The story of Jonestown has always hovered just out of sight for me. As society moves through time, certain remembrances of history live just to the side of our visceral periphery. And then there are some events that come into focus, and stay with us forever.
Jim Jones was born and raised in Indiana – I shared that with him – and he established Peoples Temple there. I learned small facts about the events at Jonestown while I was young, but it wasn’t until college that I truly began to research Jim Jones, Peoples Temple, and the tragedy of November 1978. The stories I came across during my initial research have never left me. I am unaware of any other chapter in American history that involved so much hope, faith, mystery, and tragedy.
These events have provided so much inspiration to me, that I recently became compelled to create a piece of theatre about it. It is my goal to bring the details of this story into full vision. I am a video designer for theatre, and my work combines visual installation with spoken word and performance.
In my piece, I would like to present Jonestown and Peoples Temple as a collage, a beautiful layering of firsthand accounts, visuals, and recorded historic text. Every bit of material used during the show will be sourced from historical documents, and while certain elements may be re-enacted on stage, they will represent what is recorded on paper or on tape as closely as possible. The most important thing about creating this show is to give these people a voice, and to show their true humanity in an objective way. I maintain the view that for this topic, it is not my job to reinterpret the material. I think it can absolutely stand on its own. Like remembrances from a dream, the elements will fuse together and tell a story of their own. In this way, the audience will be left to draw their own conclusions.
As an artist, some of the hardest parts of creating a show based on historical events can be the research, and often there is an absence of substantial material, or a lack of resources. Even in the last few months, during which time I have been collecting preliminary information for development, the resources available on this website have been invaluable to me. I feel so lucky to have their constant support as I create this piece of theatre.
Jonestown lives as a paradox, one that has and will most likely repeat itself in different forms throughout existence. We are left wondering how an event like this could occur, while deep inside we know that, under the right circumstances, it could happen to any one of us. I believe that the story of Jonestown contains all of the basic elements of humanity, and that through the deaths of so many we can truly see what it means to be alive.
(Chase Voorhees is a Brooklyn, NY based designer who specializes in video, photography, and sound. He is a founding member of Everywhere Theatre Group. His work with ETG has been presented at various venues including: Ontological Hysteric Theatre, The Brick Theater, HERE Arts Center, The Incubator Arts Project, Dixon Place, and The WINGS Theater. His work has been reviewed and/or featured in The New York Times, Broadway World, Culture Bot, and NYTheatre.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through chasevoorhees.com.)