Some New Things

Chasing Gods From an Actor’s Perspective

Chasing Gods is a play written by Paris Crayton III in light of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016. The play tackles some heavy and relevant topics—especially the role of contemporary religion upon hate.

The play centers around a family unit, broken by a condemning sermon delivered by Deidra Curtis (Mother) a day after the tragic shooting. In her sermon, Deidra quoted the bible verse from Leviticus which essentially professes the intolerance of homosexuality. Deidra seems to feel no sort of conviction for what she believes is “the truth and way of God” despite how many people she hurt with her words—especially her daughter, Olivia, who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, her son Immanuel lost his best friend in the shooting and she offers him no sort of comfort or consolement in grieving this loss. This in itself demonstrates how faith can prove destructive to humanity and morality.

Faith, religion, and spirituality are meant to be avenues of bringing people together and spreading sentiments of love and peace. It truly hurts me, as a Christian and more importantly as a human being to see faith be utilized as a means of hate and passing judgement upon others. It is for this reason that I have struggled with my faith for a large portion of my life. As I have come of age and become more independent I have been forced to truly step back and evaluate what it is that I believe. In an effort to sum up something of this magnitude that cannot truly be “summed up”, I now know that I believe in love and compassion. This is what God is to me. God is a constant regard for humanity and your fellow brothers and sisters as well as an incessant pursuit of righteousness.

This same conflict of faith and the pursuit of truth is something that can be especially seen in Immanuel Curtis, the husband of Deidra and the character I had the privilege of portraying in this play.

In Immanuel I saw a man unhappy with himself and life in general. A man who lived his life in a manner which conformed to the expectations of those around him until one day he steps back and realizes that he is not living for himself and his own truth. I felt that it was very easy to fall into the trap of playing Immanuel as a man who is angered at God, but I didn’t feel that this truly conveyed his internal struggle. As I read more into Immanuel I realized that he is not trying to run from God and the rest of his uncertainties in life (Although this is what many accuse and charge him with). Immanuel is simply a conflicted human being and epitomizes the struggle that each of us faces as part of the Human Condition. At some point in our lives, we have to decide for ourselves what it is that we believe and live by it, whatever that may be. You either choose to spread love or to spread hate.

Immanuel stands as stark proof of living a lie. His exit from the church is both a sign of conviction and self-displeasure at his own hypocrisy. In his guitar, we see a coping mechanism and a symbol of new beginnings. Often times, those who pass the most judgment and hate are the loneliest of us all. This hate stems from within and speaks more on the hateful ones themselves rather than the target of their attacks. Although this character was emotionally draining to play, I found in it a responsibility to bring to life because it represents a very common archetype in today’s society.

Chasing Gods challenged me as an actor and as a human being, and I sincerely hope that it incited much of the same reflection in viewers. In a time as divisive as the one we are living in now, it is more crucial than ever that we come together as the fellow human beings we are.

A Pushback Against the Glorification of Violence in the Music Industry

Violence has pervaded the music industry today, specifically in the form of suicide, self-harm, and/or substance abuse. I thought this topic was fitting due to the trend of normalization of evil through the medium of music which both desensitizes and disassociates us from the dehumanization which occurs as a byproduct of violence.

Twenty One Pilots is currently one of the biggest names in music and they stand as a harbinger to using their massive platform to contribute meaningful social commentary to the issues we face as a people. Ever since their formation in 2009, the band has never shied away from suggestive and often controversial subject matter in their music (i.e. depression, suicide, religion, etc.). The image above is a snapshot from their music video for the hit song, Guns For Hands, which explores themes of suicide as the band makes a call to action to resist the glorification of suicide, violence, and self-harm. The stark claim to “turn your guns to a fist” and take action to aim your negative energies at something more positive is conveyed throughout this extended metaphor.

In the image, the two members of the pop punk duo can be seen standing side by side in direct contrast to one another. The difference of color in their red and blue shirts symbolizes the constant struggle between good and evil. Their white pants have connotations of purity and display how our innocence becomes subjugated by our experiences and struggles. The band’s lead singer, Tyler Joseph (right) can be seen aiming a finger gun at drummer, Josh Dun (left) as a stark conveyance of violence as a byproduct of negative emotion. Dun is seen with eyes closed as he is overcome by his depression and evil thoughts, both expecting and anticipating a release in the form of a figurative death. This is furthered by the fact that both musicians are masked. Our faces are the most characteristic part of our being and are the most explicit visual representation of what makes us unique. The masking symbolizes how succumbing to violence blurs our sense of self and view of the world around us.

Recently, the band has expanded upon these sentiments with the release of their latest album, “Trench” — especially in the number 7 track on the album, Neon Gravestones.

“I’ll mourn for a kid, but won’t cry for a king” … “I’m not disrespecting what was left behind, just pleading that it does not get glorified.” (Twenty One Pilots lyrics in relation to the topic of violence and self-harm)

This song has scraped up a heap of controversy due to its challenge to the status quo in the greater conversation of those who choose to end their life by their own hands, either in the form of suicide or drug abuse. This song was just released this month, coming off of the recent suicides of musicians such as Chris Cornell and Avicii as well as the drug-related deaths of musicians such as Prince, Tom Petty, Mac Miller, and Lil Peep. These instances of violence in the music industry have become virtually normalized and we as a society hold these figures of influence in the highest of regards. The band’s message behind the song is not that we should think any less of these individuals who succumbed to violence, but that we as a society should resist the glorification of violence and avoid praising the prospect of an earlier grave. This challenge speaks to Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil” and how at some point an aspect of violence can become so ingrained in a people that they become dull to the actuality of it and lose their sensitivity to it (a sort of victimization and loss of morality). Twenty One Pilots is making an effort to combat this banality of evil by opening up the conversation to it and taking direct action to discuss and resist it.

Works Cited:

Pettigrew, Jason. “Choosing Life: Twenty One Pilots Avoid the Glow of ‘Neon Gravestones.’” Alternative Press, 10 Oct. 2018, www.altpress.com/features/twenty-one-pilots-neon-gravestones-interview/.

FueledByRamen, director. Twenty One Pilots: Guns For Hands [OFFICIAL VIDEO]YouTube, YouTube, 7 Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmv8aQKO6k0&frags=pl%2Cwn.

An Original Poem

The following is a poem I wrote in response to the tragic shooting that occurred at UNC Charlotte on May 1, 2019. I dedicate this poem to all those affected by this shooting and gun violence in general, but especially to the life and legacy of Riley C. Howell—The 21-year-old student who sacrificed his life on that fateful day to save the lives of others.

An Original Song

I wrote a piano piece inspired by and based around my experience in the Humanities at Davidson College. The piece is entitled, Incipience.

The fight is on…but they’re all bold as love.

– Jimi Hendrix