New Works Festival celebrates student art and helps students grow

Playwright of El Corazón de la Luna in New Works Festival, Joaquín Madrid Larrañaga (senior), smiles in the Lower Herrick at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Feb 28, 2023. Liang Zhu/The Occidental

The New Works Festival celebrated young playwrights and creators at Occidental Feb. 25-26 at Keck Theater, according to Haowen Luo (junior), the student producer of the event. Luo said the New Works Festival enables student creators who are interested in theater, producing, stage managing and playwriting to work in a professional environment.

“This would be a first opportunity for a lot of students to actually work with professionals who have been working in the industry for a long time,” Luo said. “It’s a great time to learn and to build connections.”

Student playwright Amber Davison (first year) contributed a play called “Center of the World.” According to Davison, the deadline for submitting a play to be considered for showing at the New Works Festival was in December, and students were allowed to submit any kind of plays or pieces of acting they wanted.

“It’s really nice because we have directors in the area that are directing the play, who are local to LA,” said Davison. “Jessica Hannah is directing my play, and she’s a local theater director here, and she has been doing this festival for over 15 years, so this is not her first rodeo.”

According to Davison, the amount of time and work that students put into the play is like a part time job, but it pays off.

“I’ve just gotten so much support,” Davison said. “It’s not like one of those things where they just throw your play into the making, you know, especially if you’re not expecting it; they help you develop it to make it the best form possible, and it’s ultimately for aspiring writers.”

Playwright of Emergency Contact in New Works Festival, Wren Andres (junior), at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Feb 28, 2023. Liang Zhu/The Occidental

Joaqúin Madrid Larrañaga (senior) said he began acting when he was 5 years old. According to Larrañaga, he has participated in the New Works Festival as an actor and stage manager in previous years. Larrañaga said showing his own work at The New Works Festival has always been something he has wanted to do.

“For my piece, I really was just trying to think of something that I hadn’t seen done before, and something that was personal to me and something that I was interested in, and that I thought other people would be interested in,” Larrañaga said. “I started thinking about different stories that spoke to me, and one of the things that came to mind was Bless Me Ultima by Rudolph Anaya, and so my play is very largely based off of his writings, and sort of the themes that Rudolph Anaya puts into his works, and so that was a large inspiration.”

According to Larrañaga, because his senior comprehensives were due around the same time as the deadline for submitting to the New Works Festival, he only had two days to write his play.

“End of November through December I was really just brainstorming and moving things around in my head to sort of figure out what story I wanted to tell, and that’s sort of when I was thinking about Bless Me Ultima and a couple other things that influenced this project.” Larrañaga said.

With only two days to write his play, Larrañaga said he only had a rough outline of the plot and an idea of who the characters would be.

According to Larrañaga, the New Works Festival is produced by Theater and Performance Studies professor Laurel Meade, along with a few other student producers. Together, they help organize the festival, and there is a panel of faculty who decides from the submissions what work gets in. Meade works with students to find the right directors for their play.

According to Larrañaga, Israel López Reyes, who is a faculty member at UCLA, helped to cast and direct Larrañaga’s play.

Playwright of Clock Out in New Works Festival, Jonah Matso (junior), outside of Keck Theater at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Feb 28, 2023. Liang Zhu/The Occidental

“There are two roles from the Oxy student population who are Simi Fulton, who is playing Sophia in my play, and then Grayson Emilio Whitaker-Castaneda, who is playing Diego in my piece, and then we went ahead and cast outside artists for the rest of the characters.”

Jonah Matso (junior) didn’t intend to participate in theater upon coming to Occidental and was not involved in acting during high school, he said. According to Matso, the opportunity to submit a play to the New Works Festival allowed him to learn more about himself as a writer.

“It’s surreal, I’ve never told a story like this before, I’ve never had people working with me to help make the story better, and bring it to life in that way,” Matso said. “I feel quite privileged to have the opportunity, but it’s also been a huge learning experience; I suspect that by the end of this, the product will be the best piece of writing that I’ve ever created.”

Contact Olivia Correia at


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