During the first week of orientation last year, MFA Playwrights Ava Fojtik, Aaron Higareda and Karly Thomas decided to hang out; what was expected to be only a 30-minute conversation turned into two and a half hours. By the end of last year’s fall quarter, their brilliant minds joined together to create what is now known as AKA Productions.

“The mission of AKA Productions is to champion innovative, thought-provoking work; create compassionate, enriching and inspiring spaces (both in our rehearsal rooms and performance venues) for artists, students and audiences alike; and foster a strengthened sense of community within UC Riverside and the greater Inland Empire” as declared by its mission statement.

“[It’s] an opportunity to uplift and celebrate other talents. [We] collaborate with undergrads, graduates, faculty… Get everyone to work and produce something new,” said Fojtik when describing AKA Productions.

Higareda also expressed a similar reaction, “For me, it was finding a need for ourselves. [We had] a shared vision and goal of producing our work.” Being able to reflect upon Riverside and seeing that there was not much theater opportunities in the Inland Empire, Higareda and his fellow friends decided to bring more theater productions to on and off-campus locations. “This was the right thing to do,” said Higareda.

After hearing that there wouldn’t be a playwriting workshop in their program, the three set out to create a space where artists could produce and showcase their work. As Founders and Associate Producers, AKA Productions has thrived in its theater productions, including Thomas’ winter quarter play, “It’s All Just Noise.”

Digging into their outlets of inspiration, Thomas said, “These days is drawing from this well of hyper-recognizable pop culture and how it intersects with politics, society….all these things that we don’t think [about] that are happening [currently]”

Taking on a more autobiographical approach to her work, Thomas feels grace towards her protagonist, Lizzy. Dealing with subjects such as abortion, her character in “Lizzy: A Totes Woke Rendition of Lysistrata” — a white, upper-middle-class and undergrad political science student — is passionate about pro-abortion access, yet holds little understanding of the subject as she is “more ideologically in the idea,” said Thomas. Lizzy’s character was a way for Thomas to reflect upon her misconceptions in life, including looking back on her relationship with her mom.

From having Jane Fonda throw a water balloon at Tucker Carlson, Thomas implements unique elements into her play to lure folks into important conversations. “What I hope happens is just an awareness of how we’re in other people’s worlds and where we took our presence for granted. You by yourself won’t fix anything at all,” said Thomas when asked what she would want the audience to leave with.

Family stories have influenced several of Higareda’s productions as well as the SoCal area, specifically the San Gabriel Valley. Higarerda was not afraid to open up during the interview as he told The Highlander that his play is loosely based on his uncle’s murder. Commenting on the structure of his play, Higareda said, “Observing our grief and analyzing our trauma scene-by-scene.”

“There are musical aspects — songs that mean a lot to me and my family,” Higareda said. His play, “The Legend of the Rhino” will contain experimental theater methods, including a literal rhino onstage. The narrative will focus on the stereotypes against Latinx gangsters (cholos), gang violence and generational trauma.

When asked what he would want audiences to leave with, Higareda said, “Closure. That’s what I’m hoping. A sense of closure.”

Fojtik’s creations stem from girls’ and women’s experiences of the world that subvert expectations. “[I’m] currently working on two scripts for the New Works Festival. [They’re] about a girl in Wisconsin and a woman who is getting accustomed to being a mother,” said Fojtik. She expressed hope that the audience finds compassion in their younger selves as Fojtik’s screenplay, “Troop 415,” revolves around an eighth-grade girl. “I feel a little bit of embarrassment since my main character is based on a little bit about myself.”

She later expressed how she hopes audiences are left with the idea that they avoid looking at their past selves with judgment. “[I hope it] encourages people to realize that in eighth grade, we know what’s important to us even if we don’t have a good instinct. There are values that lead us into important things later in life,” said Fojtik.

Seeing their group interact, it was an endearing experience to interview these three creative minds. Their passion for playwriting and tight-knit friendship will most definitely translate into their wonderful productions!

The New Works Festival will run from June 7-9 and showcase the creativity and teamwork between the MFA Playwrights. Tickets are free and open to the public! For more information about AKA Productions, visit their Instagram @a.k.aproductions.