The Z Space Studio, a San Francisco-based theater center, has commissioned playwright Leigh Fondakowski to develop a theatrical representation of Jonestown. Fondakowski, the head writer for Tectonic Theater’s productions of The Laramie Project and Gross Indecencies, will lead a team of writer/actors through a process of research and interviews to bring the story of Peoples Temple to the stage.
Fondakowski and Tectonic have pioneered a process of creating theater from historical materials and from interviews. The Laramie Project and Gross Indecencies both enjoyed critical and popular success around the country, and The Laramie Project has been filmed by HBO. For that production, Fondakowski led a team of writer/actors through a series of interviews with the people of Laramie, Wyoming, as the community struggled to come to grips with the fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, a gay youth murdered by two young Laramie men. The material was eventually edited into the powerful evening of theater, with the play’s text drawn verbatim from the interviews. For Gross Indecencies, the Tectonic team created a riveting play from the transcripts of Oscar Wilde’s trials, once again using the verbatim texts as the dialogue for the work.
The Peoples Temple project will combine both historical texts and contemporary interviews.
The Z Space Studio is one of the country’s leading theater development centers, and the project will be created at the studio’s San Francisco facilities. The company of writer/actors will be largely Bay Area professionals working alongside Fondakowski during the research, interviewing, editing, and script development as well as heading the eventual cast for the work. The goal of the process will be to complete the play for a November 2003 opening in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the deaths in Jonestown, Guyana. People interested in knowing more about this project can e-mail the Z’s at www.zspace.org.
(David Dower is Artistic Director of the Z Space.)