USF’s New Work Festival Highlights Student Creativity

Students perform Jenny Reed's dance piece "She" at the New Work Festival on Lone Mountain. The piece was originally for a hip-hop theater class. (Melissa Stihl|Foghorn)

Chances are, Sid Vicious and Geoffrey Chaucer would not see “Wicked” in quite the same light. Be it song, dance, or spoken word, art carries a different significance for everyone. For the first time ever, the College Players New Work Festival gives students the chance to perform and craft art on their own terms. From raging monologues to frolicsome improv, the New Work Festival reminds everyone that artistic expression flows from every aspect of life.

The New Work Festival actually spanned two nights, April 23 and 24, but the performances from the first night returned as the third act for the second night. That way, those who could only come Friday did not miss a moment of the fun and drama.

Lone Mountain’s Studio Theatre is the perfect location for an artistic mélange. Its black box interior encourages minimal props and utilizing the imaginative powers of lighting, music, and performance.
Though the festival opens with Awkward Silence’s Kate Elston and Maro Guevara as “Cabaret”-esque snarky emcees, one can easily imagine the extensive preparation.

“It began last year with a thought–that there was not enough original work on campus,” says Jessica Baldwin, College Players’ business manager and a stagehand in the festival.
But months of crafting all come down to a single moment as the lights dim and the show begins. Its first piece is a film by Kevin Kunze, followed by a short story by yours truly and followed by a poetic monologue by Ashley Smiley.

The most amazing aspect of the festival is its sheer breadth. In just the first act, we have songs, films and monologues. All tell stories, from fantasy and dragons to the bitingly real pain of one-sided romance.
Deidre Doyle, the festival’s producer, says that her biggest challenge was just that: “Organizing not just one kind of art form, but dance, music, spoken word. It’s all different kinds of artists who are used to working in different ways.”

Each performance easily bows to the next. When going from grieving husbands to lovesick youths might be just a tad awkward, the improv team Awkward Silence dives in for a game.

The improv is a boon of the show. At a four-hour show, even an art lover’s bottom can grow stiff. Awkward Silence provides amusing interludes that require a skill all their own.

For media studies major and Awkward Silence team member Peter Thoene, improv is both art and entertainment. “It takes a different kind of artist to get up there and make things up on the spot,” he says.
Regardless of schematics, Awkward Silence is a definite hit. “I love how they’re breaking the acts up,” says freshman Natalie Nelson. “I want to be up there!”

Nelson feels it. Artists feed on creative energy, and a showcase like the New Work Festival ripples with it.
“There’s a lot of creativity on this campus that I think needs an outlet,” says Isaac Samuelson, a junior and College Players veteran.

The New Work Festival contains pieces by all kinds of students, even those whom most know for endeavors other than art, such as ASUSF President Alex Platt. She presents an intriguing documentary of Italy’s discrimination against the Roma.

“I was so nervous! It’s a little long, so I wasn’t sure how people would handle it,” she says.
But according to Samuelson, “That’s exactly what we’re looking for.” As the festival demonstrates, anyone can have something artistic to say.

Another stirring work is “She,” a dance piece by College Player Jenny Reed. Originally creating the piece for her hip-hop class, “’She’ deals with feminism, my relationship to men and my sexuality,” she says, as well as “my reaction to how females are portrayed in pop culture.”

Personal emotions ring deep in the festival. Though many of the acts are humorous, others leave the performers with tear-stained cheeks. But perhaps the opportunity for such expression is its own kind of catharsis.

Three acts long, and capped off with a final round by Awkward Silence, the first New Works Festival is a definite success. For the audience, it is an entertaining showcase. For the artists, it is another occasion to grow.

“When you give a student the chance to shine,” says Jessica Baldwin, “it’s amazing what they create. All they want is that opportunity.”

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