In 1963, the book The Snowy Day, by writer and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats was released and made history by becoming the first children’s book to feature an African American as the main character.
The story features a little boy name Peter, who explores the neighborhood after the first snow of the season. The wonder and delight of experiencing snow for the first time is seen through the eyes of a child. At one point, Peter was so overjoyed after throwing snowballs and sliding that he came home to tell his mother. That’s when he realizes that the snowball he brought home in his pants pocket had turned to water.
The Friday, February 12 production of The Snowy Day at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) was filled with lots of fun family humor. Joining Peter on his sometimes comical journey is his friend Archie, who helps Peter flee from bullies, but offers no help when Peter tries with every breath he owns to whistle. Peter tries several times until he falls out, which drew laughter from the children in the audience.
The play — which is only 55 minutes long and without an intermission — kept the kids in the audience engaged and laughing as they lived vicariously through Peter. When Peter was trying to learn how to whistle, more than a handful of children in the audience began to demonstrate how it’s done. Peter finally figures it out and surprises his dog and the children in the audience, who seemed relieved.
Peter was played by actor Mikell Sapp, (2015, IVY Awards Emerging Artist Winner) in person and as a shadow puppet (operating both the mannerisms and voice of the puppet).
Actress Joy Dolo, making her acting debut, played mom/Amy/Archie, while CTC’s resident company actor Dean Holt handled the roles of dad/Pepe/Willie/Boys. The transitions from the actors turning puppeteer and back to humans was seamless. After the production, many of the children rushed to the stage so they could meet the actors, and get a closer look at the shadow puppets.
Dolo told the MSR that when the cast first started working with the script, they learned a little bit about Keats’ isolated childhood growing up in New York. Dolo said that many of the situations and characters in Keats’ books come from his neighborhood experiences. Keats, a White author and illustrator, spent time avoiding bullies by working on his designs and writing.
The MSR also spoke with Sapp about how it felt to play the lead role as Peter: “This was awesome!” he replied. “It was an excellent opportunity for me to showcase the first book to feature an African American boy as the lead role at the Children’s Theatre Company. It’s great. I’m sure it’s going to inspire a lot of people.”
The Story Day runs until March 20 at the Children’s Theatre Company. Go here for more information.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.