As one of the largest student-produced festivals in the country, Cohen New Works Festival features over 30 original student projects ranging from plays, operas and technical theater showcases to visual and interactive art and dance performances.
Students from all over campus pitched their ideas in October 2018 to the student-led executive committee and were able to collaborate with artists from the greater Austin community. Cohen New Works assistant to the producers and graduate student Alice Stanley said selected students began meeting several times a week in February in order to bring their projects to life.
“Students start (working) even before that,” Stanley said. “During spring 2018, we did Go! Grants which provide some funding to support research and development for new ideas over the summer.”
As a member of the selection committee, theatre freshman Hannah Kelly said the selection process lasted three days as the committee heard nearly 100 pitches and chose 30.
“I loved that I got to interact with students, artists outside of Winship (Drama Building), and faculty members, as we tried to create a selection of pieces that was diverse, collaborative and new,” Kelly said.
In an additional effort to make the festival inclusive, it’s free for anyone to attend. While there are some events that require ticket reservation, nearly half are first come, first served.
“The spirit of the festival is that you show up to see what’s going on and got to see something outside of what you would normally see,” Stanley said.
Beginning in 2001, the festival occurs every other year but maintains its relevancy as executive teams revisit and update the mission statement.
“A core value of the 2017 festival was diversity, and we updated that to representation, which feels like a more accurate value,” Stanley said. “The project is always designed to push and empower students to create something that’s brand-new.”
One of the original works, DOPE FIT!, was created by graduate student Michael Love and Kaitlyn Jones.
“It was a piece to embody black joy,” participant and theatre studies freshman Indya McKnight said. “It was about reclaiming our time and things that were taken and recognizing things in the past and moving on from those to celebrating us and our blackness.”
In addition to participating in the event, McKnight said she has seen multiple installations, as classes for theatre students are canceled for the week to encourage students to support each others’ projects. Deja Criston, fellow DOPE FIT! participant and theatre freshman, said that’s the best part of the festival.
“It creates a better sense of community within the department because (students are) seeing stuff with each other and discussing it,” Criston said. “It’s an environment where talking about the pieces is welcomed, and we’re able to analyze and dissect it more.”
In watching the pieces, theatre studies freshman and attendee Charlotte Brumbelow said students’ hard work and dedication has been apparent in every installation she’s seen this week, and the festival is a product of students pouring their hearts into their projects.
While doing this, Kelly said students are learning a vital skill that will help their future careers in the field, regardless of the outcome.
“Even if the end product isn’t perfect, the process and collaboration that happened are still victories in themselves,” Kelly said.