Why I chose to work on One Sleepy Night – Detroit.
by John Sloan III
I must have been about 6 or 7 years old when my parents gave me the book, The Black Snowman. What could have easily been a simple moment, a child reading a book with his parents at Christmas became – for me – a seminal memory. It’s not one of those moments that changed my life, but rather a remembrance the echoes of which call out to me from time to time; reminding me or reassuring me during moments of doubt.
In the story, a young Black boy named Jacob uses a magic Kente cloth to bring a black snowman to life. Why was the snowman black? Because the harsh realities of Jacob’s environment had transformed the fluffy white snowflakes into black slush. But Jacob was determined. So he built this snowman with his own two hands and dressed him in a colorful cloth he found from the trash.
Now, some of you might be thinking, “What does this have to do with One Sleepy Night – Detroit”?
These days, you can hop online and find plenty of books and stories (though still not enough if you ask me) that represent varied cultures. One can find books that celebrate Black history, culture, hair, and spirituality. But, in 1989 (when The Black Snowman was published) that was a much more difficult lift.
And, the stories you did find, still often perpetuated dangerous racial and ethnic myths as normalcy. Even The Black Snowman echoes some of these concepts through the framing of the color white as pure, while the black snow Jacob and his brother used to build their snowman was trampled and “foot-worn”.
Art and media communicate ideas. And when that communication continually frames one culture as normal, all others become…well, just that… “other”.
That’s why I chose to work on One Sleepy Night – Detroit.
Too often the presentations of Blackness found in media are framed through trauma. And too often these depictions are crafted and curated by people outside of that culture.
When Don Hart approached me about this project, I must admit, I paused. For all the reasons I outlined above, I had a moment of skepticism. But I talked with Don and met with Carol. We sat and discussed our individual sets of experience and journeys that led us each to this moment in our lives and careers. And, in those conversations, I came to trust one thing above all else: we all believe that theatre, at its best, can build connections and encourage cultural exchange.
Bringing this show to the stage has truly been a work of collaboration. I am thrilled to work with close friends, colleagues, and collaborators like Darell “Red” Campbell, Jr., Kennikki Jones-Jones, and Breon LaDawn. Their effort and dedication to the work has been incredible. The production and design team, led by Kwame Wells and Kaden Reynard, has managed a massive lift in designing a production for two separate venues.
The creativity, detail, passion, and commitment from Choreographer Carollette Phillips and Associate Jamiliah Minter have been invaluable and essential.
And the dedication to excellence from this cast, has been truly amazing to behold.
As co-writer, co-producer, and director, I have had the privilege of touching just about every detail in this process. The obvious goal was to shape a cohesive dramatic arc and present the best show possible. The larger goal, however, is to always ensure that our culture, Black culture, is presented with honesty and authenticity.
In The Black Snowman, the magical Kente cloth had once been worn by a griot in Africa. It held the great stories of Anansi the Spider, and the Ashanti people. It traveled across the Atlantic and bore witness to atrocity. And despite the years of struggle, it still held magic.
Upon being brought to life, the Black Snowman looked at Jacob and said: “The heavens are black, and the universe is held in it…should we call the earth bad because it is cradled in blackness?”
My hope is that you enjoy your experience of One Sleepy Night – Detroit. Perhaps it will provide you a moment of escape and contribute to your celebration this holiday season. And, perhaps, as you laugh, clap, and sing along, you will find a smile growing across your face – an acknowledgment that this production, that this team, has carried with us the same power from that “magic” Kente cloth.
Thank you to everyone who has worked on this project. Without your energy and spirit, none of this would have been possible.