At times punchy, provocative, and side-splittingly funny; at times poignant and deeply touching, The Gospel According to YouTube, a play held under the auspices of Reed Arts Week (RAW), led audiences through the comments sections of gospel hymn videos to explore how faith is lived in the Internet age.
The play was based around a series of gospel songs from the evangelical tradition, sung live by the quartet of Io Blanchett, Lewis Chapman, Jay Lee, and Maria Wilkerson. With each song, the show’s four actors — Ali Ashraf, Rebecca Lewit, Abhi Rajshekar, and Mayou Roffe — staged conversations pulled from the comments of videos of those hymns.
There were many comedic moments: some commenters went on lengthy rants that smacked of middle-school aggressive atheism, while others invoked God’s name in support of their bullheaded political and social views. Other moments were tragic, however, with commenters lamenting the losses of loved ones or crying out for God’s help. One commenter called on God to help her chronic pain, while others reassured her that God’s will would be done and she would find peace. Many comments expressed how certain gospel songs elicited memories of their deceased loved ones and happier, simpler times.
On top of evoking a wide range of emotions, the play raised questions about what it means to express faith in the age of instant worldwide communication. On an internet that is filled with conflict, trolling, and anonymous hatred, how do religious groups carve out areas of community? How do modern experiences of Evangelical Christianity differ from those of decades past? And how will that Evangelical tradition live on in the era of YouTube and social media?
The Gospel According to Youtube was written and directed by Lewis Chapman, with stage management by Rafael Monkarsh.