Guitars Over Guns alumni and the cast of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity met after the play's final performance. Photo by Jordan Levin.
All Sierra Shaw knew about The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity was that it was a play about wrestling. So while the flips and body slams were impressive, the subject was what really startled her.
“I did not know it was going to be about what’s going on in America,” said Shaw at intermission. “They’re really touching issues people are afraid to touch, the fact of different races and the perceptions people have. They’re not sugarcoating.”
Shaw was one of ten alumni and peer mentors from Guitars Over Guns who saw Chad Deity’s final performance as guests of Miami New Drama. The acclaimed Miami-based program brings music instruction and mentoring to at-risk youth in some of Miami’s most violent neighborhoods. Their visit was an uplifting experience on a weekend when South Florida was torn by the horrific shooting massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school.
For most of the Guitars Over Guns kids, the Dec. 18th show was their first time seeing a professional, non-musical play. But the interactive cultural satire was ideal to turn them on to theater. That the actors (and characters) were Latino, African-American and Indian-American, talking in familiarly blunt, ironic, swaggering, pop colloquial language about issues they’ve dealt with in their own lives, like racial stereotypes and struggling with the system, was a revelation.
“I did not expect it to be so impactful and have a message at the same time,” said Xavier Gustav, 17, who goes to North Miami Senior high school. Seated next to the stage, a few feet from the mugging, muscular actors, Gustav laughed constantly. “I get all the references,” he said happily – from the stereotype salad of “Che Chavez Castro” to Chad Deity’s hilarious habit of referring to himself in the third person.
Guitars Over Guns alums Britney Arroyo, Santamarie Arocho, Sierra Shaw and John Arroyo with Miami New Drama artistic director Michel Hausmann. Photo Jordan Levin.
Britney Arroyo, 17, a junior at North Miami Senior, whose parents are from Puerto Rico and India and who watches pro wrestling regularly, was startled by the character of Mace, the Puerto Rican wrestler turned into a Latino caricature, and his Indian-American ally Vigneshwar Paduar, who’s transformed into an absurd Middle Eastern terrorist.
“I wouldn’t think they’d take on how wrestling makes them play these ethnic stereotypes,” a wide-eyed Arroyo said after the performance. “What they are saying about Indians and Mexicans I really understand.”
Seeing the actors pop up all over the theater, talking to the audience, calling for cheers and boos, really brought the play alive for the GoGo alums. Shaw and her friend Santamarie Arocho, 18, basked in the attention they got from Pierre Jean Gonzalez, as Mace, and Raji Ahsan, as Paduar - who winked, smiled, and whispered to the two giggling girls in the front row.
“I like the fact they get in your face,” Arocho said. “They’re really paying attention,” added Shaw.
Afterwards the group joined the cast and Miami New Drama staff onstage for a closing reception. They met the actors, who were eager to pose for selfies and answer questions. Jamin Olivencia, a former professional wrestler turned actor and poet, wowed Gustav and Arroyo by telling them he’d worked with WWE star John Cena.
“I had Mace’s job – I made other guys look good,” Olivencia said. “But I’ve learned one thing. Whatever you want in life, go get it. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
Jono De Leon, the Guitars Over Guns chief operating officer who brought the group to the show, was glowing.
“It was a slam dunk,” he said. “Having these guys being treated like adults at something that’s so different from what they get the opportunity to see, that’s not part of the Miami they know, is great. And for them to be able to see people from a background like theirs, giving voice to things they don’t say.”
“Each one of them will go home and say this play was funny and I got it and it was for me.”