LOS LUNAS — Blind since birth, Los Lunas High School student Eaowyn Rodriguez discovered a newfound passion in an unlikely place–the theater stage.
“It was a world unbound by blindness,” said Rodriguez of her experience playing the lead role of Moana in LLHS’ production of “Moana Jr.”
Rodriguez, who just finished her junior year at LLHS, said this was her first time doing any sort of on-stage performance.
“We try to do a musical every year,” said LLHS drama teacher Michelle Gammill. “This year we chose Moana because it has a lot of audience appeal and a smaller cast. Since we’ve come back from the pandemic, it’s been a rebuilding of the program.”
Gammill said while she was out and about on campus, she heard Rodriguez singing. Struck by her beautiful voice, Gammill urged Rodriguez to audition for the play and to her delight, she did.
“She sings so beautifully, so I cast her,” Gammill said. “I talked with Jonathan Bock, the musical director, and said ‘I think we can make it work’ and he said ‘yeah, let’s do it!’”
Thinking creatively, they figured out workarounds to ensure a safe set for Rodriguez and a compelling performance for the audience.
“A lot of the show takes place on the boat, so we were able to have a ramp instead of steps to get on the boat safely. We built a solid railing on it, so she’d be secure,” Gammill said. “We also developed a system with the crew who moved the boat. Before they would move it, they would touch the back of her leg to let her know so she could make sure she was ready.”
Gammill said the show was a big success and had the highest attendance of any show they have done previously.
“I would like at some point to do a show where all the lead roles are students with different abilities if we have that level of interest. In the meantime, there’s no reason students of all abilities can’t participate in theater,” said Gammill. “Theater is a place where everybody can belong and have a voice.”
Rodriguez said she loved the experience and has signed up for Gammill’s drama class for next year.
“I could do anything in theater world,” Rodriguez said. “It felt like ‘can’t’ wasn’t a word.”
“She definitely brings a spirit to our drama club because she’s just so excited to be there every single day,” Gammill said. “She really inspires the other students.”
Reflecting on her unique experience, Rodriguez advises kids with similar conditions to not let fear stop you from doing the things you love.
“And for the sighted, I can only give one hint of advice–don’t take your sight and health for granted. Show love to the blind and those who have medical conditions and disabilities,” Rodriguez said.
Gammill said she appreciates the way the community came together around this production, and she is proud of all the work the students put in.
“I’m especially proud of the way they embrace each other and their differences and take care of one another,” Gammill said. “One of my favorite things about theater is it’s a place where kids who feel like they don’t necessarily belong somewhere else can fit in and find a place where they can shine.”
Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.