Playwriting and Directing Cohort

Third-Year Candidates

Emma Watkins (Playwriting)

Emma Watkins is a M.F.A. in Theatre (Playwriting) candidate at The University of Texas at Austin. Her plays include Elizabeth is going into the ground (2023 Bay Area Playwrights Festival Finalist, 2023 Princess Grace Playwriting Award Finalist, 2023 O’Neill Semifinalist, 2023 Playwrights Realm Scratchpad Series Semifinalist, 2022 Leah Ryan Prize Honorable Mention), The Norns of Athens Maine (2023 Playwright’s Center Venturous Plays List); and Rumpus for the End of the World or Susan Sontag in a Bear Suit or Pan- (2022 Clubbed Thumb Biennial Semifinalist).  Her writing has been developed or produced by PlayPenn, the Cohen New Works Festival, McCarter Theatre Lab, the Lewis Center for the Arts, Chapter Arts Centre (UK) and Theatre Intime.  She is currently under commission from South Coast Repertory. She holds a B.A. from Princeton University in English, Theatre and Environmental Studies.  As a Fulbright Scholar, she completed her M.A. in Welsh & Celtic Studies from Cardiff University. 


Elizabeth is going into the ground

Four trees in the north Maine woods communicate through an underground network of roots and fungi.  Four women, each struggling to come into her own in a nearby rural logging town, pass each other gifts by way of the town’s one-car postal service.  By blurring the boundary between human and tree, Elizabeth is going into the ground contemplates the communities of our forests, weaving a tale of love, resilience, and old growth.    

Pretend it’s Pretend

Playgrounds are designed to be dangerous enough for experimentation, yet safe enough to allow experiments to fail without serious injury.  This play is a playground.  When Arthur is asked to design a bulletproof playscape for his daughter’s old school, he confronts an unsettling reality: that the world does not operate by the same rules as playgrounds.  At a time when dangers beyond the playground are overwhelmingly present, this is a story about the endurance of care.  It is a play about learning, growing up, and grown-ups learning to play.

The Norns of Athens, Maine

Pas, Prësin, and Futur have lived in the Olde Olde Tree in the Athens dump for as long as anyone here can remember.  From there, they weave a knotted web of the lives and deaths of all who live in Athens.  A story of being forsaken, of wearing out a welcome, of manifest destiny unraveling.

Jenny Lavery (Directing)

Jenny Lavery is an Austin-based director, producer, educator and performer who champions new works, specifically physically adventurous, character-forward work that tends to be feminist, political and timely. She is the Founding Producing Artistic Director of Austin's Theatre en Bloc and has most recently served as the Theatre Education Director of Austin Jewish Repertory Theatre, the Programming Director of the Austin Creative Alliance and a teacher in the public school system, specializing in early childhood, special education K-12, and theatre.

Select directing credits include: ROE (Zach); Merrily We Roll Along (San Antonio Public Theatre); Ride the Cyclone, elizabeth is going into the ground, In Sisters We Trust, of My F*cked Up American Girl Doll Play, Red Bike (Texas Theatre and Dance); Junie B Jones, Toothless Wonder (Magik Theatre); Dance Nation, Severe Weather Warning, The Secretary, Neva, Until the Flood, The Drowning Girls, The Totalitarians, Bright Half Life, World of Wee, Austin is a Place: You Are Here, Violet Crown: Dog's Town, Violet Crown: Salamander Down (Theatre en Bloc); Fly Girl (Color Arc Productions); Incident at Willow Creek, Backstory (San Antonio Public Theatre); A Handful of Minutes, Circle of Five, Look Back.. (Hyde Park Theatre); The Dead Giveaway (Final Acts Project).

Jenny holds a Directing + Acting B.F.A. from NYU, an M.Ed. from the Boston Teacher Residency / UMass, an Executive Strategy for Non-Profit Management Certification from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a M.F.A. in Theatre (Directing) candidate in at The University of Texas at Austin. Jenny is an SDC Associate member. She is the current Coordinator for the Student Jane Chambers Playwriting Contest, culminating at ATHE and sits on the Women in Theatre Program Executive Committee.

Malena Pennycook (Playwriting)

Malena Pennycook (she/they) is a white-Latine writer and performer who creates formally inventive theater about the strangeness of having a body. They are a current Playwrights Center Core Apprentice and Playwrights Realm Scratchpad writer.  

Malena’s plays include Below (Concord Theatricals/Sam French, Take Ten) How Should A Conversation Be? (Playwrights Center, Playwrights Realm); Diving Board (O'Neill Finalist 2022, Crashbox, Teatro Vivo, Seoul Theater Festival); Two Apprentices (The Kennedy Center KCACTF Latinx Playwriting Award, Rosa Parks Playwriting Award); 9/10 Beds (Kennedy Center KCACTF Musical Theatre Award 2nd Pl); and their solo show Am I Busy Yet? (Cosmic Cherry Arts NYC, Oregon Fringe Festival).

As a performer and deviser, Malena has developed new projects with The Public's Under the Radar, Santa Cruz Shakespeare, sheCREATES, Cloud Tree, Fresh Ground Pepper, Dixon Place, Shakespeare in the Square, Cape Fear Regional Theatre, The Brick and The Flea Theatre. 

Malena is an alum of the New Harmony Project,  the Richie Jackson Artistic Fellowship and the Santa Cruz Shakespeare Acting Fellowship.

M.F.A. in Theatre (Playwriting) candidate, The University of Texas at Austin. B.F.A. Drama, NYU Tisch Experimental Theatre Wing.


How Should A Conversation Be? 

A minimalist, high velocity love story 

Terry and Kati live in Denver. It was love from the moment they met at Very Gay Beans Cafe. 

The trouble is

        Five years have passed

            Now ten

                Now fifteen

                    and time just keeps moving faster and faster. 

When a tragedy takes place several miles from their home, Terry and Kati are finally forced to slow down to ask each other, how should a conversation be? That is, how can we establish a profound connection, which feels distinctly available after an act of violence, in our day to day? 

2 W; 1 NB 

Development: Playwrights Center Workshop 2024; Playwrights Realm Workshop 2024 

Choreomaniac 1518 

An epic dark historical comedy 

It's 16th century France and everything is horrible! There's bubonic plague, major agricultural collapse and the leadership is corrupt as all hell.  When a dancing plague breaks out, a group of potato farmers cue the strobe lights and reach towards hope. These are the choreomaniacs. This is their (mostly) true story.

3 W; 2 M; 2 NB; Dance Chorus 

Development: The University of Texas UTNT (UT New Theater) Festival, 2024 


A coming-of-middle-age fairy tale 

Katie drinks too much. She’s fighting with her daughter. Sometimes, her soup can talk. 

When her best friend Lauralee invites her to an embodied singing group,  Katie finds her way back into the mystery she thought she’d lost. 

4 W; 1 Horse 

Second-Year Candidates

Michael Mobley (Playwriting)

Michael Mobley is a second-year M.F.A in Theatre (Playwriting) candidate. He writes about the intimate and private lives of Black Americans throughout America’s past, present and future. Two of his one-acts were Regional Finalists for the John Cauble Award for Outstanding Short Play. His full-length play, Monsters had a reading/workshop at Quick Silver Theater Company and Prologue Theatre’s Foreword New Works Series. It was also a Finalist for the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference and The Playwrights Realm’s Scratchpad Series. He was also a Finalist for the Greenhouse Residency at SPACE on Ryder Farm and the Many Voices Fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center. His work has been supported by the Atlantic Center for the Arts and Echo Theater Company (National Young Playwrights in Residence Program 21-22). 



Three haunted house performers become the monsters they portray, which asks the question: are monsters made or are they born? When their supervisor unexpectedly resigns and needs a replacement, one of the performers sees the promotion as a way to get out of his terrible living situation, but for the other two performers the promotion becomes more deadly than the haunted house itself.

Pregaming for the End of the World

A group of recently graduated college friends get together to “pregame” before going out to a bar that is secretly re-opening during shutdown. With every shot they take, making it out to the bar together becomes unlikely as the friends realize how much they’re growing apart. This is a play about realizing whether you’re living the life you’re supposed to live and trying to find connection when you’re supposed to be keeping your distance. It’s the quarter-life crisis with a splash of existentialism.

Avery Deutsch (Playwriting)

Avery Deutsch is a playwright and actor from Katonah, New York. She is the winner of Clubbed Thumb’s 2022 Biennial commission, The Hearth’s 2024 Virtual Retreat and a recipient of a 2023-2024 EST/ Sloan commission. She is currently pursuing a M.F.A. in Theatre (Playwriting) at The University of Texas at Austin. 


Sick Day 

I saw you watching them. At the eye doctor. At the hospital. At urgent care. Two girls. One is sick. One is worried. Both are talking. I saw you watching them. And they were watching you. Sometimes it helps to put on a show, even when the world is ending. 

I Live Here Now

Meg is locked in a box preparing to die, but then a good man named Tyler finds her. They fall in love, get married, and Meg is a normal wife and woman—and you know what? Some days it feels pretty good. Until one day, she reunites with her sister Cassie and remembers who she is. A play about fear and love, and how hard it can be to tell the two apart. 

The Winter Guard Play

Winter Guard is NOT Color-guard. Forget the football, forget the pompoms. In Mechanicsfield Pennsylvania, a High School Winterguard team attempts to choreograph a routine on the topic of Global Warming. A play about catching flags, catching each other, and realizing the grown ups aren't going to save you.

Hal Cosentino (Playwriting)

Hal Cosentino is a transgender theater-maker, creating scripts that blend embodied performance and expansive language. Many of his plays activate the space of live theater to challenge both audience and performers’ notions of what it means to have, express and change one’s gender in our society. Hal has developed work in Chicago, New York and Austin. His plays include Lineage (O’Neill New Play Conference Finalist 2023) and OH, BUDDY (Cohen New Works Festival 2023). Since 2019, he has been a member of The Syndicate, a network of artists producing new plays, performances and events by women, queer and trans people. As an undergraduate at Skidmore College, Hal trained as an actor with SITI Company and at the Moscow Art Theatre School. As a teacher, Hal animates students to use their engaged presence and unique interests to unlock theatrical experimentation. For years in Chicago he co-led monthly free community movement sessions that synthesized physical acting techniques into experiments in embodied performance. Now, Hal is a second-year M.F.A. in Theatre (Playwriting) at The University of Texas at Austin. See more at


Godfriend is a choral play about a couple (a cis woman and a trans man) who both could carry a child, but choose not to. Spiritual encounters during their respective OB-GYN exams cause them to both develop obsessions with the Public Universal Friend, a colonial Quaker preacher who claimed God renounced them of their gender. When one claims to be reborn as the Friend, they both must grieve the ways in which they are divided by both the limits of gender labels and their shared ability to procreate. This play tries to make sense of the messy impulse to create new life, and explores how amazing and confusing it is to love someone so much that you feel like the same person, whether that person is your spouse, your child, your god, or your friend. 

In OH, BUDDY, it's hard to be the New Guy in the world's most generic office. It's even harder to be the New Guy when you're the New Guy because you came out as transgender. How are your Male coworkers supposed to act around you? What about your Female ones? And has anybody noticed that the boss is a Big Furry Monster? OH, BUDDY is a dark, absurdist comedy about how the bizarre demands of binary gender affect the way we take on roles in the workplace and beyond.

Once In A Hundred Years starts with a brief history of life on earth: all living creatures come to be, live, and die off over millions of years. Out of them, the voice of the Universal Soul arises to tell us of the animals we’ve lost, but when we hit the seagull, we stumble into… Chekhov’s play. Once In A Hundred Years uses Treplev's demand of "We need new forms!" to launch a new play incorporating Chekhov's text and characters with original material to ask the questions: What was Treplev trying to create? What would a new form for the theater look like? With a form as ephemeral as live performance, what can we draw from the creators of the past and what can we hope to send into the future? 

You can contact Hal at

Eliya Smith (Playwriting)

Eliya Smith is a writer from Ohio. Plays include Deadclass, Ohio (Ice Factory Festival), Memonica (HERE Arts Center, produced with support from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and a rehearsal grant from the New Georges), Dad don’t read this (Phyllis Anderson Prize for the best play by an undergraduate or graduate student at Harvard), The Emperor’s New Clothes (American Repertory Theatre) and Then We’ll Rest (Cohen New Works Festival). Eliya’s prose writing has been a finalist for awards from New Letters and the Society of Professional Journalists and nominated to “Best American Essays.” She has worked for New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and at the Jewish Forward. She is currently pursuing a M.F.A. in Theatre (Playwriting) as a Michener Fellow at The University of Texas at Austin.


Grief Camp

Six campers arrive at a fictional Jewish “grief camp” — a summer program for teenagers who have lost loved ones — in rural Virginia. The kids interact, fight, and fall in love as they try to navigate the swamp of their feelings. Grief Camp is about the way loss warps these children's lives and selves, and the way the kids shape each other over the course of one summer. It's also about more prosaic adolescent stuff: cliquishness, flirtation, self-loathing, hormones, missing your parents, falling in love, the glories and terrors of that thing the camp counselors call a "waterfront," which is actually just a tiny lake with a beach that's mostly grass. Mostly, Grief Camp is about the way that experiencing a profound loss before your brain has fully developed forces you to have a more intimate relationship to death for the rest of your life, and how this is a miserable and also sort of amazing way to live.

Dad don’t read this

Dad, if you're reading this, this play is not for you. 

In a messy teenage bedroom, four girls play the sims, a computer game that simulates real life. It’s central ohio in the 2010s; no one has anything to do, and everyone’s hiding something. As Mal, Noelle, Sophie, and Lida build increasingly elaborate digital worlds, their own lives come to feel disturbingly surreal, like maybe someone’s watching, or messing with the world, and giving the girls arbitrary commands, and seriously, Dad; go away!!!

Winner of the Phyllis Anderson Prize for best play by a graduate or undergraduate student at Harvard, Dad don’t read this explores the relationship between agency and observation, the hostility of adult sexuality, and the decadence of girlhood.


Not Monica wants to learn how to feel good. Not Monica is obsessed with babies and sometimes likes to pretend she is Monica Lewinsky. Not Monica begins picking at scabs — her own, the country’s — that bleed, and everything seems bad-getting-worse. Time keeps shifting weirdly, actors won’t cooperate, and place doesn’t exist at all. She wants it all to stop and is terrified it might; she’s trying to become a fixer, but fears that the ability to influence the world means she can and will put evil into it. 

Memonica tells a story about power, sex, history, need; predation and being adored and aging and death. Mostly, Memonica is about consumption. It is about eating, eating so much so fast until you win, hurt your jaw, hurt someone else. It is about eating until you can never be full. It is about loving attention, telling secrets, losing and also being a loser. This is a play about that. It is a play about Monica. About not being Monica. Right. A play about that.

Caley Chase (Directing)

Caley Chase (she/her) directs theater and live performanceShe has directed, developed, and assisted work at the The Huntington, Powerhouse Theater, ART, Trinity Rep, Shakespeare & Co, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Speakeasy Stage and Breaking & Entering Theatre, among others. Recent credits: Macbeth (Powerhouse Theater at Vassar College), The Mikvah Project by Josh Azouz (Texas Theatre and Dance Studio Series), Then We’ll Rest by Eliya Smith (Cohen New Works Festival), untitled memory project (Cohen New Works Festival, 2023) and Choreomaniac 1518 by Malena Pennycook (Texas Theatre and Dance, 2024). Caley holds a B.A. from Brandeis University and is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in Theatre (Directing) at The University of Texas at Austin.

First-Year Candidates

Matt Thekkethala (Playwriting)

Matt Thekkethala is a playwright and performer based in Austin, Texas. He writes absurdist comedies that are cheekily curious about our capacity to forgive one another. He has developed work with The NOLA Project and Goat in the Road Productions in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 2020, he released Now More Than Ever, an episodic radio play / comedy album hybrid, on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Matt holds a B.A. in Political Science from Yale University and is currently pursuing a M.F.A. in Theatre (Playwriting) from The University of Texas at Austin's Michener Center for Writers.



Malak, an estranged son, returns home to his dysfunctional parents with his new wife, Ai, a sex robot. His mother, Trishna, relishes having Malak home, but his father, Victor, remains suspicious of his new android daughter-in-law. Ai's uncanny presence unearths long-held family secrets, as all three fall under her cybernetic spell.

Adrien vs. Predator

Single mom Adrien falls hard for the gallant Fred when he saves her son from certain death. There's only one thing holding her back: Fred is a registered sex offender. A dicey rom-com about breaking all the rules, and forgiving the unforgivable.

Now More Than Ever

Aryan, an Indian-American standup comedian, is sick and tired of political correctness and his Brooklynite liberal echo chamber. To the absolute horror of his family and friends, he becomes a spokesperson for the American Alt-Right movement. Aryan's descent down the rabbit hole blurs the line between stageplay and comedy album, and exposes the dark hypocrisy at the core of American democracy. Available to stream as an episodic radio play on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Chih-Ching Chester Tsai (Playwriting)

Chih-Ching Chester Tsai is a playwright/director from Taipei, Taiwan. He is currently pursuing a M.F.A. in Theatre (Playwriting) at The University of Texas at Austin. From 2019 to 2023, he served as the resident director at Tainaner Ensemble. Chih-Ching's writing mainly investigates the essence of individual and family identities under Taiwanese culture and intercultural contexts. His directing approach foregrounds the literary texts and incorporates multimedia and cross-disciplinary materials. His mission in theatre is to examine/explore specific cultural contexts and, in this specificity reveal the possibility of what it means to be human. Chih-Ching’s works have been produced by Tainaner Ensemble (Taiwan), The Funny Old Tree Theatre Ensemble (Macau) and Performosa Theater (Taiwan). His latest work, Dancing through Formosa (2023), a musical for which he wrote the book and lyrics, was produced by Tainaner Ensemble and National Theater and Concert Hall and has just finished a national tour in Taiwan.


Best Way to Eat a Cow

Three nameless women are imprisoned in a basement of a mansion and are asked to do nothing but chop cabbage. One evening, one of them sneaks out and brings back a cow. In an attempt to find out what is the best way to eat this cow that could effectively “maximize” their enjoyment, they imitate the pre-meal rituals of their imprisoners, Monsieur He and Madam She. However, it gets more and more dangerous as the “real” and the “performative” becomes intangible….

The Reunion Dinner

On New Year’s Eve, a homecoming of the youngest son stirs the traumatic memories of the Wei family. As the mother, daughter and son prepare for the coming reunion dinner, they engage in a story-telling race, competing for who has suffered the most from the absent father. During the performance, the actors cook at the same time. As the smell of New Year’s Eve fills the theater, The Reunion Dinner takes the audience to trip down the familiar memory lane.

Slipping through Fingers

This is a story about father and son of a Bodehi family troupe. Bodehi is a form of traditional glove puppet theatre in Taiwan, and its art relies mainly on the artist’s puppeteering crafts and improvisation skills. When an aging Bodehi puppeteer is faced with Dementia and imminent death, an artist who has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of this art form, how can he bear to say goodbye?


More info:

Kaia L. (Playwriting)

Kaia L (they/she) is a Black queer playwright and memoirist from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. They're a current member of Ensemble Studio Theatre's OBIE-winning collective, Youngblood and a former member of Clubbed Thumb's Early-Career Writers' Group (2022-23). Their work has been seen and/or developed with The Fire This Time Festival, Fresh Ground Pepper, and Possibilities Theatre Company.


On Either Side of All the Late Unpleasantness

Clay County, Missouri, 1860. Civil war is brewing in the United States, and the nation’s turmoil has spread to the Pearson household. Eddie, an abolitionist, is firmly on the side of the Union; his brother Charlie sympathizes with the position of the southern states. As pressures mount inside and outside the home, the brothers feel they have no choice but to join the fight—on opposite sides. Their decision to go to war permanently alters the fabric of the family, and everyone--including the family's two slaves--has to face the consequences.

Killing Gloria

A woman named Gloria commits suicide. Her mother, father, boyfriend, priest-friend (a friend who's a priest), and psychiatrist are blindsided. They try to figure out what went wrong--where they went wrong. How someone they cared about could be gone.

A woman named Gloria is on life support, and the people she's left behind sit by her hospital bedside, alone and together, and try to sort out their grief. They try to figure out if they killed her--if they killed Gloria.


Rodolfo Robles Cruz (Directing)

Rodolfo Robles Cruz (he/him) is a director, playwright and play-maker from Morelia, Michoacán Mexico with strong roots in Fresno, California. He is a Latinx Theatre Specialist holding knowledge and experience of Teatro Campesino, Theatre of the Oppressed and Devised Theatre. His work is visceral and highly physical; he has a keen interest in how bodies react on stage in both ensemble based work, or intimate small cast plays. Select credits include Oedipus el Rey (2022) with the Selma Arts Center; Anna in the Tropics (2023) with Madera Theatre Company; Sanctuary City (2024) with Texas Theatre and Dance. His original play, La Norteña, was the 2020 winner of Region 8's National Playwriting Program's One Act Category, and was most recently produced with Teatro Espejo in Sacramento, California. He graduated CSU, Fresno in 2020 and is currently a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin pursuing a M.F.A. in Theatre (Directing). 

Director Reel: Directing Reel / Rodolfo Robles Cruz

Website for Production Photos:

Nick Hart (Playwriting)

Nick Hart (he/him) is an alumni company member of Playmakers Laboratory, a non-profit theater and education organization serving Chicago Public School students. He performed regularly in their flagship show That's Weird Grandma for over a decade. He is also an alumni company member with The Neo-Futurists.  He has written and performed over 350 short plays for The Neo-Futurists for their flagship show The Infinite Wrench from 2015-2023.  He is the creator of The Neo-Futurists productions of Remember The Alamo, 60 Songs in 60 Minutes, and the co-writer of the Jeff nominated production of Wildcats with Ida Cuttler. Nick graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a BA in theater in 2010. He is an MFA playwriting candidate at University of Texas at Austin. Nick once challenged Charles Manson to a game of correspondence chess, but that terrible coward never even bothered to respond.



In 1960, Lucille Ball took to the stage in her very first Broadway musical. Despite having been on television for over a decade, she found herself extremely unprepared for the demands of live theater. In WILDCATS, power house duo Nick Hart and Ida Cuttler bring this moment in Ball’s career back to life, infusing into it their own personal stories of bursting out of isolation. WILDCATS is a multimedia drag spectacle with a mix of  live moments, audience interaction and bizarre-o filmed I Love Lucy episode recreations.

Remember the Alamo

In this world premiere production, an ensemble will take over The Neo-Futurist Theater, refuse to leave, and obstruct all production in the theater until the audience, actors and management work to recreate the Battle of the Alamo in its entirety, leading to its sad bloody conclusion. Created by Neo-Futurist Ensemble Member Nick Hart, Remember the Alamo is Neo-Lab’s 2017-18 commission.

60 Songs in 60 Minutes

Created by a team of experimental musicians and led by Ensemble Member Nick Hart. In a race against the clock, the cast attempts to perform all 60 original songs in under 60 minutes, using instruments, technology and found objects. Audiences are invited to stay for the post-show “Wrench Karaoke” which incorporates the Neo-Futurist tenets of chaos, randomness and chance into the act of singing your favorite song.


Mikala Gibson (Directing)

Mikala Gibson (she/her) is an award-winning stage and screen actress, writer, director and master teaching artist. She has been seen on major networks such as HBO, Showtime, PBS, AMC and Netflix. Mikala is mostly recognized for her portrayal of “Doris” in season five of Fear the Walking Dead and Netflix’s First Kill. Gibson’s work has also been featured at the Cannes International Film Festival, Sundance, SXSW, Austin Film Festival, Urbanworld Film Festival and The American Black Film Festival, to name a few.  Mikala’s theatre acting credits include Gem of the Ocean, The Piano Lesson, The Funnyhouse of a Negro, Twelfth Night and All My Sons. Her theatre directing credits include A Maroon’s Guide to Time and Space (Catastrophic Theatre) as well as the virtual production of Our Lady of Sacred Part:Vulva Pope (The Vortex Theatre). Having taught successfully for over 15 years, Mikala is also a sought-after teaching artist, as well as a lecturer in Moody College at The University of Texas at Austin. She is the founder of The Black Artivist Collective, LLC and the host of the platform’s podcast. Gibson is a member of Women in Film and TV Austin, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and SAG-AFTRA. Mikala is a first-year M.F.A. in Theatre (Directing) candidate at The University of Texas at Austin.