For fifteen years this spring, UTNT (UT New Theatre) has served as a springboard for emerging playwrights to explore their newest works on stage. On the outside, UTNT serves as a showcase for these new plays in their infancy, before many of them go on to premiere across the country. On the inside, the fruits of UTNT’s collaborative rehearsal process extend far beyond a single performance. In celebration of its fifteenth season, we are exploring UTNT’s history of fostering experimentation, creative collaboration and hands-on new play development, through the eyes of its playwriting alumni.
First established by former faculty member and award-winning playwright Steven Dietz in 2008, UTNT (UT New Theatre) was created to address the desire of M.F.A. playwrights to present their work to audiences. Wisely, Dietz knew they needed something more. “I believed our writers needed a full rehearsal period of their plays,” reasoned Dietz. “And they needed mentorship on how to use that process to revise, re-engage and re-imagine their play, in rigorous collaboration with their creative team.”
Dietz’s vision formed strong roots for the annual showcase (or “laboratory” as he likes to think of it), and elements including cross-disciplinary collaboration and the inclusion of professional guest respondents from across the country are still actively part of UTNT today.
Over its lifetime, UTNT has grown and flourished, with some seasons bringing upwards of seven new plays to life through developmental rehearsals, staged readings and fully fledged productions. Currently helmed by co-producing artistic directors KJ Sanchez and Alexandra Bassiakou Shaw, the future of UTNT is bright. “Every year we get more and more production support from our incredible staff,” Sanchez shared, “and one of my favorite things is that this gives student designers, stage managers, dramaturgs the support they need to give these plays all their talent and skill.”
UTNT has seen over 50 emerging playwrights through the new play development process; playwrights who have gone on to become professors, screenwriters and celebrated theatre-makers. We spoke to a few alumni about what they recall from their time working on UTNT.
Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
“The best part of the process for me was (1) working with Steven Dietz on the dramaturgical development over the piece and (2) having the opportunity to bring in whatever professional collaborator I wanted to help me explore the script on its feet. If memory serves, this happened the semester before my play went into rehearsal. Daniel Alexander Jones (then a professor at The University of Texas at Austin) had brought Croatian American theatre director Tea Alagíc to campus to direct and perform in his play The Book of Daniel, and I had been really inspired by her ideas and journey as a theatre artist, so I was over the moon when she agreed to come to campus and direct a one week exploration of my play as part of my script development process. I’m the type of playwright who loves to develop work through structured improvisation, object journeys and physical theatre explorations, so having that playground-like opportunity prior to getting to work with the incredible M.F.A. candidate director Helena Kays on the actual production was amazing. Tea Alagíc later went on to direct the New York City premiere of Lidless and continues to be a beloved collaborator.”
What is Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig up to now?
Ya-Chu Chowhig’s first collection of plays, entitled Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s China Trilogy: Three Parables of Global Capital was published in September of 2021.
Her play Snow in Midsummer will have its New York premiere at Classic Stage Company in Summer 2022.
Gabriel Jason Dean
In Bloom (formerly Bacha Bazi: Boy Play) (2012)
“UTNT was a very culminating moment in my time as a Michener Fellow at UT Austin. Steven Dietz strongly encouraged me to serve as the director of my own play (then titled Bacha Bazi: Boy Play and since retitled In Bloom). I was very resistant to the idea at first, but Dietz had a trick up his sleeve. Working on the play as director/writer gave me such insight into the emotional and literal choreography of the play. I remember realizing after the first or second rehearsal that I needed only about half of what I had written to tell this story well. That was a major realization. It also forced me to relentlessly pursue the major dramatic question of the play on every page, both as a writer and director. Since then, with any new play I’ve written, I’ve tried to serve as director at least once during its development. The insight gained by peering through another disciplinary window has become critical to my process as a writer.”
What is Gabriel Jason Dean up to now?
Dean’s play Heartland opens off-Broadway in March 2022.
His theatrical memoir #RIFT: A Play In Three Parts opens in April 2022 at Luna Stage in New Jersey.
Our New Town, which he co-wrote with Jessie Dean and Emmy-nominated composer David Dabbon is currently in workshop at Muhlenberg College, where he serves as faculty in English and Theatre.
Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven (2014)
“UTNT was probably the shortest distance between draft and production that I’ve ever had, and the experience was thrilling. I loved Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven from the moment that it existed. My teachers at UT Austin recognized that, even though it was a first draft that I’d brought in over the summer, it was ready to go into production, which really gave me a lot of confidence in my own process.”
What is Reina Hardy up to now?
Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven has since gone on to a four-theatre National New Play Network rolling world premiere and an appearance on the Kilroy’s List. It was published by Broadway Play Publishing in November of 2021.
“UTNT gave me the opportunity to stage a play that was (and is!) still very much in-progress. In the cycle of readings and workshops, it can be hard to remember that the play is a living, breathing thing — and hard to keep its full scope and potential solely in your mind. Especially in the case of Gondal, which is a big, wild, sprawling play, seeing it in bodies and space was an essential step in its development. UTNT helped me to unlearn the perception that productions are for “finished” plays and to expand my vocabulary for all the possible ways development can look. It pushed me to hold out my work with an open hand to collaborators and audiences, instead of protecting it with a closed fist.”
What is Kimberly Belflower up to now?
Belflower’s play John Proctor is the Villain will have its world premiere at Studio Theatre in April 2022.
She’s currently a Playwriting Fellow at Emory University (with fellow alum Megan Tabaque).
Belflower and Tabaque are workshopping their co-written play Only Reason (formerly Teen Girl FANtasies) at Alliance Theatre with fellow alum Sam Provenzano.
“UTNT’s impact was great on me as an artist. I saw what my work looked like in a production setting – how the work came to life with a director and designers. I not only got to see the final product but the work done across the board: budgets, sharing resources with others in my cohort. All the while, creating work in a fantastical, inquisitive way supported by great faculty.
My favorite moments were connecting with the actors, stage managers, designers. Bringing in new pages. Discovering the story, the work, the magic in the room with everyone. Finding what works, what brings out the magic, what pushes the story into an event to share with an audience.”
What is travis tate up to now?
tate’s play Queen of the Night will run at Victory Gardens Theatre until March 2022.
Milton, MI (2018)
“UTNT was wonderful training in how to communicate with a big, new group of collaborators. Before UTNT, all of my experiences in production had either been with small theatre companies or self-producing, usually with friends or friends-of-friends. With smaller projects, created among groups that had grown up watching the same plays and working with the same people, there’s a lot of shorthand. A lot can be left implicit. But with UTNT, I was suddenly working with collaborators who had come from across the world, inside a big organization—with more resources, more folks dedicating their time to the work—and more requirements to go along with it. I learned a lot about how to communicate my ideas in a way that was easily understandable to everyone.
And, of course, the rewrites I did for UTNT were what got Milton, MI into shape to submit to the Latinx Theater Common’s 2018 Carnaval. That reading got me on the radar of a bunch of theaters, and led directly to my play CIERTAS ASTILLAS/CERTAIN SHARDS getting featured as part of Two River Theater’s Crossing Borders Festival last fall.”
What is Paz Pardo up to now?
Pardo’s debut novel, The Shamshine Blind, is set to be released by Atria books in 2023.
She is currently developing a piece called DESLOOP with artist Marcela Rapallo and playwright/director Enrique Lozano. The team has a residency coming up in April in Buenos Aires.
Lane Michael Stanley
rain falls special on me (2020)
“I participated in UTNT three times: twice as a director (MotherWitch by travis tate in 2018 and Not Omaha by Paul William Kruse in 2020) and once as a playwright (rain falls special on me in 2020). In directing each of these very different shows with very different spaces and resources, I got to witness and experience how a producing entity can impact the development of a play. How can we balance the nimbleness that something as wild and unpredictable as a new play often requires with the schedules and clarity that a team of artists and craftspeople require? How can we create production processes where the design, concept and even the spatial aesthetics can impact the text, and still have time and resources for those impacts to ripple back out through the entire vision? Different phases of the scriptwriting process ask for different styles of production, if the ultimate goal is to leave the process not only having created a piece of live theatre and shared it with audiences, but also with a better play. Knowing what your play needs at this particular moment of its life is its own skill and requires its own kind of clarity about who you are as a writer.”
What is Lane Michael Stanley up to now?
Stanley’s first feature film, Addict Named Hal, is currently on the festival circuit.
Their second feature film, T, is currently underway, which they’re shooting incrementally over the lead actor’s first year on Testosterone.
Learn more about their upcoming films: lanemichaelstanley.com/film
Renae Simone Jarrett
Community Garden (2021)
“UTNT gave me the inestimable opportunity to softly bring what had only even been in my head to the real world for the first time. Working with a whole creative team (designers, actors, operators) helped me learn practical and relationship-building tools I can now bring to a non-educational setting, and I learned a lot of lessons about the kind of artist I want to be in the room.”
What is Renae Simone Jarrett up to now?
The latest cohort of UTNT playwrights will present their work on March 3-11, 2022 at the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre. Be the first to see these new plays and the future of UTNT, written by Jaymes Sanchez, Andrea L. Hart and Josiah Thomas Turner, at the culmination of their own fruitful rehearsal processes.