Unm’s Words Afire! Fest Lights Up The Stage With Two Weeks Of Performances

Unm Fest Lights Up The Stage With Two Weeks Of Performances

Christie Chisholm
4 min read
Bringing the Heat
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Words Afire! presents a rare opportunity. Audiences not only glimpse budding works from the next generation of playwrights but, in a way, also have an impact on their evolution.

Now in its 12
th year, the festival springs from the University of New Mexico’s Dramatic Writing Program. Every outing, master of fine arts students in the program collaborate with Associate Director of Theatre and Dance and Producing Artistic Director Elaine Avila to select their most promising scripts for development and produce them for the festival. With most plays still only in directed reading form, audiences can experience the authors’ visions and then discuss each work with the playwrights after the shows. Those post-performance conversations can have significant sway over the direction of the plays, says Avila, adding that “part of the way audiences respond just physically and emotionally can be hugely helpful.”

While themes aren’t outlined for the festivals, Avila says every year she looks for emerging connections between students’ work. This year, the thread she’s found is in how the plays relate to New Mexico.

The only fully staged production this year is
Señora de la Pinta by Law Chavez. Partly inspired by Oedipus the King, Señora focuses on a Chicano ex-con who seeks revenge after a young man is presumed to have been killed in the 1980 New Mexico State Prison riot. Acting as guest director on Señora is Daniel Banks, who sits on the faculty of the M.A. in Applied Theatre at City University of New York and has directed shows around the world, including at venues such as the Uganda National Theatre, the Belarusian National Drama Theatre and the Ovalhouse in London.

Christina Hjelm’s
Casualties of Dreams and Sand tells the story of a woman who may lose her home at the hands of the mortgage crisis as her husband fights in Iraq. Hjelm has already received the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival’s Latino Playwriting Award for Casualties .

Three brothers reunite at their family home after their youngest brother dies
in Wrecking , by Kevin R. Elder. Together, they battle bitter memories, issues of abandonment and a discarded teenage pact .

In Half Empty , by Zee Eskeets, a girl named Ally fights a skeleton named Belvedere in an otherworldly dimension.

When a Che Guevara portrait comes to life
in The House That Che Built by Barney Lopez, Manny and Cynthia decide to forge a revolution by occupying (aka squatting in) foreclosed homes.

Words Afire! also includes a book launch and readings from Avila’s
Jane Austen, Action Figure and Other Plays and Say Word! Voices from Hip Hop Theater , edited with an introduction by Daniel Banks.

What most excites Avila about the new works presented is the communal voice they embody. “They’re written by UNM graduate students, so they’re about things that students at UNM care about right now,” she says. Often, she adds, theaters choose to produce plays that are “100 years old or older.” And while there’s value to be gleaned from the past, as well as other places like New York and London, she says it’s precious to see a collection of work that “speaks to our community right now.”

Performance Preview 2012 Words Afire! Festival Of New Plays

Main Stage Production

Señora de la Pinta by Law Chavez, directed by Daniel Banks

Thursday, April 12, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, April 13, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 14, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 15, 6 p.m.

Thursday, April 19, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 21, 4:30 p.m.

Directed Readings

Casualties of Dreams and Sand by Christina Hjelm, directed by Valli Rivera

Thursday, April 12, 9:30 p.m.

Friday, April 20, 9:30 p.m.

by Kevin R. Elder, directed by Shepard Sobel

Friday, April 13, 9:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 21, 2 p.m.

Half Empty by Zee Eskeets, directed by Paul Ford

Thursday, April 19, 9:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 22, 6 p.m.

Book Launch and Readings

Jane Austen, Action Figure and Other Plays by Elaine Avila and Say Word! Voices from Hip Hop Theater , edited with an introduction by Daniel Banks

Tuesday, April 17, 2 p.m.

UNM Bookstore

An Evening of Screenplay Readings
by various writers, directed by Matthew McDuffie

Tuesday, April 17, 7:30 p.m.

UNM ARTS Lab (1601 Central NE)

The House That Che Built by Barney Lopez, directed by Becca Holmes

Wednesday, April 18, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 22, noon

Bringing the Heat

Perla Ponce Nuñez, Nicole Gramlich and Marcos Kelly in Law Chavez’ Oedipally inspired Señora de la Pinta

Max Woltman

Bringing the Heat

Gilbert Sanchez and Marcos Kelly in Señora de la Pinta

Max Woltman

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