Joshua Torres ’15 passed away in North Adams, Mass. on Dec. 14. His death is being considered a suicide, the circumstances of which have not been made public. He was 23.
Torres, who grew up in New York City and studied at All Hallows High School, graduated from the College in the spring of 2015 as a history major with a concentration in Africana studies. At the College, he put on four shows, two of which he wrote himself. He also participated in theater productions, sang a cappella in The Springstreeters, played in bands and left an indelible mark on those who knew him.
After graduation, Torres moved to North Adams, where he continued to pursue theater and music.
Loud and exuberant, Torres was a monumental presence in lives across campus and beyond. He is remembered for his creativity and intelligence, for his propensity to tell the truth no matter the consequences and for his huge energy and colorful garb. Friends still picture him engulfed in an enormous shawl, spinning around the theater, with a big, geeky smile that reached his squinting eyes.
“When I think about Joshua,” his mother, Susan Diaz, said, “I see his smiling happy face, and I think about how caring he was.”
Torres’s older sister, Sage Torres, said he was never ashamed to be himself. “I think that’s why a lot of people gravitated towards him.”
During his time at the College, Torres spoke openly about his struggles with his mental health. He opened up about his depression and suicide attempts with his friends, and through theater and music.
Torres became a performer early on; his sister recalls him putting on plays with toy cars and action figures as a child.
“I’ve been performing since I popped out my mother’s womb,” he told Parlor Tricks, a College literary magazine, in March 2015.
He worked at Mission Dining Hall, often swiping ID cards with a big grin. One Halloween, he dressed as a witch and brought his guitar down. Jacqueline Simeone ’18 remembers fondly that he came up, sang to her and bit her finger. “To many he was considered ‘extra,’ maybe a little overbearing,” she said. “But I thought everything he did was so magnificent.”
The Halloween shows that Torres directed, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Nightmare Before Christmas, were rehearsal-optional productions, loud and unpredictable, as much dance parties as they were musicals. Joseph Baca ’15 was in Nightmare, which Josh had been talking about since he was a first-year in the Exploring The Arts orientation program. He says the cast had only about 20 minutes of rehearsal time before the curtains opened.
“Josh did not want to put a show on,” Baca said. “He just wanted to get everybody in the same room to have fun with each other.”
His other two shows were his more serious projects, tackling issues that he felt affected him and society around him, without reservation. He wrote and produced Don’t Tell Tommy for his junior winter study after experiencing what he considered his “worst depression,” panic attacks and insomnia throughout the year. He told Parlor Tricks how he filmed those experiences. “By the end of that,” he said, “I had all these songs chronicling how happy I was at the beginning of the year, to my attempted suicide, to ‘Oh, I’m not dead, now what?’”
Those songs became Don’t Tell Tommy. He moved his bed to the directing studio during the month that he put on the show and slept there. When the performances finally rolled around, he was surprised to find how many people connected with the show.
His second show, during his senior year, was more radical, to the point where he received hate mail for it. Revenge of the Inner City Catholic Schoolgirls dealt with “white supremacy, the patriarchy, capitalism, the prison-industrial complex and Satan,” according to Torres, the combined forces of which killed the characters he had created.
When an actor failed to show up for the second performance of Revenge, Torres grabbed a microphone and announced loudly to the audience: “We don’t know what we’re doing!” He brought up an audience member to play his role and took the missing actor’s part himself.
Disappointment, resilience and insomnia
Torres was fundamentally disappointed in the College. He thought the culture prioritized the voices of white upper-class men and women. He believed that the administration was more interested in preserving its image than supporting its students. He never attended Claiming Williams Day because he saw the event as skimming the surface of the real problems. He wanted to have conversations about the issues of diversity and apathy that he saw everywhere, but he thought they would go nowhere without support from the administration, which deeply frustrated him.
He did participate in a video for Claiming Williams, in which he was asked to sum up his time at the College in three words. “Disappointment, resilience, insomnia,” he responded.
After graduating, Torres continued to follow his passions down Route 2. He was writing a book, says his friend, North Adams resident Alex Martinez, a horror story called The Peacock Room. He played in his own band, Mothership Soul Brotha, and sang back-up vocals for Rebel Alliance, which performed Thursdays at the Red Herring. He collected his work online under the umbrella of the Bad Drama Club.
He was also writing, producing and acting in plays and musicals, like a version of Anne Boleyn, which stemmed out of his fascination for tragic historical female figures.
Derek Lonergan, Torres’s significant other, noted how Josh would delve into his art as soon as he finished his work. “He could turn anything into an intellectual adventure, raising haunted journeys of history into plays and songs,” Lonergan said.
“You’re here with me, and I’m here with you.”
To many who saw him perform around campus, Torres was the epitome of fearlessness. Still, he struggled with his own sensitivities.
“He was always thinking about what others thought of him,” Chris Janson ’16 said, who was a close friend of Torres’s and played in a band with him called Barefoot Boys. “Even though he was acting like he wasn’t. He definitely did care about that.”
The difference between Torres and most people, Janson said, is that Torres confronted fear head on. He let himself feel afraid and pursued his passions regardless, especially when it came to theater and music. Art was an outlet for the heartbreak he’d experienced and a way to open a conversation around topics he felt were important, like mental health and systemic racism.
“He was fearless when it came to defending other people,” said his sister, “but when it came to himself, he was real sensitive.”
Torres felt insecure particularly within the College community. He thought a large part of the student body did not understand him or want him on campus. Much of that had to do with his disregard for public norms. In the spring of his senior year, Torres walked into Paresky to find a pro-life presentation. He stood up on the tables and launched into protest, opposing human life and calling for support of Satan.
“A lot of people just don’t understand how somebody like him could exist,” Baca said. “But the people that did get to know him, he was such a huge part of all our lives.”
Torres would tell the people he loved the truth that he believed they needed to hear, even when it was hard. He greeted friends by tossing his arms around them in a big hug. He gave generously with his time and energy in everyday interactions, whether backstage in the theater or dancing on the steps of Paresky on a sunny afternoon.
“If you were wrong he would try to show you why,” his mother said, “but if you were right, he was your fiercest supporter.”
He tried to push others to be as fully themselves as they could be. Friends talked about the confidence that he inspired within them to pursue their passions. Martinez said she had never sang seriously before Torres’s encouragement, and Janson said singing with Torres gave him confidence in his own voice.
“Whenever I play his songs, or other songs, I try to sing loud enough so he can hear them,” Janson said. Torres was also the first person to ever put eyeliner on Janson, just as Torres loved to wear it himself.
Before singing certain songs, Torres would give the same speech. He would ask everyone to close their eyes and imagine they had roots growing from the soles of their shoes into the earth. “You’re here with me,” he would say. “And I’m here with you.”
For those who loved him, Torres is not gone; he’s still there when they gather together, when they listen to the multitude of work he published online, when they experience moments of fear and reach out for his voice.
“He meant the world to me,” Sage said. “And I wish he understood how loved he truly was.”
Friends and members of the family have requested that those who remember Torres donate at www.gofundme.com/theglitterkitty. Most of the funds will go to Torres’s family, and $2000 will go towards starting The Glitter Kitty, a fund for artists. In the past month, about two-thirds of the goal has been met.
If you or someone around you is suffering from emotional distress or in a suicidal crisis, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.