Castañon for UIL Victory: Theatre teacher leads students in preparation for dramatic speech competition


Alec Ochoa Razo (9) recites his prose speech outside the theatre classroom.

Ms. Marissa Castañon is sponsoring an opportunity for her theatre students this year: the Prose & Poetry portion of Academic UIL. In the competition, students read poetry or prose selections that relate to a social issue they’re passionate about. The event combines the idea of speech and debate with dramatic monologues, allowing participants to incorporate theatre with speaking on topics that they can relate to.

“I’ve already seen some really good stuff, and we’re just getting started,” Ms. Castañon said. “We’re looking at people presenting about transgender issues, about how undocumented immigrants are treated and deported, leaving children behind. We’re looking at someone exploring the way Hispanic people are being viewed differently… We have body issues, issues of mental health, issues of women being abused, and many more to come.”

Cassy Steuerwald (9) performs his selection in the hallway. He’s nervous about being judged at the competition since performers are the only representatives of their schools in a room full of student participants. However, he’s confident with the material he is presenting: An excerpt from Jennie Woods’ A Boy Like Me, which tells the story of Peyton, a transgender boy getting his first short haircut and how it changes him.

Students are encouraged to discuss their differences since unique experiences provide interesting and engaging performances. The readings come off as more emotional when it’s a topic students relate to.

“I’m presenting a piece from a book called In The Country That We Love: My Family Divided, which has the topic of border issues and immigration,” Alec Ochoa Razo (9) said. “I chose that topic because I myself am Mexican and I also know that fear of one day my family might be taken from me.”

He’s familiar with working together with a cast to put on a show through previous participation in theatre, so an individual competition will be a different kind of challenge.

“I’m excited to see all the schools,” Ochoa Razo said. “Working on the [AISD musical] over the summer has made me become friends with people in other high schools, so I’m excited to see them again and see what they can take to the competition.”

UIL competitions can take up a lot of time outside of school, especially when one has to rely on the whole cast pulling their weight.

“Everyone here seems like they do so much, but this is an individual competition where if you want it, you can work as hard as you can and you can be successful without having to be part of a play,” Ms. Castañon said. “You’re really gonna have to work with other people to determine what the best piece is gonna feel like, look like, sound like.”

“I’m excited to just try it out and see how it works,” Kaela Johnson (9) said.  “I’m nervous that, because Ms. Castañon has a big standard for us, even though it’s our first time, I’m worried maybe we’re gonna let her down.”

Kaela Johnson (9) practices presenting in preparation for Prose & Poetry UIL. She’s one of the many freshman students participating in the competition, and like Ochoa Razo, was involved in the AISD musical this summer.

Castañon and her students agree it’s time to branch out from One Act Play competition, as this has been the only cross-district competition that the theatre department has been able to participate in past years.

“I want us to win! I know that sounds bad, but there’s a lot to be learned from the experience,” Castanon said. “In One Act Play, the odds are really stacked against us because we’re competing with schools that have over 3,000 kids, facilities that are out of this world, have been to state I don’t know how many times, and actually have programs that are 40, 50, 60, years old. That one performance doesn’t give us enough opportunity to win.”