monash’s Robert Blackwood Hall, and the princess role in ‘Damar Wulan’ also at the Robert Blackwood Hall. She regularly performed dance solos and groups dances in festivals such as Moomba and Independence Day Celebrations. She has studied Malay, Balinese, Javanese, Sundanese masked dance in Jakarta, Jogjakarta and Melbourne.


Karen has studied many Indonesian instruments (gamelan, calung, angklung) and also the piano (AMEB grade 7 with high distinction), pipe organ, medieval guitar.

Academic career interruption

Karen took an academic career interruption from the early 2000s to 2012 during which time she contracted as a business advisor, became a small-business owner, and authored several short stories as well as her first novel.