College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

New Works provides artistic platform

TFDP festival presents an exciting lineup of original plays and film scripts, showcasing the vibrant talent of UCR’s MFA students
By Alejandra Prado, Student Writer/Marketing and Communications |

The New Works Festival at UC Riverside is all about highlighting new voices and stories in the arts. This year’s New Works Festival, to be held in person June 7-9 in the Arts Studio Theatre (ARTS 113), will feature plays and film scripts by three graduate students at UCR’s MFA program of Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts.

Formerly known as the Play Works Festival, the New Works Festival is an opportunity for second-year MFA students to showcase their work and written art to a live audience in a production joined by actors and directors. 

MFA students Aaron Higareda, Karly Thomas, and Ava Fojtik—collectively known as AKA Productions—will have their works read to a live audience by actors in this special production. 

Higareda is the graduate student coordinator of the New Works Festival who rallied up his cohorts, Thomas and Fojtik, in preparation for the festival. He will present his play, “The Legend of the Rhino,” an experimental work that navigates themes of war and generational trauma within gang violence and family through the life of a rhino. 

“What is most exciting to me is to hear my cohort’s work and to see how far we have come in the program and how much our voices have been developing and being able to share that with others,” Higareda said. “Although this is like a culmination, it is also the beginning.”

“The Legend of the Rhino” will be read aloud by undergraduate actors and directed by Lillyana Lopez, a fourth-year student in the Department of Theater, Film, and Digital Production. 

Second-year playwright Karly Thomas will present a modern version of an Ancient Greek play in her work, “Lizzy: A Totes Woke Rendition of Lysistrata,” directed by TFDP Professor Rickerby Hinds. Her rendition follows the aftermath of the leaked Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court case that altered the legal landscape of abortion rights and centers on Capitol Hill intern Lizzy who launches a campaign of abstinence for reproductive justice. 

“We are very interested in presenting to our community, people who have known this was point A for us and for AKA as an entity, and now here is where we are at the end of our two years,” Thomas said. “It feels kind of monumental in that sense.”

“The New Works Festival is particularly exciting because we are all sharing our thesis scripts for the first time,” said Fojtik, who will present her screenplay, “Troop 415.” It centers on a young girl, Koko, struggling to make friends in her new town of Oshkosh, Wis., and later finds herself joining the local Girl Scouts troop. 

“‘Troop 415’ is about discovering the identity and learning to value the people who care about you the most, and it would be wonderful if the film reminded audiences of what's most important to them,” Fojtik said. 

Fojtik’s screenplay will be directed by Kimberly Guerrero, a professor of Theater, Film, and Digital Production at UCR, and will be read aloud by undergraduate actors, mostly former students from classes in which Fojtik has served as a Teacher’s Assistant. 

“Knowing that we are presenting our most authentic creative selves with the priority of working together, regardless of the professional trajectory that may come after that, is something I hold really near and dear to my heart about New Works,” Thomas said. 

“The New Works Festival is a great time to share what we've been working on for the past few years,” Fojtik said. “It's important for the public to have access to new voices in the theater because theater can be a unique opportunity for audiences to empathize with and understand experiences that they never would be exposed to otherwise.”

Following New Works, Aaron, Karly, and Ava hope to expand AKA Productions by staging three full productions in the summer and transitioning their creativity and collaboration into TV and film. 

Fojtik’s “Troop 415” will kick off the start of the New Works Festival on Wednesday, June 7, at 7 p.m. with each work scheduled on a different performance day. 

On Thursday, June 8, Higareda’s “The Legend of the Rhino” will be read followed by Thomas’ “Lizzy: A Totes Woke Rendition of Lysistrata” reading on Friday, June 9.

All New Works Festival performances will start at 7 p.m. in the Arts Studio Theatre (Arts 113), are free to attend with a ticket reservation, and are open to the public. 

To learn more about the New Works Festival, please visit

FEATURED PHOTO. (From left to right) Aaron Higareda, Karly Thomas, and Ava Fojtik.