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Senior writes play on San Luis

Madeline Miles | Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Saint Mary’s senior Emily Schmitt was intrigued when Professor Susan Baxter first told her the story of what happened in San Luis, Colo. in March of 1989, when a federal raid on alleged poachers led to controversy as residents claimed the poaching was encouraged by the government.

Schmitt and Baxter traveled to San Luis to get the local perspective through the College’s Student Independent Study, Teaching and Research (SISTAR) program.

“It was such an interesting story,” Schmitt said. “We knew there were questionable government motives behind it.”

Schmitt, a theater and philosophy double major, hoped to collect information to ultimately develop into a play.

“I’ve always been interested in the convergence of playwriting and journalism,” she said. “It seems news providers are doing theater, and as a response the playwrights are returning to journalism.”

Schmitt’s research inspired “San Luis, 1989,” a fictional play based on stories from residents the pair met. The ongoing project reached a milestone in its development when the Actors’ Ensemble of South Bend, a semi-professional theater group, presented the play through a reading at the Little Theater Tuesday night.

The play depicts the experience of Clyde Montoya, a struggling farmer who takes an offer to make “easy money” selling illegally poached antlers, meat and feathers. Montoya and his fellow townspeople are faced with deception and economic pressures as they live through the fallout of the poaching controversy.

Baxter said Schmitt wasted little time in engaging the locals the first time they visited San Luis this summer.

“Emily just started walking around San Luis,” Baxter said. “Anyone she bumped into, she started asking questions.”

Schmitt said a chance meeting with an individual with first-hand experience of the raid pushed her investigation forward.

“I just happened to run into someone who wanted to talk to me about the raid,” she said. “From there, I just kept digging.”

While the role of the government in the alleged manipulation or mistreatment of the accused poachers is unclear, Schmitt said she hopes the play will encourage viewers to take a closer look at possible violations of social justice.

“My goal with the play would be to get people thinking about justice issues,” said Schmitt. “I want to make people question some of their assumptions about not only the Hispanic community, but the history of the United States and raise the question of what is just.”

As Schmitt applies to graduate schools for both playwriting and philosophy programs, she said she will continue to work on the play.

“If ‘San Luis, 1989′ gets picked up, the best thing would be that this play exposes the issue of government manipulation and corruption to the wider community,” she said. “It’s a story that needs to be told.”