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Linnell Festival of New Plays

Linnell Festival of New Plays


By David Steinberg

Three students, three perspectives on the value of the University of New Mexico’s MFA Dramatic Writing Program: Krista Pino, Drew Morrison and Stephanie Grilo. They’re in the final year of the three-year program and will see their work premiered in the upcoming UNM Linnell Festival of New Plays.

“It has given me an inspiration to write,” Pino said. “Now I have ideas for three more plays plus other scripts that I want to revise.”

The 2017 Linnell Festival will present Pino’s play “El Matador” on April 8 and 9. The erotic play is about Ignacio’s struggles toward manhood in a world where machismo is the expectation.

Pino appreciates that her play is fully staged. However, she also is grateful for the program’s respectful consideration of the script and of her role as playwright.

“My director Shepard Sobel is a seasoned pro,” Pino said. Sobel, a UNM theater teacher, was artistic director of New York’s Pearl Theatre Company, which he founded 35 years ago.

“Shepard picked the actors (for “El Matador”). He and I talked about the script. We had a script consultant over the last year so the three of us talked about the script, the story, plot, character development,” she added.

Morrison has found value in having the freedom to “not stop working creatively while in school” obtaining a master’s degree. He has been able to continue working with Albuquerque’s Tricklock Company of which he is a member.

“The program is rigorous and gives a lot of discipline, but it makes sure to expose us to different styles of plays,” Morrison said. “We’ve gone to Denver and New York and on retreats …Some trips are to see productions, festivals, or to hear some of our own scripts read. It’s important to get your scripts out there before you graduate.”

Morrison’s play “The Break,” directed by New York-based theater director and activist Paul Bedard, will be staged at the festival on April 7 and 14. The play follows the life of Sadie from nine-year-old tennis prodigy to pro, and her relationship with her coach, whose own playing career tanked.

For Grilo, the MFA program has given her the opportunity “to develop my voice as a young, emerging theater artist” in a minority-majority state.

The benefits of that opportunity in the performing arts “is that we’re able to approach theater in a very exciting and diverse way,” she said.

The MFA program often provides, as Grilo puts it, a voice for the voiceless, meaning marginalized communities, such as female playwrights, the Native American population, Chicano and Chicana writers, and the stories all of them have to share.

Another value of the program for Grilo was the chance to teach a Playwrighting 101 course for undergraduates. “I really love being in the classroom and love mentoring young emerging playwrights… and being able to encourage them to explore and find new and unique ways of bringing their stories to life,” she said.

The festival will present Grilo’s play “Red Dirt” on April 8 and 15, about life in small-town Oklahoma. After her mother’s attempted suicide, Amaly is ordered to live with an estranged uncle and her three teenage male cousins. The play raises issues of family violence and “uncanny” sexual awakenings.

The director is Caitlin Ryan O’Connell, who is a theater director and a teaching artist with the International Theatre and Literacy Project.

Linnell Festival artistic director is Gregory Moss, an assistant professor in UNM’s Theatre and Dance Department.

The festival, Moss said, is the capstone of the MFA Dramatic Writing Program.

“It’s a chance for (the young playwrights) to see their work in three dimensions. It’s an important moment of collaboration,” he said.

“They’re working with actors from the undergraduates in the theater program and also actors from the community. We bring in directors from out of town …so there’s an element of forging collaborative relationships that could continue in the future.”

Moss said he doesn’t think of the festival’s plays as world premieres, though they are. Instead, he views the stagings as being part of a continuum of the playwrights’ education. They’re still learning about themselves as writers, he said.

Moss thinks of the festival as having a double benefit for the community.

One is that the new plays need the audience. The audience, he said, is a “creative, active collaborative partner. Theater exists for an audience, and an audience’s reception and understanding of the play makes a play a play. …So there’s a reciprocal generosity in theater, particularly with a new play.”

The other community benefit, in his view, is that these young playwrights are often writing about New Mexican themes and telling New Mexican stories.

The UNM Linnell Festival of New Plays will be held in the Experimental Theatre, which is in basement of the UNM Center for the Arts, main campus.


Drew Morrison’s play “The Break” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. April 7 and 14.
Stephanie Grilo’s play “Red Dirt” will be staged at 2 p.m. April 8 and 7:30 p.m. April 15.

Krista Pino’s play “El Matador” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. April 8 and 2 p.m. April 9.


Tickets are $15 general public, $12 senior citizens and UNM faculty, $10 students and UNM staff and are available by calling 925-5858, by visiting, at box offices in the UNM Bookstore, the Pit and the Center for the Arts.


The festival also includes directed readings of new works by second-year MFA playwrights Caroline Graham, Monica Sanchez and Diego Gomez. In addition there will be a reading of a new play by first-year MFA playwright Jay Muskett and an evening of screenplay readings. All readings are free.

For more information on the festival call 277-4332 or visit