There are some moments in Miami history that we all know: The 10 days that Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped our islands in pink. The day the Mariel boatlift arrived. When the Dolphins clinched their perfect season in 1972. The night that Elian Gonzalez was removed from his family’s home in Miami.
February 25, 1964 – the night that Cassius Clay (soon to be Muhammad Ali) defeated World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston on Miami Beach – should be on that list, too. It changed not just Miami, but the whole U.S.
But few Miamians know the story of that night or what happened when Clay headed to the Hampton House Motel in Brownsville after the fight (back then Miami was still segregated, and African-Americans weren’t allowed to stay in hotels in Miami Beach). His friends Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown were all gathered there to celebrate Clay’s win.
Miami New Drama is here to change that with its latest play, “One Night in Miami,” which is directed by New World School of the Arts alum Carl Cofield. The playwright takes a guess at what happened that night and how it changed the trajectory of all their lives.
We talked with Artistic Director Michel Hausman about what this play means in 2018, and how to #livelikeyoulivehere in the local arts scene.
On what’s so special about the night depicted in the play:
Michel points to the very specific time in American history that sets the scene for the night the play showcases: “This is 1964. The voting rights act had not passed yet. Miami was still legally segregated, as half the country was.”
That night was also a major spark for change: “This is the night that changed the lives of Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X … We don’t know what happened that night, really, but we do know the events that happened after that night.”
Cassius Clay changed his name to Cassius X and then to Muhammad Ali within a few weeks. Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam shortly after that night and was killed about a year later. Sam Cooke’s album “Ain’t that Good News” was released the next month with his iconic hit “A Change is Gonna Come.” And Jim Brown retired from the NFL just a few years later to focus on social activism and an acting career.
On producing this play five years after it was written:
Michel actually sees the delay as a good thing: “I’m actually very thankful that it took until 2018 for us to produce it. In 2013, you saw this play and it really was a historical piece [because the race issues depicted really seemed to be in the past]. … In 2013 a black man was president… but suddenly producing it in 2018, where we have a bigot who’s the president, Black Lives Matter became a movement, Colin Kaepernick… history is repeating itself. It feels like this is the moment for the play to be produced.”
On the role theater can play in getting us to talk about our challenges:
“We do theater because we believe that theater can transform the world. Period. However I feel that we’ve underused it in this country. We’ve divorced it from politics… Theater needs to have a bite,” Michel says.
He also sees plenty of parallels between the history the play shows and conversations we still need to have in Miami: “This play needs to remind people, ‘Yes, we’re a very transient city… but… the African-American community has been here forever and if we don’t understand what they’ve been through, we can’t be good neighbors.’ …
Miami Beach it has changed dramatically, but we still have Memorial Day Weekend, aka Urban Beach Week. You have a lot of residents and leaders bending over backwards [to explain] why we shouldn’t have it without trying to sound racist. It’s impossible to not see it intertwined with the history of our community.”
He points to Miami’s unique standing as a large “minority-majority” city as an opportunity to push for more inclusion: “Tribalism happens when we don’t have a feeling of community, of neighbors. The theater can help that. We can put a story that needs to be told, have people talk about it. We can force that conversation.”
On what three arts and cultural experiences every local should have (Other than attending a show at Miami New Drama!)
NuDeco Ensemble: “Especially if it’s at the Miami Light Box where Beth Boone curates an extraordinary space. The music of Nu Deco is exactly an example of how you can create a musical movement that feels and smells like Miami.”
New World Symphony’s WALLCAST or a movie at Soundscape Park: “That is where community happens. It’s 2,000 people who otherwise would not share the same space, and they’re doing it to enjoy art.”
The O, Miami Poetry Festival in April: “We have an opportunity to transform the narrative of a city, and that rarely happens, and it’s really cool to be a part of it.”
Want to catch “One Night in Miami” after reading this? It’s showing Saturday, Oct. 27 through Nov. 18.