BY TEXAS STANDARDS, Grapevine is a modest-sized suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. But each November, its population increases by several thousand as Thespians from across the Lone Star state descend upon the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center for one of the largest Thespian festivals in the world. The 2019 event took place November 21-23 with a theme centered on building: building each other up, building futures, and building creativity.

“There is no place in the world quite like the Texas Thespian Festival,” said junior Olivia Smith, president of Thespian Troupe 6391 at Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. “It’s an opportunity to spend three whole days doing what you love, surrounded by some of the best humans you’ll ever meet.”

This year’s festival delegation increased to more than 8,000 such humans, approximately 1,000 more attendees than in 2018. Performances were in high demand on multiple stages throughout the convention center. Thespians could catch main stage productions of Matilda (McKinney Boyd High School) and Urinetown (Missouri City’s Ridge Point High School) in the Texas Ballroom. The Tate Ballroom hosted You Can’t Take It with You (Cypress Woods High School), Chicago (Cibolo’s Steele High School), Legally Blonde (Cedar Hill High School), Little Shop of Horrors (Arlington’s Timberview High School), and The Spitfire Grill (Flower Mound’s Marcus High School, which will present the show on the International Thespian Festival main stage in June). Plus, the Grapevine stage featured productions of Puffs (Sachse High School), The Boys Next Door (Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy), White Noise (Friendswood High School), and A Piece of My Heart (Tomball Memorial High School).

In addition to participating in individual events, where 769 students qualified for the International Thespian Festival’s Thespian Excellence Awards, Thespians also competed for more than $60,000 in chapter scholarships and raised more than $13,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Dallas Independent School District tornado relief efforts.

“Thespian Festival is like putting a theatre kid in a candy shop,” said Caleb Creech, a sophomore in Royse City High School’s Thespian Troupe 8003. “There’s so much to see and enjoy. My favorite part is there’s always something to do. Whether puppet making or seeing musicals, it’s a great time. Overall, festival is a celebration of every part of theatre arts.”

Among this year’s highlights, Thespians participated in a meet-and-greet event with Tony Award-winning actor Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who originated the part of Angel in Rent on Broadway, a role he reprised in the West End production and in the 2005 film adaptation. Heredia gave the keynote on Saturday and performed with the all-state cast during the festival’s closing ceremonies.

Texas Student Thespian Officer Ashley Diaz, a senior in Thespian Troupe 7532 at Sunnyvale High School attending her third chapter festival, says the event has grown more meaningful to her each year. “Texas Thespian Festival is truly a place where dreams come true,” Diaz said. “The first time I attended, I was filled with wonder. What could I learn from these great teachers? What new opportunities do I have? I attended as much as I could before the final ceremony came and my window of learning ended.

The second time Diaz attended was as a candidate for the state’s Thespian Officer Board. This go-around, I was thirsty,” she said. I had a drink from the theatre well, and I wanted to help in any way to create the same passion in others that had been created in me the previous year. The closing ceremony brought tears of joy because I had met my new family for the next year.

At her third and final festival, Diaz was nervous. What were people going to think of this festival? she said. Walking around and seeing excited faces that looked like mine filled me up. This was a land of opportunity: college auditions, scholarship interviews, competitions, and challenges. There’s nothing you couldn’t do here. I found my brothers and sisters on the board, but I found every other member of my family in everyone who attended. This year, I left for the final time, sad that it was over but eager to share theatre with everyone in a way that would make Dusty the Duck, our Texas Thespian mascot, proud.”

Dusty the Duck makes an appearance at the 2019 Texas Thespians State Festival.
Dusty the Duck makes an appearance at the 2019 Texas Thespians State Festival. Photo courtesy of Texas Thespians.
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