High school senior project leads to transformation inside and out
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Edward Murillo wanted to try something different for his senior project. Something that had never been done before by a South Tahoe High senior.
After sitting in the audience of the Carnival Cabaret at Horizon Casino Resort, 18-year-old Murillo had an idea: He could focus his senior project on the art of female impersonation.
“I was like, it’s the theater, it would make me very happy,” Murillo said. “And it has.”
The project also led to his first paying theater gig. This week, Murillo joins the summer cast of Carnival Cabaret to perform during the final number, which he performed for his project.
Murillo started rehearsals Saturday, the day after graduating from South Tahoe High School.
Murillo said the main challenge is transforming a man’s facial features to mimic that of a woman’s – creating high cheekbones, a thinner nose, arching dramatic, dark eyebrows and softening the sharp angles of a male face to softer, more rounded female features.
Murillo’s transformation takes about an hour. The most challenging part, he said, is perfecting the female nose.
“I still don’t have that,” he said.
Murillo’s first exposure to female impersonation was when Gypsy, a now-retired performer in the Horizon show, spoke to the high school’s ALLY club, a campus group that promotes tolerance and acceptance of gay, lesbian and bisexual students. Gypsy told the students his life story; how he performed on Broadway and later moved on to female impersonation.
Murillo was most impressed by the confidence with which Gypsy carried himself.
“The fact that he didn’t care about what anybody thought,” Murillo said. “I’ve always thought of myself that way. I like to show myself off.”
Murillo’s father began brainstorming about future career paths when Murillo told him about the project.
“I was like, ‘It’s just a project,'” Murillo said.
Murillo stresses that female impersonation is a performance, not a lifestyle.
“It’s acting,” he said. “It’s not saying anything about me.”
He was still teased at school.
“I figured it would happen,” he said, adding that campus security helped stop the two incidents of harassment.
To prepare for his project, Murillo rehearsed with the Cabaret cast once a week for about three months, mentored by show producer Dan Gore.
The first two months were spent solely on makeup. Another performer taught Murillo the final number, where performers quickly remove their makeup to reveal their male features.
“It’s a dying art form,” Gore said. “It’s huge and well-respected in Mexico. There is still a very conservative view about it here.
“It’s an illusion they’re creating and they’re actors,” Gore added. “It’s more about acting than anything else – the combination of learning the makeup and how women walk and their features.”
During the course of the project, Gore noted another transformation. Murillo smiles more. He walks taller.
“He’s just a whole new person,” Gore said. “He’s more confident as a young man.”