Celebrating Creative Innovation with The Cohen New Works Festival

Every two years, The Cohen New Works Festival presents over 30 new works of theatre, dance, art and performance to over 7,000 attendees in five days. This festival, named after former playwriting faculty member David Mark Cohen, who our community lost too soon, is a celebration of creative disciplines spanning across the university to showcase the new work of students at The University of Texas at Austin. The 2017 New Works Festival runs April 10-14, 2017 in various locations across campus and is free to the public.

three women in colorful dresses

This biennial festival provides a space for artists to take risks, build bridges between the educational and professional communities and cultivates a diverse artistic community for students and attendees alike. In the spirit of David Mark Cohen, the Festival challenges the meaning of “new” in order to encourage the personal growth and empowerment of the next generation of art-makers and leaders.

We sat down to discuss the larger scope with some our festival producers who shared insight into why they are excited about the festival and what makes this week-long amalgamation of creative ideas and new art important.

“The Cohen New Works Festival is true to its name. It is new on all levels: first-time collaborations, fresh takes on form, forays into the future. It is works of all kinds; the grit and sweat of self-producing and corralling over 30 projects and all the bodies, minds and hearts they entail, the incredible diversity of the works of art themselves which range from visual to virtual, and the sometimes painful, but always necessary, work of matching the smallest details to the largest of visions. It is the best kind of Festival; inherently communal, inevitably celebratory – and, ultimately a carnival – the students taking over and the faculty moving aside and letting them work their skilled magic.”
Liz Engelman (Producer, Playwriting/Directing Faculty) 

“My favorite aspect of The Cohen New Works Festival is its power of transformation. We transform the theatre and dance building into a jungle of art projects, we transform ourselves by taking on new challenges, and we transform the way in which we think about creating. Not only as artists but as logistical engineers. It is an almost impossible task to manage this many projects, this many people, in so little time and still encourage big, bold, ambitious thinking. Yet somehow, it all happens. It always will. The festival is a big, beautiful, wild storm. It has consistently transformed my idea of what is “possible” in every respect. For me, that is what “new” means. It transforms the impossible into the possible. In that way, it is miraculous and exhilarating, and who wouldn’t want to be witness to that?”
Megan Tabaque (Producer, M.F.A. in Playwriting candidate)

new-works-21If all we could listen to were songs that had already been recorded, we would eventually tire of music – even if it was brilliant music. That’s not to say that art stops being good or relevant once it is not new – but doing only extent work in the way it has always been done is to send messages via telegraph because it was a grand invention that revolutionized the world. If we had simply settled for the telegraph, I would not now be writing this blog statement from halfway across the world. You would not be reading it. In a research institution, we normalize invention. The things made at New Works Festival become a part of the primer for people from different generations and places to speak with one another. We are all in a room together, experiencing the same thing and that moves us closer to a common language.”
Quetta Carpenter (Producer, Acting Faculty) 

“I don’t want to see old work. I saw it already. I studied it in high school! Come on already! I believe our best plays and performances have yet to be written.  Our best dances have yet to be stepped into.  I believe the Hamilton and Sleep No More and all the stuff that seems new last year could be peeked at in bits in pieces in past New Works Festivals.  Today’s students can describe what theatre will look like in ten years. I want to be shook up. I want to see the theatre destroyed and rebuilt in three days.  I can’t wait to run from show to show and bump into colleagues in the hall and ask “have you seen that other one yet?! It’s so good.”  I can’t wait for other faculty to beg tickets to the hot shows.  I can’t wait to have my private secret preferences for the future.  Eventually we’re gonna dig up another Shakespeare. We’re gonna sit in the presence of a new Pina Bausch. But to get there we got travel through a land of new work.”
Kirk Lynn (Producer, Playwriting/Directing Faculty)

The Cohen New Works Festival 
April 10-14, 2017 

Photos by Lawrence Peart