The Paradise Theater, now known as Orchestra Hall

DETROIT, MI – The Kresge Foundation has awarded $75,000 to Plowshares Theatre Company in its efforts to commission, develop and produce an original musical about Detroit’s African American experience. The story revolves around the neighborhoods of ‘Black Bottom,’ and Paradise Valley, famous for their vibrant businesses, social institutions, and nightlife. All of it displaced by a federal push for “urban renewal” and an interstate freeway system designed to connect America.

The musical plays out during the 1950s, just prior to the demolition of the two communities, to make way for construction of Interstate-75. Themes explored will be the concept of community, of how identity and place are intertwined to the point where changes or damage to one irrevocably alters the other. Events depicted will foreshadow how a dynamic, exciting Black economic center that had weathered the traumas of the 1943 riot was brought down by a Federal designation as a slum. The story will be seen through the eyes of homeowners, business leaders and the generation of young people who rose to leadership in the late 1960s – early 1970s.

This is a return to form for Plowshares Theatre Company. The company was founded on the idea of cultivating new talent and original works. They have helped develop numerous plays and musicals in the last three decades.

About the Creative Team

The creative team collaborating on this project includes:

Kris Johnson (Musical Score & Arrangements) is an award-winning jazz trumpeter, composer, and educator. Kris is a trumpeter and arranger with the Count Basie Orchestra. He has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious jazz venues including the Apollo Theater, the Blue Note Jazz Club (the US and Japan), Sydney Opera House, Blues Alley, and the Hollywood Bowl. Moreover, he has appeared on an impressive list of albums including two Grammy-nominated releases: Tony Bennett’s “A Swingin’ Christmas” and Karen Clark Sheard’s “All In One.” In 2012, Kris received an ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers award and was selected as a 2014 Kresge Artist Fellowship.

John Sloan III (Book & Lyrics) is an actor, singer, and composer. John is a Detroit native and University of Michigan graduate. His regional theatre credits include appearing in Aida, Show Boat, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Julius X. His Broadway credits include the world premiere production of The Water and the national tour of The Lion King. Today, Sloan is the CEO/Artistic Director for GhostLight Productions Inc. and The Helping Hands Campaign for the Arts. An experienced Event Curator and Production Manager he is the founder of The Legacy Gala, an originally commissioned event for the Fiat Chrysler African American Network.

Artistic Director Gary Anderson will collaborate with the team to develop the piece as well as direct the world premiere production. Anderson has extensive training in new play development. He said: “This award gets us off on the right foot with this project. Plowshares is setting a new course for itself as the home of new play development for African American playwrights and composers. Stories like the demolition of Black Bottom are among the parts of Detroit history that are slowly fading away with each generation. This musical will allow us to keep the names of ancestors and their achievements alive for future generations.

Additionally, this Black Bottom project is just one of several new works Plowshares has been cultivating that you will hear about in the upcoming months. We’ve been pretty busy over the last couple of years. Now we’re ready to pull back the curtain. We are eternally grateful to The Kresge Foundation, their Detroit Team, and Rip Rapson, Kresge CEO and President. The faith and support are priceless.”

The project will begin with a research phase and solicitation of local stories from Detroiters. Local Historian Ken Coleman has been brought on board as a consultant to the project. The current target for the world premiere is in Fall 2021.

About The Kresge Foundation

The Kresge Foundation was founded in 1924 to promote human progress. Today, Kresge fulfills that mission by building and strengthening pathways to opportunity for low-income people in America’s cities, seeking to dismantle structural and systemic barriers to equality and justice. Using a full array of grant, loan, and other investment tools, Kresge invests more than $160 million annually to foster economic and social change. For more information visit

About Plowshares Theatre

Plowshares Theatre Company is dedicated to producing plays that affirm, exhibit, and inspire African American life. They have produced American and world masterpieces, and new plays and musicals. Plowshares Theatre Company is an urban theatre with a distinctly Detroit style. The name of the company is synonymous with its mission: Plowshares is dedicated to “breaking new ground” by nurturing emerging talent, providing challenging opportunities to local artists and presenting new plays that speak to the issues and interests of today’s audiences. Plowshares Theatre Company offers new-play commissions and artistic development activities that support the most adventurous artists in the American theater; invites its audience to be part of the creative process through readings and open rehearsals, and cultivates students and young people to participate in innovative arts-education programs and become a new generation of theatergoers. The company began producing in 1990 and has received a number of local awards and accolades.

Additional information about the company and programming in the 2020 Season is available online at or by emailing


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