Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

UT New Theatre Festival highlights collaboration between graduate, undergraduate programs

Analise Pickerrell

Participating in a theater production requires an “all hands on deck” approach, and UT Theatre and Dance takes this concept to a new level. Every year, the department hosts the UT New Theatre (UTNT) Festival as a collaboration between graduate students in the Playwriting and Directing programs and the Undergraduate Theatre and Dance Program. 

The UTNT Festival, which runs from Feb. 29 until March 3, will feature two full productions of plays written by MFA Playwriting candidates Malena Pennycook and Emma Watkins. Caley Chase and Jenny Lavery, respectively, will direct the productions, and actors will read two additional scripts as part of the festival. 

Malena Pennycook, a third-year MFA Playwriting candidate, penned “Choreomaniac 1518,” which takes place during the bubonic plague as a dancing plague, a plague that causes victims to dance due to stress-induced mass hysteria, breaks out. 

“The beauty of this thesis is that it allows theater to be at its most alive as opposed to living in each of our sequestered disciplines,” Pennycook said. 

As participants of the festival, playwrights and crew enjoy a safe space to take risks under the guidance of advisors and professors who care about the students and their subject matter. 

“The process of production is sort of like a muscle, like letting the script evolve and knowing when to make changes,” Pennycook said. “(I’m) inviting a lot of other people into a thing I’ve built and becoming comfortable with that.” 

MFA Playwriting candidate Emma Watkins’ play, “Pretend it’s Pretend,” opens Mar. 1 at the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre, and navigates the dangers that confront teachers in and outside the classroom. While the show tackles harsh truths in education, Watkins said working to bring it to life proved an exciting, interdisciplinary experience. 

“It’s been really fun and exciting to be working with actors who grew up in Texas,” Watkins said. “(They) are able to talk about their own life experience, which has totally changed the DNA of the play.” 

Watkins said her work doesn’t end when she writes the show. The festival encourages involvement all throughout the production process and allows for changes to the script as the rehearsal process progresses, making the script a living document. 

“I’m there for all of it,” Watkins said. “As a playwright, you don’t always get the chance to be involved in the discussions about how the play goes up.”

MFA Directing Candidate Jenny Lavery said the experience of bringing the play to life requires a lot of trust. Illuminating the personal experience of the cast and crew throughout this process stands as a top priority for Lavery. 

“I’m really passionate about centering the humanity in people and centering my collaborators’ humanity first,” Lavery said. “Making sure that each person feels like they can show up as a whole person in this process brings the fullness of their humanity to the story that we’re going to tell.” 

Reflecting on how the process of collaboration actually benefits the students involved, Lavery said she sees the value in the work that the festival encourages. 

“I think that we’re both learning from each other,” Lavery said. “There are things that the undergrads see that I may not see and then vice versa. I think the diversity of our experiences makes our production stronger.”

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