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Sing! Of a Tree in Detroit: A Cantastoria Show about Death and Transformation 

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The tree is the original historian. Before humans turned bark into paper to write our stories, or carved wood into drums to play our songs, trees told the story of time just by the changing of their leaves. It is the ancestor from which our life originates, the keeper of sacred knowledge. In Senegal’s Bandia Reserve, for instance, an ancient baobab tree stands as the burial site of revered local storytellers, or jelis. So the jelis are returned to the mother of all storytellers. 


The “Tree Crankie” was constructed from a Zelkova tree found dying on the Charles Wright Museum campus. It has been reformed as the site of storytelling and uplifted as a storyteller in its own right. 


It is the focus of the show “Sing! Of a Tree in Detroit”, centered as both subject and narrator in an unfolding story about Detroit. By using wood from a tree that lived in Detroit, the performance tells a deeply personal story that this wood has felt and experienced firsthand. 


Through “Sing! Of a Tree in Detroit”, the audience is encouraged to consider the interconnection of humans and trees facing environmental and social crises in Detroit. Just as we endure harsh conditions such as polluted air and flooding waters, the tree weathers these elements, too. What can we learn about resilience and survival from the tree? How can we transform our story by learning from the tree? 

A Note About the Show: 


“Sing! Of a Tree in Detroit” is a cantastoria. Cantastoria, Italian for “story-singer,” is a theatrical folk art form dating back to 6th Century India that has subsequently spread across the world. It typically involves a performer telling or singing a story while gesturing at a series of painted images. “Sing! Of a Tree in Detroit” combines both painted banners and a picture scroll or “crankie” installed as a theatre stage, or window, inside a tree. Picture scrolls called “emakimono” date back in use to 8th Century Japanese monks who performed with these pictorial aids to recount the histories of the monasteries.  


This recording of “Sing! Of a Tree in Detroit'' is taken from a performance at the Detroit Cantastoria Festival 2021 organized by Flying Cardboard Theatre (Jason Hicks and Lindsay McCaw) at St Peter's Episcopal Church in Detroit. The festival presented 12 cantastoria shows by Detroit artists. “Sing! Of a Tree in Detroit'' was a collaborative effort featuring performers Oliver Pookrum, Katey Carey, Kristi Ternes, James Abbot, and Zach Kolodziej, as well as musicians Jason Hicks, Lindsay McCaw, Joel Jackson, and Aaron Jonah Lewis. 

Many Thanks:


This project was made as a cohort member of the d.tree studio program through a partnership of the Charles Wright African American Museum and the College for Creative Studies. Thank you to the instructors, facilitators, woodshop coordinators and guest speakers who helped drive the concepts and woodworking techniques to make this possible.

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