Every other year, the Winship Drama Building — home of the UT Austin Department of Theatre and Dance — suspends all classes for a full week to showcase dozens of new works created and produced by UT students. Over the course of a five-day festival, students participate in and explore a buffet of creativity hosted by their peers.
The 2021 Cohen New Works Festival kicks off Monday, April 12, and runs through Friday, April 16. It’s the largest festival of its kind, and it’s completely student-run, with the support of faculty advisers and mentors. The festival will showcase 33 brand-new works in a completely COVID-safe lineup, and it will feature works ranging from a digital opera and online art installations to an online cooking show and radio plays.
“The last festival I went to was one of the best experiences I’ve had at UT,” said Frances Garnett, a senior in the Department of Theatre and Dance. “I got to work on and witness my peers’ incredible work, and I can’t wait to see what this year has in store.”
This year looks a bit different from previous years since the productions will be shared on a digital platform, but the raw energy of coming together to make something new and share it with the world is still buzzing in the College of Fine Arts community. While the festival has historically pulled heavily from talent in the Department of Theatre and Dance, projects are increasingly interdisciplinary, and more projects feature students from the Butler School of Music, the School of Design and Creative Technologies and the Department of Art and Art History, as well as other departments across UT.
Each project showcases a team of students working together to realize a vision for a work, as they tackle everything from the scriptwriting to the casting, production design, marketing and promotion of the work. Creating new work is at the heart of the creative research mission in the fine arts, and the festival offers experiential learning opportunities that serve students well beyond the Forty Acres.
“The work we do in the Cohen New Works Festival is, I believe, the most important work we do here in the Department of Theatre and Dance,” said faculty adviser and associate professor Kirk Lynn. “I often pitch it to my other professors as a moment to get a preview of what theater is going to look like in the next five to 10 years, as the great students here at UT Austin go out into the world and make the kind of work I want to see.”
While the festival thrives on experimental approaches to art and performance, some projects have gone on to a life beyond the event. At the 2013 festival, Andrew Hinderaker, M.F.A. 2013, workshopped his play “Colossal,” an exploration of the beauty and brutality of football, while he was a graduate student in the playwriting program. He won the prestigious Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for his script, and he was invited to workshop the play in Washington, D.C.
“Colossal” premiered at the Olney Theatre in Maryland, and subsequent productions in Minneapolis, Dallas, New Orleans and Boston drew rave reviews. More recently, Hinderaker was the creator and showrunner for the 2020 Netflix series “Away,” starring Hilary Swank.
The festival is named after David Mark Cohen, the former head of the playwriting area who died in a car accident in 1997. The Department of Theatre and Dance created the biennial festival to honor his passion for new works.
“In a year when we’ve all been craving connection, the Cohen New Works Festival has really energized our department,” said Theatre and Dance Chair Robert Ramirez. “I’m so incredibly proud of how our students have worked together to break new ground artistically while creating community, and also maintaining our commitment to safe experiences for our audiences.”
How to Watch
The 2021 Cohen New Works Festival runs April 12–16, and the schedule can be viewed here. The festival will stream on two channels on the Department of Theatre and Dance website (the Brockett Stream and the Payne Stream), and some programs will be available to experience at any time. The festival is free and open to the public.