On February 14, 2018, a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire, killing 17 people and injuring 17 more. Exactly one month later, an estimated one million students across the country participated in a seventeen-minute walkout at 10:00 a.m. in their respective time zones to advocate for gun control.
But for playwright and current Eastlake senior Ana Hiciano de Góngora, it was not enough. People had become desensitized, and it felt like no one around them (PGP) was reacting anymore to the thought of yet another school shooting. Through the summer after freshman year and the years that followed, Hiciano de Góngora put their emotions surrounding the Parkland shooting into music, writing Wannabes The Musical, a fictional story of a group of high school students before and after a shooting that kills five.
Now, even though Eastlake’s hallways are empty, and despite the challenges of producing a musical during the pandemic, Hiciano de Góngora feels that the tragedy of school shootings should not be forgotten.
Hiciano de Góngora’s journey to write Wannabes began at the Berklee College of Music in Boston during the summer of 2018.
“On my way to class every morning there was a billboard by Change the Ref, a foundation that came out of the Parkland shooting, out of two parents who lost their son,” Hiciano de Góngora said. “I saw their billboard every day on my way to class, and it was a constant reminder, like a sign that I had to do something.”
With the belief that music can help fight the numbness and rekindle that emotion over so many school shootings, Hiciano de Góngora began to write. What started out as a few songs soon developed into something larger. Hiciano de Góngora realized the need to tell a whole story to pack that emotional punch. Wannabes also has a subtle message for those in positions of power who can do something about school shootings.
“Teenagers are considered to be these ‘wannabe adults’,” Hiciano de Góngora said. “There’s a lot of instances where adults are like ‘I’m older and have more experience than you, therefore your thoughts on this discussion don’t matter as much,’ and that’s just not true. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you deserve to have your voices heard.”
The original plan was for Wannabes to be performed as the 2020-21 Eastlake senior show. In the spring of 2019, the musical was screened before senior show producers, with a group of actors performing a dance and a few songs to pitch the show. When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, the musical and its message risked being lost, along with countless theater performances across the globe that were forced to cancel.
Rather than cancel their theater programs or risk the students’ safety, the Eastlake drama department decided to make all performances virtual. Their first performance was the first semester production workshop show Anne of Green Gables. Despite the additional difficulties of the senior show being an entirely student-run production, preparations for Wannabes began as planned in October.
Rehearsals, held in the mornings before class, were conducted through Zoom and breakout rooms. Actors, who sometimes missed those early rehearsals, learned the music separately, and were aided by office hours that the directors held.
“Learning all the music separately was just very difficult, and never being able hear it – I never heard anyone else do their part. I only heard myself, and it was very difficult to learn it like that,” said Hila Tor, an Eastlake junior who played the characters Chrissy Woodland and Josie in the show.
Spoken scenes were then recorded through Zoom, while actors recorded their singing parts individually. The video and audio were then edited together – a process that was completed a mere two days before the musical’s opening night.
“People getting in their music on time was really stressful for us assistant directors,” said Anushka Arun, an Eastlake freshman and assistant director for the show. “We each had tech issues, I personally had to take over a few scenes from people who either didn’t know the software or couldn’t get it in on time. We used a program that I don’t think any of us were really familiar with, because it was free.”
But in the end, the hard work paid off. Wannabes opened on December 18, with its first few performances streamed on Microsoft Teams and the final performance on YouTube, where it can still be found.
“We got a lot of positive feedback,” said Hiciano de Góngora. “A lot of people who were iffy on the issue, with the second amendment and human rights, who thought they knew what was going on in the schools, came to me and admitted to having their minds somewhat changed.”
And the Wannabes story will not end here. Hiciano de Góngora is looking to partner with Change the Ref and Sandy Hook Promise, two gun reform organizations, for future projects, and is also making plans for a second run of the musical, with virtual performances by students aged 13 to 19 throughout Washington state. The production team also hopes to get a professionally recorded soundtrack after the pandemic ends. They could only use Musescore-generated instrumentals for the Eastlake performance.
Arun, the assistant director, shared a great personal moment after wrapping the first show.
“One of the cast member parents said, on opening night, that we made a show with people in completely different places,” Arun said. “And the idea of this show is students coming together from different places to fight for something.”
You can learn more about Wannabes the Musical here.