Brave New Theater
For the past five years, the University of Texas Department of Theatre and Dance has offered a two-week showcase of the talents of their third-year graduate playwrights called UT New Theatre (UTNT). Curated by UT visiting professor Steven Dietz and fellow MFA playwright Katie Bender, this is a rare opportunity for non-departmental theatre lovers to see what new work these up-and-coming playwrights are creating.
Typically, there are two, maybe three, shows included in the event each season. This year, however, all four of the graduating MFA playwrights are presenting their exciting new works: Diana Grisanti's River City, Gabriel Jason Dean's Bacha Bazi (Boy Play), Tom Horan's Static, and Holli Gipson's wonderfully titled The Chronicles of Bad Ass Women.
Completely original in their subject matter and aesthetics, the four shows each capture an element of the past catching up with the future, revealing a personal aspect of these playwright's lives under a spotlight.
Grisanti's play, for example, tells the story of an orphaned woman who begins uncovering the secrets of three generations of her (and Grisanti's) home, Louisville, Kentucky. "It's not at all autobiographical," she jokes.
Co-directed by two Performance as Public Practice PhD candidates, Lydia Nelson and Rudy Ramirez, Grisanti asserts that River City was a truly collaborative effort between the three of them. Thanks to the input of their peers, the playwrights are all given ample opportunity during the rehearsal process to make changes to their scripts.
"Believe me, I tinkered until the last second. I even changed a line after opening night," jokes Grisanti. "Technically, I could rewrite all sorts of stuff before this weekend's shows, but this would probably make the actors hate me."
Katelyn Wood, a PhD candidate in the Performance as Public Practice program, is the dramaturg (research advisor) for Horan's show Static, which tells the haunting tale of a young woman who encounters the ghosts of the "haunted house" she now lives in. Directing Static is Horan's regular UT collaborator, MFA Directing candidate, Courtney Sale, who is known for her unconventional staging and wild creativity.
"It was such a gift to be able to witness their processes of creation," says Wood. "Tom is incredibly careful and compassionate towards his characters, and I am just always in such awe of the work that Courtney and the design team have done."
With the proliferation of new work theatre in Austin, it's interesting to note the differences between these works and the other productions put on at UT. Each UTNT show gets a total of $1,000 to mount a full production, which runs over the course of just two weekends. Regular season UT productions have larger budgets and longer rehearsal and run times, so UTNT — just like with most mainstream new work — has a "super DIY" feel to it, as Grisanti puts it.
These playwrights are no strangers to Austin's greater new works theatre community either. Horan, for example, just enjoyed having one of his other works selected as a "Best of Fest" pick at this year's FronteraFest, as Grisanti did the previous year.
These young artists are about to venture out on their own. Now is the perfect time to witness their emerging talent before they graduate and move on to the next phase. Says Wood, "This is the perfect way to celebrate the playwrights' last three years. It's wonderful to come together as a community of artists and see what happens when important words come to life on stage."
UTNT runs for one more weekend at the UT Department of Theatre and Dance's Lab Theatre and Oscar G. Brockett Theatre. Check individual shows for listings and to reserve tickets.