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Father Of Parkland Victim Honors His Son And Discusses Gun Violence Through A One-Man Show

After Manuel Oliver’s son Joaquin was killed at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school shooting in 2018, he dedicated his life to gun reform activism through the arts.

Usually, Oliver's medium is painting but recently he has focused on theatre and is out with a new one-man-show, "GUAC: My Son, My Hero," which tells the story of his son through his eyes. Oliver shares on stage the things he and his son Joaquin bonded over, like their love for hot dogs -which is one of the monologues in the play- and his personal journey after Joaquin's death.

The name "GUAC" was picked as a tribute to the nickname Joaquin’s friends gave to him when they had difficulties pronouncing his full name. The show took eight months to coordinate and with lots of help from Broadway greats. It was produced by Broadway's Yael Silver, co-written and directed by theater artist James Clements and "Hamilton" actor and singer Leslie Odom Jr. and "Dear Evan Hansen" lyricist Benj Paskek serve as advisers.

Oliver hopes this show drives people to be part of the solution to gun violence and join him as he fights for gun reform. He joined Sundial and talked to WLRN Broward County reporter Caitie Switalski about the show, which debuts on Sept. 20 at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Credit MANUEL OLIVER / Courtesy

WLRN: Can you tell me about who Joaquin was and what you wanted to capture in this performance?

OLIVER: The most important reason why we do this is to give Joaquin a chance to keep on expressing. This is an opportunity for a victim to share its life with others. Usually, the victim is forgotten. I don't want people to be sad about losing Joaquin. I want people to be mad about what happened to Joaquin. As a father, I have a duty to represent my son. I got to be there and I got to tell everyone here in every single venue that we will visit how amazing and great Joaquin and still is because he is leading a change. He's leading up a pack of people that is done with this gun violence situation. I own my son to do this.

You have to also understand that what me and Patricia [his wife] decided to do this...we keep refreshing the memory of my son every single day. We're either painting a mural or doing theater or on a speech or an event. We decided to keep Joaquin in our regular day full time working with us and that's not therapeutic at all. But it's our duty as parents. We had a baby. We enjoyed the baby. We are still here. It would be very irresponsible for us to stop and say we're not parents anymore [because he died]. No, now we are more parents than before.

How do you want people to feel when they leave the show?

At some point, they will identify either with me or with my son or with my wife and they will see how easy our roles could flip. So that's like a call to action from our side so you can be part of a solution before the tragedy hits. The main goal here is to make people understand that gun violence is a common problem. It could hit you or me. I mean Joaquin wasn't shot because he was Latino or gay or straight or tall or short or black or white. He was randomly shot. So everybody needs to understand that and it's not okay to think, 'Oh that's the way we live and this is America and I have the right to carry a gun.' Yes, you do, but I want to make sure that gun is in good hands. And we should all agree on that. This is not about red or blue. This is not about political differences. This is about ethical differences and I try to call them out.

Watch the promo video of the social justice theatre show, "GUAC: My Son, My Hero."