Little Children Dream of God

Little Children Dream of God: Haitian Vodou


LCDOG-150x150In Little Children Dream of God, as Sula begins her new life in America, she is haunted by memories about her past in Haiti. These include her connection to, and possible misuse of, Vodou practices. Sula is the daughter of a Manbo (a female Vodou priest) and is able to talk to spirits. Today, Haitian Vodou is practiced by millions of people, both within and outside of Haiti, yet it is widely misunderstood by outsiders.

Vodou in Haiti is not a religion and is not experienced in churches, nor does it have a central organization or set commandments. Rather, Vodou can be seen as a body of practices used to connect with spirits, deities, and deceased ancestors. It developed among the West African slaves who were first transported by the Spanish in the early 16th century. Passed on as an oral tradition, Vodou offered enslaved people a way to find a common identity and connect to their cultural heritage when so much had been taken away. Note that the Haitian spelling of “vodou” differs from American “voodoo”; the spellings signify that these are distinct practices, and New Orleans voodoo comes from a different tradition.

The Bwa Kayiman ceremony in August 1791 was an important event in Haiti’s history. Slave leaders gathered together, sacrificed a black pig to an important spirit, and drank its blood as a pact to achieve their freedom. The ceremony launched the Revolution that ended slavery in Haiti in 1804 (almost 60 years before the emancipation of slaves in the United States) and established the country as the world’s first black republic.

Vodou is practiced within communities called sosyetes or “houses.” Each house may have its own unique ways to practice. Female priestesses are called Manbos, and male priests are Houngan. Many Haitians are Roman Catholic, and as a result of beginnings under Catholic colonizers, many Vodou activities are combined with Catholic rites.

Vodou altar with offerings to three nations

Vodou altar with offerings to three nations

While it is not a religion, practicing Vodouisants do share some central beliefs: foremost is the concept of a single creator God, called Bondye. For Catholic practitioners, Bondye is equated with the Christian God. Most Vodou ceremonies begin with worship to Bondye. However, the true purpose is to serve (as opposed to worship) the Lwa (or Loa) -- the pantheon of spirits and lesser deities who co-exist with Bondye. Most of these spirits are connected to West Africa, but some relate to the indigenous Taino people who inhabited Haiti before Columbus. Some Haitian spirits are also served, including black leaders Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines. The proliferation and veneration of Lwa is similar to the various saints of the Catholic religion.

Vodouisants view bad events as a sign from the spiritual world that something is out of balance and needs to be corrected. By consulting with one of the Lwa, a person can try to understand the problem and address it. Many individuals identify with a specific Lwa whom they believe has chosen them. Lwa are served in ritual ceremonies and on altars in homes. Offerings might include food, pictures, flowers, lamps, weapons, bottles, and colorful fabrics that could attract the spirits. Lwa may be consulted for healing, advice, or divination, and they may communicate with their servants through dreams, as experienced by Sula, or temporary trance possessions.

Vodou ceremony in Jacmel, Haiti.

Vodou ceremony in Jacmel, Haiti.

Trance possessions by Lwa are conducted by Houngans and Manbos during communal ceremonies. A spirit temporarily inhabits or “rides” a Vodouisant, using the body to eat, drink, dance, give advice, and participate in celebrations. The Lwa are almost always invited; possessions are temporary and can be dismissed by the Manbo. It is not known which participant a spirit will choose to ride, and the person is not considered superior within the community because of the possession.

The practice of animal sacrifice developed from the need to offer meat to some of the Lwa. Many Haitians still live in rural areas without access to supermarkets and processed meat products. It is typical to raise and slaughter animals for subsistence, and on occasion, to reserve animals for Vodou celebrations. Today, these sacrifices are rare, and when they do occur, animals are treated humanely and butchered by trained Manbos and Houngans with as little pain and suffering as possible.

Since the arrival of Columbus, Haitian people have endured a history fraught with turmoil, violence, corruption, and poverty. Haitians often had reason to be distrustful of government and police, and in rural areas, the Houngans and Manbos helped to maintain order for their people. President Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971, associated himself with Vodou, but many other rulers in the 19th and 20th centuries made the practices illegal. After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, some critics alleged the disaster was a “punishment” for years of Vodou practices. Some Vodouisants were not allowed to bury their dead or hold memorials after the earthquake.

In the United States, KOSANBA, a scholarly association for the study of Haitian Vodou, was established at the Center for Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their declaration, formulated in 1997, asserts that “Vodou plays, and shall continue to play, a major role in the grand scheme of Haitian development and in the socio-economic, political, and cultural arenas. Development, when real and successful, always comes from the modernization of ancestral traditions, anchored in the rich cultural expressions of a people.”

Watch a video about Vodou practice today.



Little Children Dream of God plays through April 5 at the Black Box Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Little Children Dream of God, Roundabout Underground


Interview With Actress Carra Patterson


Carra Patterson

Education Dramaturg Ted Sod interviews actor Carra Patterson from Little Children Dream of God.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Where did you get your acting training?
Carra Patterson:
I was born in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My mother was only 16 when I was born, so she was a teenage parent, but she took my brother and me to college with her, so I spent many of my early years growing up on a college campus.  Education was always very important in our household. We eventually settled in Atlanta, Georgia, which is where I attended college. I got my bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University and my MFA from NYU’s graduate acting department.


TS: I’m curious why you chose to do the role of Sula in Little Children Dream of God. What was it that spoke to you?
It’s such a beautiful role. Jeff Augustin, the playwright, did a great job of just writing a juicy, rich role. And as a young black actress, you don’t find that many roles of this caliber to be honest. It’s such a gift. At first glance, Sula seems like this beautiful, delicate, almost virginal character, but she’s a fighter. And there is nothing pretty about her past or her journey. Sula is not a victim who’s helpless and depressed. She’s a fighter who is literally clawing her way out of her painful past. I love that complexity, and that’s what I’m looking forward to exploring during rehearsals.


TS: I just saw a TV interview with Meryl Streep, who said she reads a lot of scripts and she knows it’s the right one because her heart starts beating faster. Did something like that happen to you when you were reading Little Children Dream of God?
Oh, definitely. There is this final moment in the play – and I don’t want to reveal too much – where Sula finally confronts her past. I remember the first time I read it aloud, it was so visceral, I could literally feel the drums and the rhythm of the language, almost like a trance. There are so many moments in this play where you don’t know if it’s a dream or a nightmare. I look forward to bringing those moments to life and seeing how they translate from the page to the stage.


TS: What type of research do you have to do to start on this role?
Lots! I am not Haitian, so I am pretty much reading everything I can get my hands on. Although the play is set in Miami, it’s very much a story about Haiti; its culture is very important to the world of this play. There’s no way I can truly understand Sula’s journey without an exploration of Haitian art, spirituality, and traditions.


TS: I know you haven’t started rehearsal yet, but what do you think the play is about?
In a way, the title says it all. Children come into this world full of innocence and possibility, and somewhere along the way, it gets lost. I think every character in the play is trying to recover a sense of hope. I definitely think that’s what Sula is wrestling with throughout the story. Every parent wants his or her child to have a better life, and Sula wants her son to hold on to the innocence that she’s lost.


TS: What style do you think the play is written in?
What I love about Jeff’s writing is that on one hand it has a magical, dreamlike quality and then in the next moment, it switches to a tone that’s edgy and straightforward. I love how the writing vacillates between those two worlds at any given moment.


TS: How do you see the relationship between Sula and Carolyn?
I love Carolyn’s character. She seems to be a symbol of motherhood. However, Carolyn is not the typical mother…she has 11 children, who we never meet in the play. But she also seems to nurture many of the characters in the play in one way or another. I think Sula admires this quality in Carolyn, and sometimes that terrifies her. Between motherhood and her relationship to God, Carolyn represents almost everything Sula is running away from.


Deirdre O'Connell (Carolyn) and Carra Patterson (Sula). Photo by Walter McBride.

TS: What about Sula and Joel? That’s a very complex relationship.
I think Sula and Joel are teachers for one another. While they both are trying to recover the ability to dream, Sula also forces Joel to embrace his Haitian roots -- the language and the traditions he’s lost touch with. Joel is trying to encourage Sula to create a new history for herself and her son. Sula and Joel push each other and force one another to face their fears.


TS: How would you describe Sula’s relationship to Haiti?
Well, although Sula is running from the pain of mistakes she made in Haiti, she loves her home. She forces Joel and Madison to reflect on their own loss of connection with Haiti. Even though she’s running from the life she had, she carries the beauty of the culture with her, and that’s where the conflict lies with Sula.  In order for her to move forward and create a better future for her son, she still has to confront the mistakes and the pain of her past…something we all have to do at some point.


TS: How do you like to collaborate with the director?
I love when there’s a true collaboration process between the actors and the director to tell the story. There are all kinds of directors, and I have definitely had experiences where it doesn’t feel collaborative at all. Sometimes directors know exactly what they want and it’s your job to just do that. Luckily I know the way Gio works, and I am so excited to get started on this journey.


TS: Have you worked with Giovanna Sardelli, the director, before?
I have. She taught me at NYU during my first year, and it was great. Every time we’ve seen each other since, we always say, “I can’t wait to work with you!” And now it’s happened. I think a true collaborative process is about trust – the actors trusting the vision of the director, the director trusting the ability, interpretation, and input of the actors. I absolutely believe that I’ll have that with Gio. And because she also started as an actor first, I know she knows how to communicate with actors in a way that enhances the collaborative process.


TS: You mentioned doing a table read of this play. Do you have a history with the project?
About a year ago, I had the opportunity to do a reading of this play. It was  last minute, so I had to dive in right away. By the end, I was blown away by the story and by the journey that Sula takes. That’s when I fell in love with this play. And I was looking forward to the opportunity to audition for it all year.

Little Children Dream of God begins previews at the Black Box Theatre January 24. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Little Children Dream of God, Little Children Dream of God, Roundabout Underground, Uncategorized, Upstage

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About Little Children Dream of God


LCDOG-150x150The new play Little Children Dream of God begins previews this week at Roundabout Underground’s Black Box Theatre.

I’m so happy to be adding Jeff Augustin to the roster of playwrights who have seen their work premiere with us at Roundabout Underground. Jeff is truly an exciting talent to be introducing to New York audiences. With this play, he has created a beautifully complete world that feels both utterly real and surprisingly fantastical, in which paying the rent can contain as much drama as floating hundreds of miles on only a tire. And we believe in this world because Jeff has populated it with rich and compelling characters whose dreams both big and small will stay with you.

Jeff began to write Little Children Dream of God after talking to his mother about her experience moving their family from her native Haiti to Florida before Jeff was born. The care with which Jeff has conjured both Haiti and its traditions is evident on every page of the script. He takes us deep into questions about the immigrant experience, about what it means to leave a culture behind, about what we gain and lose when deciding to be “American.” But he’s also crafted a powerful story above love and the particular love that a parent has for a child. Most movingly, Jeff asks us to consider not just what a parent can give to a child but what that child owes in return, no matter their age. What will our legacy be?

One legacy that I know will live on is that of our dear friend James Rebhorn. Jim passed away in 2014 shortly after completing performances in Meghan Kennedy’s Too Much, Too Much, Too Many at Roundabout Underground. He was a great talent and a true gentleman. Everyone at Roundabout feels so honored to have been a part of his final work, in a play that he took great pride in bringing to life. We would like to dedicate this season of Roundabout Underground performances to the memory of Jim Rebhorn.

I started Roundabout Underground to give a home to talented emerging playwrights, and am proud to have Jeff onboard as our first playwright-in-residence thanks to support from the Tow Foundation. As we enter the eighth season of this program, I can’t help but marvel at the ever-growing list of playwrights, directors, actors, and designers who have found a home in the Black Box Theatre and then been launched into hugely successful careers. From a Pulitzer finalist to a pair of Tony winners, to more Broadway debuts than I can count, it’s been hugely gratifying to watch these artists attain such success.

I hope that you enjoy Little Children Dream of God, and I am eager to hear your thoughts on this world premiere play.  Please email me at to share your response to this work.

Todd Haimes
Artistic Director

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Little Children Dream of God, Little Children Dream of God, Roundabout Underground

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