It Can Happen Here: Episode One is a dramatic comedy developed over the span of the year of the QCA commission from November 2017 through the summer of 2018. Sloan created characters inspired by stories gathered in the greater Jamaica and Southeastern Queens neighborhoods through storytelling workshops, interviews with community members and old-fashioned conversations over dinner, lunch and breakfast.
This new piece was commissioned by the Queens Council on the Arts’ inaugural Artist Commissioning Program (ACP), which provides local choreographers, playwrights and composers with funding towards the creation and production of original work. Selected for her project’s capacity to tell untold stories in American art, Sloan was one of four artists chosen from nearly 100 applications for the inaugural award in theatre and playwriting. ACP provides local choreographers, playwrights and composers with funding towards the creation and production of original work. The focus of this new initiative, funded by the Scherman Foundation’s Rosin Fund, is to produce new, significant works of art that diversity the American canon, as well as build a growing culture of arts support in Queens.
It Can Happen Here, is a reference to the Sinclair Lewis novel, It Can’t Happen Here, which chronicled the fictitious election of a power-hungry politician who stirred up fear by promising a return to patriotism. Judith comes from a lineage of Jewish refugees. Growing up, she often heard the phrase “it can’t happen here,” referring to Hitler and the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust.
For nine months, Sloan — award-winning playwright/actor and longtime chronicler of Queens (Crossing the BLVD, 1001 Voices: Symphony for a New America) — talked with residents of Southeastern Queens about our hopes, fears, and aspirations. “What struck me over and over were stories of love and support that often fly under the radar in times of extreme duress. I decided to zoom in on conversations between women. Like the novel, It Can’t Happen Here, my play is inspired by real events,” says Sloan.
In It Can Happen Here, two hairdressers—one black, one white—in an ever-changing neighborhood in Queens, embark on a new dream.They follow their passion for singing and nurturing a community in the midst of a national political climate of chaos, division and autocracy. Through their journey they reveal stories of their customers, family members and neighbors, including a DACA recipient, an immigration lawyer, and an older man who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy.
“Judith Sloan’s project, It Can Happen Here, is a universal tale that seamlessly landscapes itself into the heart of Jamaica, Queens. Sloan’s new musical play is timely, relevant, reflective and inventive in the way that it explores the socio-economic circumstances of multi-ethnic communities with generational differences. It brilliantly hones in on what we all know to be true: that ultimately, we are all far more similar than we are different.”— Brendez Wineglass, QCA ACP Art Producer and Project Manager for Jamaica Is.
“One of the most significant aspects of Judith Sloan’s artistic expression for me was the community/interview process she undertook to inform some of the stories for It Can Happen Here. Her work is Queens-specific, presenting my immigrant reality, as she holds up a mirror to social and political American culture as a voice of the unheard.” Mala Desai, QCA ACP Art Producer and Artistic Director of Mala’s School of Odissi Dance.