MANHATTAN — Almost two years after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. in Parkland, Fla., claimed 17 lives, parents of one of the victims are remembering their son through a one-man play performed by the dad.
Manuel and Patricia Oliver are Catholics whose lives were changed forever on Feb. 14, 2018, their son, Joaquin, 17, was killed. The couple talked with The Tablet about his son, the Parkland shootings, and their play in remembrance of him.
“Part of you, all of you, wants to think that it’s not your kid. We’re used to hearing about these shootings; they happen every single day,” Manuel said. “You block yourself up from thinking that your own child could be one of the victims…
“You don’t recover, but you pull yourself forward, and you learn to start living on a process. There’s no goal we will reach that will solve our emotional sadness — because nothing is going to bring back our son.”
The Oliver family moved to Florida from Venezuela 16 years ago for a better life, when Joaquin—affectionately nicknamed “Guac” by his parents—was just a baby. They describe their son as “a rebel soul” — passionate, funny and caring to his parents, girlfriend and older sister.
As an artist, Manuel said he needed to find a healthy, creative way to express his grief and anger. He soon discovered the theater, and that is how his show was born — from artistic healing and activism.
“GUAC: My Son, My Hero” is a one-man performance that tells the story of Joaquin’s life, his relationship with his parents and their experiences after the shooting. The interactive play is told in first-person narrative. Manuel said he hopes to inspire audiences to take a stand on gun violence.
“The perception may be that this performance will be sad. It isn’t,” Manuel said.
“There are moments you will laugh, dance, cry and cheer. In the end, you will feel a connection with my family that will motivate you to help make a change in our country.
“The show is not about me, or how I feel — this is about what Joaquin felt that day,” the father said. “Everytime that I feel tired, I go back to that specific moment where my son was shot four times, and go through that suffering and the pain. This is not about arguing with anybody, it’s about starting a conversation. It’s about saving lives, beyond your political inclination or your religious affiliation. Because we all share this nation, and we all want our kids to be safe.”
Manuel said the family used to discuss social justice issues with Joaquin, including the epidemic of mass shootings. They said their son Joaquin became scared after a mass shooting at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub in 2016, because “it was getting closer to home.”
“He would tell me, this is not fair, someone needs to do something,” Manuel said. “But now, everytime we reach someone [through this performance], and they agree with our message, with what we’re doing, that is a small victory — and hopefully, we are able to make a lot of small victories.”
Patricia added that while the family is still working through their grief, they still feel their son’s presence all around. She said she believes Joaquin would be “absolutely proud” of his father’s emotional performance, giving his all on stage.
“This is our mission, everytime we perform, to bring awareness and have social impact. He’s with us everywhere we go. We will keep being his mom and dad.”
Co-writer and director James Clements echoed the importance of GUAC’s message of social justice.
“There’s no actor that could bring this amount of passion to a role,” Clements said. “It’s not a political show. We do talk about laws and policies, but at its core, it’s about honoring this exceptional young person whose life was cut tragically short.”
GUAC will tour through New Orleans, Charlotte, Orlando, Dallas, Houston and Louisville, Ky., with more performances on the way. The Olivers also hope to tour through the 2020 election. Proceeds from the show and entire tour will support Change the Ref, their non-profit which raises awareness about gun violence and advocating for gun reform.
The one-night show happens tonight, Nov. 22, at The 92Y Theater on the Upper East Side. The show starts at 8 p.m.
Learn more about GUAC and see the show on tour at https://www.guacmysonmyhero.com/.