JPAS Theatre Kids! presents Once On This Island. Adapted from the celebrated Broadway musical, this rousing Calypso-flavored tale follows one small girl who finds love in a world of prejudice. Through almost non-stop song and dance, this full-hearted musical tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl who rescues and falls in love with Daniel, a wealthy boy from the other side of her island. When Daniel is returned to his people, the fantastical gods who rule the island guide Ti Moune on a quest that will test the strength of her love against the powerful forces of prejudice, hatred and even death.
Gason Ayisyin generously provided insight on Haitian culture and history for the lessons in this Companion. An accomplished New Orleans-based photographer Gason Ayisyin immigrated to the United States as a young child from Haiti. He has done extensive research on the customs and culture of his country. More about Gason Ayisyin and his work can be found here: https://catalystcollective.weebly.com/gason-ayisyin.html
The musical Once On This Island is adapted from the 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl by Rosa Guy, a writer from Trinidad. Rosa Guy received several awards for her writing, including the Coretta Scott King Award, The New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year citation and the American Library Association\'s Best Book Award. For My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl Ms. Guy reimagined Hans Christian Andersen\'s fairy tale The Little Mermaid, setting it on an island in the Caribbean.
Adapted from Ms. Guy’s novel, Once On This Island takes place on the island of Haiti, the Jewel of the Antilles. The population of Haiti is almost entirely descended from formerly enslaved Africans. In Haiti, colonial rule and enslavement were synonymous.
Haiti won its independence from France on November 18, 1803 at the Battle of Vertieres, the last battle for Haitian Independence. Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared independence and restored the country’s original name Ayiti, or Haiti, on January 1, 1804, making it the second country in the Americas, after the United States, to free itself from colonial rule. Ayiti or Haiti was the original name given to the entire island by the Tiano, the indigenous people of the island. Some writings say the meaning is “Mountainous Land.” Tianos would translate the name to say “The land that allows you to go within, so that you can access the best/highest you.”
The background and lessons in the Study Companion highlight the production of Once On This Island recently featured on Broadway. To develop the designs for the Broadway production of Once On This Island Director Michael Arden and Costume Designer Clint Ramos traveled to Haiti to investigate the impact of recent historical events on the Haitian people and their social customs. Haiti is recovering from two tremendous disasters, an earth quake that devastated the country in 2010 and the ravages Hurricane Matthew left in its wake in 2016. Both Mr. Arden and Mr. Ramos were struck by the resilience of the Haitian people in the aftermath of these disasters, particularly in evidence in their social custom of transformation. They saw this custom of transformation everywhere. Make use of everything that is available, nothing is discarded. Instead, it is transformed into something that can be used again. Mr. Arden and Mr. Ramos decided a critical piece of storytelling would be to incorporate this resilience into the designs for Once On This Island.
Theatrical designers use a variety of methods to develop designs. These methods often include extensive research, research of social customs, historical events and time periods, movements in art (ie: realism, impressionism, cubism, etc.,) and specific artists that created work during these art movements. Costume and set designer Clint Ramos derived his inspiration from reality and the fantastical, crafting his costume designs for Once On This Island from the intersection of Haitian history and mythology.
Haitian deities or Loas/Lwas have their origins in indigenous Tiano traditions and African traditions, particularly the traditions of the Edo of Benin, Asante in Ghana and the Yoruba of Nigeria. Haitians believe Loas/Lwas are guiding spirits similar to angels. Each Haitian Loas/Lwas has a symbol that represents them. Their symbols, or Vévés, are derived from West African symbols, including Adinkra symbols developed by the Asante in Ghana.
In Characters and Symbols students will students will become familiar with the plot and characters of Once On This Island, look at a map of the Caribbean to identify both where author Rosa Guy was from and identify the setting for Once on This Island, look at a map of Africa to identify the countries where some elements of Haitian culture originated, learn about four Adinkra symbols, their meanings and possible connection to the Haitian deities or Loas/Lwas featured in Once On This Island and choose one of the Adinkra symbols to color.
In Measurement, Ratio, Proportion and Costume Design students will investigate the ideas behind Clint Ramos’ costume designs for the Broadway production of Once On This Island, learn about local Louisiana efforts to transform trash and natural things found in the environment and develop their own costume designs using measurement and recycled materials. (NOTE: this lesson can build off of the cultural investigated in Characters and Symbols. This lesson is designed to be taught over two days. The first day focuses on researching background information on the costumes designed for the Broadway production of Once On This Island. The second day, inspired by this research, students will create their own costume designs. Prior to the second day students will need to collect recycled materials as they will use these materials to create their costume designs. )
Lyrics, Map Making and Ti Moune’s Journey guides students as they explore the journey of the main character in Once On This Island and use Cartesian coordinates to invent possible paths for this journey. In both the novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl and the stage musical Once On This Island Ti Moune, a beautiful young woman, is the protagonist. Ti Moune is an adventurous, compassionate and courageous young woman who was saved from a flood as a small child. She believes she has been chosen by the Haitian Gods for a special destiny. Ti Moune goes on a journey in pursuit of this destiny. In Haitian tradition, Haitian deities or Loas/Lwas are guiding spirits similar to angels. In this lesson students will read the opening scene of Once On This Island, learn about some of the characters, investigate the lyrics for the song Mama Will Provide (the song of Ti Moune’s journey,) read about aspects of Haitian society that relate to the musical, look at maps of Haiti (population and topographical,) review Cartesian coordinates and use Cartesian coordinates to plot different points on a map of Haiti. Students will then use Cartesian coordinates to identify and plot different locations on their map to create possible routes for Ti Moune’s journey from Fort Liberté in Nord Est/Northern Haiti to Pétion-Ville, a wealthy suburb southeast of Port-au-Prince.
In Once On This Island and Resilience students will investigate the ideas behind Clint Ramos’ costume designs for the Broadway production of Once On This Island, reflect on what it means to be resilient, and create an essay that chronicles either a personal event or a time in history when there was a group of people who were able to become “their best/highest self,” able to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happened.
Students will reflect on John James Audubon’s connection to New Orleans in Haiti and John James Audubon, learn about Audubon’s connection to the setting for the musical Once On This Island and complete a color sheet inspired by the work of this famed naturalist.