People’s Temple – The Play

This blog written by Jeff Brailey was downloaded on 13 October 2018 from

Friday, May 25, 2007

People’s Temple– The Play

Two years ago last month, the Berkeley Repertory Theater premiered The People’s Temple. The writer-director, Leigh Fondakowski, spent three years researching archives and interviewing surviving members of the Peoples Temple (note the absence of an apostrophe to differentiate the name of the play from the church).

The play begins in a library with a white-gloved archivist lifting a choir robe from a box. It ends in a jungle enclave in Guyana called Jonestown.

Fondakowski used interviews with survivors and copious amounts of audiotapes that were found in Jonestown as well as letters and other archival written materials as sources for the verbatim dialog of the play. This method of writing the play allowed the true feelings of those who lived the Jonestown trauma to come through.

Her writing methods are very similar to those of another play The People’s Temple is sometimes compared with The Laramie Project. Moises Kauffman and his Tectonic Theater Project used interview transcripts to craft their powerful account of the reaction to the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The play has been performed in venues across the country and was turned into a well-received HBO movie.

The People’s Temple has only played to audiences in Berkeley and at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota as far as I can tell. However, the artistic director of the Denver Theater Company, coincidentally, where The Laramie Project premiered, has said he hopes his theater will perform it in 2008. Hopefully The People’s Temple will play to many more theaters across the country in 2008 since it is the 30th anniversary year of the Jonestown Massacre.