March 12, 2018
Age 76, Houston
Dubbed "the grandfather of gay theater" in Houston, Joe Watts began directing and acting in Houston queer theater productions in the early 1980s. One of the first productions he appeared in was an all male production of Noel Coward's comedic classic Private Lives, staged at the Pink Elephant bar downtown, one of Texas's oldest gay bars. In 1985, he founded The Group Theater, one of the city's first gay theater companies. In the mid 1990s, he went on to found another queer theater company, Theatre New West, in Montrose.
He was a pioneer in staging one of the first plays about AIDS in Houston. In 1985, he directed One for The Group Theater featuring the actor Kent Johnson as a benefit for the nascent AIDS Foundation Houston. The production was selected by Houston Post theater critic William Albright as one of the best productions of 1985.
In 2006, Watts realized a dream that he had held for two decades: staging Larry Kramer's seminal AIDS drama The Normal Heart at the Bering and James Art Gallery in Montrose. In observance of World AIDS Day in 2010 and 2011, he directed staged readings of The Normal Heart at Stages Repertory Theatre to raise funds for LGBT non profits.
He was drawn to directing searing plays examining the homophobia of the larger society in such plays as Bent (staged by Theatre New West at the Holocaust Museum Houston in 2004) and The Laramie Project (staged by Theatre New West at the Holocaust Museum Houston in 2010).
He also was gifted at directing comedy. The Houston Press declared his 2001 production of Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told "Absolutely Fabulous," observing, "Joe Watts of Theatre New West brings this charming script to Houston with timing that couldn't be better. His production is the best dramatic bonbon of the holiday season -- thanks in no small part to his pretty and enthusiastic young cast, whose collective chemistry bubbles over with the indulgent joy that can make live theater so much fun."
Watts acted in over 75 productions, directed over 60 productions, and also worked as a producer, teacher of acting, and theater critic. Joe Watts was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on February 21, 1942. He died on March 12, 2018 after a battle with Stage 4 cancer.
hear this Queer Voices feature by Andrew Edmonson,
above, 2017 photo
Theatre New West, The Group