By Tim Beeckman Davis, playwright of MANIFESTO – An American Play
“If I cannot join them, I will rise above them; and if I cannot rise above them, I will destroy them.” These words were uttered by 22-year-old Elliot Rodger days before his self-declared “Day of Retribution.”
On May 23, 2014, Elliot terrorized the college town of Isla Vista that sits on the ocean beside UC Santa Barbara in Southern California. He targeted female students as punishment for refusing his sexual advances, as well as the male students who possessed the sex life he desired. He took six lives and injured 14 others before taking his own life. Elliot garnered nationwide attention, not just for the horrific crime he committed, but for the incredibly detailed manifesto he left behind. This public declaration of his plan, as well as his motivations for enacting it, were disclosed in multiple videos Elliot posted on Youtube and scoured across his 107,000-word hard copy, entitled, My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger.
This massacre is just one mark on a timeline that grows more crowded with every passing year. In the last decade, we have witnessed a substantial influx of gun violence on school grounds; so much so that we are hardly shocked when another appalling headline splashes across news outlets, almost as if to relay a simple reminder that these abhorrent acts have etched themselves into American culture.
For years, these shootings had instilled fear and suspicion on campuses nationwide, including my own. An air of despair and concern lingered like a fog and enveloped the student body as we were evacuated from buildings during potential bomb threats, wondering who around us may be responsible. As frightening as these atrocities had been, it was not until Elliot’s retribution that a fire to counteract these persisting acts of violence was ignited in me. I demanded to know why these children were driven to murder and how we could stop it, if a solution could be unearthed.
As a theatre artist, the platform I am proficiently versed in using is the stage. However, I would argue that this theatrical habitat is, truly, the most efficient and impactful vessel for a piece on social justice. Thus, the genesis for MANIFESTO – An American Play. Research immediately commenced as I read page after page of Elliot’s manifesto. As the months went on, documentaries, news reports, and interviews were released, adding critical information and data to my notebooks. These led me to pieces published on past shooters, which led to their manifestos, and a pattern was established.
What I discovered within that first stretch of inquiry was that each culprit had reasoning behind their dangerous decision. This may seem trivial, but these young adults were consistently painted as monsters who mindlessly murdered their peers for no reason, or perhaps an even more distressing judgment: for attention. This dismaying image I found not only rare, but virtually nonexistent. What I did identify was suffering. These children agonized under abusive or negligent parenting, bullying and ostracization from peers, mental illness, assault, and simply navigating the treacherous developmental years of adolescence without guidance or protection. These are all examples of trauma that would fester and grow over years until, eventually, the mind could no longer function rationally. In some cases, the mind never could. When the final straw was laid and the mental break ensued, it is no surprise these youth turned to violence.
MANIFESTO was birthed out of empathy for these tragic stories. Not only do we mourn the lives lost, the families broken and severed, or the scars on those impacted who will never be the same, but we also mourn for the shooter who was, dare I say, a victim as well. In our play, we are faced by three shooters, inspired by real-life offenders, bound in a purgatory and its treacherous enterprise, entangled in the repetition of their haunting past. When a fourth stranger appears, she witnesses memories of pivotal moments in their testimonies. As they relive their junctures, we are faced with queries of forgiveness, compassion, and even understanding. Through her existential journey, which mirrors the audience’s vicarious experience, our stranger finds her way to understanding and, eventually, to action. We hope our audiences will do the same.
There is no better way to achieve this than through live theatre. Within the walls of a venue there is a fully shared experience between the actors on stage and the viewers in the house. There is a cyclical exchange of energy that voraciously maneuvers through the space, creating a climate that I can only describe as sacred and holy. Within this space lies beauty, heartbreak, joy, sorrow, inspiration, and the power of change. It is in this space we hope to tell these stories with brutal honesty in efforts to inspire our audiences to re-enter the world with a wider lens to view those around us.
We have misunderstood and ignored these people, who are victims unto themselves, for far too long. If we cannot properly identify the problem, how do we expect to find a solution? If we cannot see those around us to recognize their needs and then step out of our comfort zones, or honestly our selfishness, to help them, then our campus climates will never see the light of change or the lifting of burden.
We must be proactive, learn to recognize mental illness and instability, and ultimately live a life of kindness and respect towards our fellow human. They deserve it, and we deserve it, simply because we exist. See someone, save someone.
MANIFESTO runs at the Mixed Blood Theater through the Fringe Festival (August 3-13). Day passes are sold at the door. Tickets are available here. Performance times are:
- Saturday, August 5 at 5:30pm
- Sunday, August 6 at 10:00pm
- Thursday, August 10 at 5:30pm
- Saturday, August 12 at 10:00pm
- Sunday, August 13 at 4:00pm
Tim Beeckman Davis is an actor, director, and playwright from California. A recent transplant to the Twin Cities, he received his BFA in Acting from Azusa Pacific University located just outside of Los Angeles. Locally, he has worked with Trademark Theater, Lyric Arts, Yellow Tree Theater, Artistry, Season’s Dinner Theater, and soon with Theatre Elision. He is proud to be making his Fringe debut with his original piece, MANIFESTO – An American Play. He thanks his family and friends for their unwavering support and God for His guidance. Love > Hate.