Jonestown Scripted

koolaidWhen Professor Comas posted about how one of the authors of The Laramie Project would be lecturing about her new project, I momentarily struggled to recall why that title rang a bell; I had to travel back to the memories of high school to remember. In sophomore year of high school, my English teacher had a part of her curriculum dedicated to learning about The Laramie ProjectThe Laramie Project is a play about the town of Laramie, Wyoming, and the murder of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual University of Wyoming student. The play is by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, whom thoroughly interviewed the locals of Laramie and used many of the interviews, word for word, in their script. The play resulted in the humanization of what had become a topic numbed by network news channels. The play was later adapted into an HBO Original Film. Remembering how moved I was by both the play and the film, I elected to see the author speak about the topic of her new play: Jonestown.

I again had to travel back into the memories of high school to remember what about Jonestown I had learned. I vaguely remember watching a documentary in my Psychology class about a crazy pastor, Jim Jones, who rounded up a bunch of people from San Francisco, traveled with them to some island in an attempt to create some sort of sovereign colony, and then had them all commit suicide by way of poisoned Kool-Aid. One of the main things that struck me in high school about this case was the huge sum of money Kool-Aid spent on proving and advertising that it was a knock off brand and not the real stuff. Needless to say, I went into this lecture mostly ignorant to what truly happened on that little island (except that Kool-AidTM is not affiliated).

One of the first points that Leigh Fondakowski, the author/lecturer, made was that she too was quite ignorant to Jonestown. She knew just about as much as I did when she started and made a conscious effort to do no auxiliary research as she traveled about the country interviewing Jonestown survivors.  She felt that auxiliary research would undermine the information that her interviewees gave, in a way. One of the main topics of controversy is the conflicting information that is available about both Jim Jones and Jonestown; Fondakowski did not want to subconsciously, or consciously, form any bias before conducting her interviews. It was important to her that the truth of the story come from her interviewees. Like another playwright we know, Fondakowski deals with “truth” in an interesting way. She asserts that it is not her place to determine what is true and what is not about the story of Jamestown, but importance lies in her interviewee’s “truths”, or what they believe to be true. Fondakowski believes that these truths are what allow the audience to empathize with the characters and further humanize the series of events. After a reading a series of heavy interviews and showing eerie photos, Fondakowski offered to answer any questions that the audience may have and requested that all questions be asked into the microphones located at the base of the forum. No one moved. Trying to ease the tension, I walked down to the microphone and said, “Hi, I’m Frank. I’m wondering if you intend to adapt your script into a screenplay like you did with the Laramie Project.” For those who appreciate good television, or are interested in Jonestown, Fondakowski is currently working on a Jonestown series.


2 thoughts on “Jonestown Scripted

  1. So, Kool-Aid failed to avoid the marketing. Hell, people still say “drank the kool-aid” to mean going along with the crowd. I said it today.

    I wonder what made the Kool-Aid detail of the story of Jonestown so sticky such that it would be what people remembered?

    Also, do you think J-town has a timeless quality, as in, it has lessons for what might happen today, or is it fascinating for how unusual it is?


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