Westwood Theater Goes to TXETA


Baker Tuthill

Students and teachers from Westwood Theatre visited the Grand 1894 Opera House and attended a variety of helpful, fun, and skill-building classes.

Every year, theater teachers and students from across the state of Texas convene in Galveston at the Texas Education Theatre Association (TxETA) TheatreFest. This year, Westwood Theater sent Mr. Franco, Mrs. Coats, two juniors, and four seniors to the convention in order to learn and grow in their acting, writing, directing, and teaching skills. While there, attendees took a variety of classes ranging from “Writing Horror for the Stage” to “Intro to Theatrical Mime” to “Classroom Management and Lesson Structure” and everything in between. 

Some students even participated in the TxETA talent and improv show. While there, they also toured the historic Grand 1894 Opera House (which still hosts plays and music artists to this day) and watched a variety of impressive short performances. Westwood’s attendees even won some prizes, including new set pieces, a “door prize” (figuratively and also literally a door), and at least one shirt. 

When the attendees arrived at the beautiful Moody Gardens hotel in Galveston on Wednesday afternoon, they were immediately greeted by a full house. TheatreFest-goers made up most of the hotel’s population for the four days of the convention, which meant plenty of new faces and friendly reunions. 

“Getting to see my colleagues and share ideas and experiences and rekindle those friendships across the state was really meaningful to me,” Mrs. Coats remembered. 

Thursday morning began with a slew of fun and educational activities. Attendees visited a variety of classes over the next two days.

“I think my favorite workshop that I went to was one on documentary theater,” Mrs. Coats shared. “[It’s] a style we sort of touch on… but I don’t do it in the way that this workshop teacher suggested. And I actually like his program… and I plan to change my project to what he is doing because it is so much more impactful for students.”

Among other classes, the Talent Show featured a performance of “Stacy’s Mom” (in which the back of a ukulele was used as a drum) and a duo signing act. Additionally, auditionees practiced improvisation games with college students to perform on the date of the talent show. Actors from Westwood also got the opportunity to participate in classes of their own. 

‘I would say my favorite classes were probably the horror writing one,” Evan Tucker ‘23 remembers. “Also the talent show auditions. Both were pretty constructive honestly. The horror one… was really fun to hear professionals talk about their work. And I learned a lot about how to improvise and how to be more confident on stage.”

Not only did Westwood attendees learn and grow, but they also won prizes. Mrs. Coats won two prizes from two events: a $250 prize and a “door prize” that was literally a door.

“I was so surprised!” Mrs. Coats laughed, recalling the raffle. “Everybody says: ‘I never win anything!’ Obviously I can’t say that anymore! But winning… the two hundred and fifty dollars, I knew exactly what we needed. I’ve been looking to get these triangular-shaped platforms that go with our unit set: then we can use them for our shows and make our set much more flexible.”

On Friday, attendees were able to tour The Grand Theater in Galveston. Later in the day, The Grand would host José Feliciano, famous singer of “Feliz Navidad”. This historic location has been performed since 1894, and it still hosts performances today. 

“The Opera was really interesting… The items in the lobby and in the waiting rooms on all the different floors were really interesting to me.” Tucker recalls. “They had a show that night, so we got to walk up on stage and see everyone setting up for [Feliciano] and we really got the full experience.” 

“I read a book fairly recently about the hurricane… so I had read a lot about what had happened to downtown Galveston during that really awful storm,” Mrs. Coats said. “So I was kind of looking to see if any evidence of that storm 122 years ago could be seen. It was interesting to hear [the owner] talk about it after I had just read that book.”

By the end of the convention, attendees had important lessons to take back to their classes and their performances.

“[I never realized] how many different moving parts there are in theater in general,” Tucker explained. “Classes for incredibly specific things that I didn’t even know existed [were at TxETA]. If you’re serious about theater… about different aspects of theater… all of those parts can merge together and honestly I got a lot of really good action experience with just the writing alone. I learned… how everything fits together in the big grand story.”

After two years of virtual or canceled conventions, TheatreFest was a welcome return to form.

“I was so glad to be back in person,” Coats noted. “It’s very easy in [teaching theater] to kind of get burned out, to really work work work on our shows… and think that you’re alone. But no, there are teachers all over the state who deal with the same problems. To get together… makes it so that we can do this job.”