UT festival showcases student plays

People dressed as squirrels running, digging and chasing one another across the LBJ Library lawn is an uncommon sight.

A group of UT students performed “Stockpile,” a play about squirrels’ hoarding and their attempt to coexist and share their food, as a part of the Cohen New Works Festival. About 50 people attended the play.

The sixth biennial festival is a weeklong showcase of new work created by students. The festival, which runs until April 2, features 37 works ranging from architecture to music to plays about squirrels.

“This idea for the play actually started in a class of mine where we all came out, and we watched squirrels, and we followed them, and we did some writing on them,” said Suzan Zeder, a theater professor and co-producer of the festival. “It’s so exciting to see how what started as an exercise way back in September is now a full play.”

She said the festival offers students an amazing opportunity to express themselves.
“This is a festival that was organized by students, implemented by students, designed by students, and I think it shows them a sense of empowerment and that their creative voice is important,” Zeder said.

Later, theatre and dance graduate student Nikiko Masumoto re-enacted her thesis, “A Japanese Performance of Memory.” She led a discussion afterward about the internment of Japanese-Americans.

Masumoto, whose grandparents were relocated to an internment camp in Arizona, gave a personal performance about the camps that Japanese-Americans were forced into during World War II. She retold various stories such as that of a man who could barely speak because his education was disrupted by being imprisoned and a woman whose last memory of her husband was of him being dragged away by the FBI.

“I am trying to perform memory in multiple capacities,” Masumoto said. “I am trying to highlight the individual experiences of Japanese-Americans and honor the experiences that they carry. But at the same time, I am trying to build bridges of understanding so that we can carry their memory — both of them as individuals but also of the event.”

Theatre and dance graduate student Cassidy Browning, of the University Co-op’s Engaging Research Subcommittee, said she was impressed with Masumoto’s performance of multiple identities.

“I think it was a very powerful use of her own stories, and allowing us to see those people’s stories and voices and experiences through her memories,” Browning said.