The University of New Mexico's Department of Theatre and Dance announced the line-up for the 12th annual Words Afire! Festival of New Plays: a series of new works written by Master of Fine Arts students in UNM's award-winning dramatic writing program. Festival audiences have a unique opportunity to participate in the creation of these new works as they are brought to life. The festival runs Thursday, April 12-Sunday, April 22, in the Experimental Theatre, Center for the Arts.

Playwrights in UNM's dramatic writing program continue to gain national attention for their work. The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival recently recognized UNM playwright Christina Hjelm, who received the KCACTF Latino Playwriting Award for her play, "Casualties of Dreams and Sand," premiering in this year's Words Afire! Festival. In addition to national recognition, this award includes significant professional development opportunities.

The world premiere works in the 2012 Words Afire Festival include the fully-staged production of "Señora de la Pinta" by Law Chavez, as well as directed readings of "Casualties of Dreams and Sand" by Christina Hjelm, "Wrecking" by Kevin R. Elder, "Half Empty" by Zee Eskeets, "The House That Che Built" by Barney Lopez and an Evening of Screenplay Readings by various writers. "Señora de la Pinta" is a climatic drama based on Sophocles' Oedipus the King, where a Chicano ex-convict vows to find vigilante justice for a young man who is believed to have been killed in the New Mexico State Prison riot of 1980. In "Casualties of Dreams and Sand," Adriana's home falls victim to the mortgage crisis while her soldier husband is away fighting in Iraq. Wrecking tells of three brothers who return to their childhood home upon the death of their younger brother to face memories of a broken childhood, abandonment and a teenage pact long forgotten. "Half Empty" is the tale of the young and reckless Ally, who must find the answer to unconditional love to return home from a dark dimension ruled by the devious skeleton Belvedere. After a portrait of Che Guevara comes to life, Manny and Cynthia lead a revolution, occupying foreclosed homes in "The House that Che Built."

The playwrights, actors and designers are joined by a team of guest directors. Daniel Banks, director for "Señora de la Pinta," is a theatre director, choreographer, educator and dialogue facilitator. He has worked extensively in the U.S. and abroad, having directed at such notable venues as the National Theatre of Uganda, the Belarussian National Drama Theatre, The Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Hip Hop Theatre Festival in New York and Washington, D.C., and the Oval House in London. He is founder and director of the Hip Hop Theatre Initiative that uses hip hop theatre as a tool for youth self-expression and leadership training. He is currently on the faculty of the Master of Arts in applied theatre at the City University of New York. UNM also welcomes Valli Rivera, Shephard Sobel, Paul Ford and Becca Holmes, who bring their expertise to the directed readings.

A full performance schedule and more detailed information is available at Words Afire! Festival. All plays are appropriate for mature audiences, due to content and language. Ticket prices for "Señora de la Pinta" are $15 general, $12 seniors or $10 students. Tickets are available at the UNM ticket offices at the UNM Bookstore, the Pit, or by calling (505) 925-5858. The directed readings of "Casualties of Dreams and Sand," "Wrecking," "Half Empty," "The House That Che Built" and the Evening of Screenplay Readings are free.

Story by and Media Contact: Kathleen Clawson, (505) 238-6029, kclawson@unm.edu