Cohen New Works Festival showcases original student art


Theater and dance senior Karen Rodriguez along with an all female, Hispanic cast performs in “The Women of Juarez”, a play written by Isaac Gomez and Bianca Sulacia. The play is one of 40 student-run projects featured in the Cohen New Works Festival, a week-long showcase held every other Spring.

Photo Credit: Mikhaela Locklear | Daily Texan Staff

Featuring student-run plays, dance performances, art installations, commissioned pieces of music, outdoor site-specific works and multiple transdisciplinary events, the Cohen New Works Festival offers a wide range of opportunities to see noteworthy innovations by some of UT’s rising creators. The festival offers the opportunity for fans of the arts to observe the works of the next generation of playwrights, performers, artists and designers.

The Cohen New Works Festival is held every other spring and draws in over 8,000 attendees for a week-long showcase of original work created by UT students and celebrates the continuously ongoing process of creating new work. Students are given the freedom to create whatever kind of project they desire, with no strings attached.

“The festival allows students an opportunity where they can show their work without having any bars to hold them back,” said Isaac Gomez, director of public relations and marketing for the festival. “For many students, this is the first time they’ve gotten an opportunity to create and share with community at large.” 

Whether it is architectural installation, comedic plays, or interactive shows for toddlers, students are encouraged to work together to explore the boundless potential of the collaborative process. 

“Every project you see at New Works took a huge collaborative effort to create,” Sidney Monroe, assistant producer of the festival, said. “The number of students that it takes to build, rehearse, and organize each production just goes to show how effective and positive the collaborative process is.” 

Introduced in 2001 as a ‘new play festival,’ The Cohen New Works Festival was created in honor of David Mark Cohen, the former head of playwriting in the Department of Theatre and Dance. Cohen was killed in a car accident on December 23, 1997, but during his life he was a steadfast supporter of new work, so the festival was appropriately named after him. 

Since its creation, the festival has evolved from a six–week demonstration of two dozen plays, readings, and dance works produced in the spare time of students and faculty, to an impressive biennial festival that includes all mediums of student–produced new work. Today, it is the largest festival of its kind, organized and run solely by a committee of graduate and undergraduate students, with assistance from faculty co–producers. 

Students who show their works at the festival not only have the opportunity to share them to rows of eager audience members who consistently fill up the theaters, but also to several guest artists who provide feedback and dialogue. 

“Every project receives professional feedback from a working artist,” Gomez said. “Hearing what the artists have to say helps you see what you can do to improve your work and grow as an artist.” 

Gomez noted that the professional environment the festival provides its participants is what helps some students begin their creative careers.

Emily Freeman, a third year Masters of Fine Arts candidate, got her start in the New Works Festival with her interactive play for young audiences, “And Then Came Tango,” which tells a story about a pair of male penguins who are eager to become parents. After presenting her work at the 2011 festival, the play ended up making it onto the main stage at UT and the Blanton Museum. Freeman credits the New Works Festival experience for helping her get even closer to getting her play published. 

“The festival allowed me multiple chances to receive critiques on the script while I was developing the play,” Freeman said. “Along with great exposure, the feedback I received helped propel me forward and will help the play get published hopefully in the near future.” 

Monroe says that Freeman is the perfect example of how works that premiere at New Works go on to have lives after the festival. 

“It really is the epitome of ‘what starts here changes the world,'” Monroe said. “We are challenging norms, changing the face of American theater, and speaking to a variety of audiences, while continuing to add to our own art and profession.”