Oakland Freedom Theater
DISMANTLING SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION THROUGH ART AND EMPATHY
Oakland Freedom Theater is a first-of-it’s kind ensemble of actors, musicians and expert facilitators utilizing art and empathy to dismantle systems of oppression. Centering POC and LGBTQIA+ performers, our company uses playback theater, improvisation and diversity/equity/inclusion frameworks to facilitate listening, resistance and change. Our performances are described as healing, restorative and activating for diverse audiences.
HOW WE STARTED
When the Dismantle Collective put together their Unconference in June 2019, they wanted to dismantle white supremacy through conversation, art and pleasure activism. The keynote speaker kicking off the event for 150 participants at The Impact Hub in Oakland needed to share community agreements, define white supremacy, open folks up and build empathy in the room ...in one hour. The Dismantle Collective knew theater was the way in and charged founding member, Lynn Johnson with producing a performance that could set the tone for the entire conference. In this way, Oakland Freedom Theater was born. Our first performance as an ensemble received a standing ovation to thunderous, tearful applause and culminated in the whole room singing freedom songs. We knew it was just the beginning.
HOW WE WORK
Oakland Freedom Theater works with companies and organizations who want to dismantle the systems of oppression that impact organizational culture and impede creativity. We use a crowdsourced approach, inviting participants in the audience to tell their own stories of diversity, equity and inclusion. Volunteers will be supported to tell their story through an interview process with our Playback conductor. Audience members will then sit back and watch the magic unfold as our actors bring this story to life on stage. The ultimate impact in a playback show is that all audience members build empathy for the story-teller, and are able to connect more deeply to the value of inclusion across the company.
Playback theater is an amazing tool for DEI work because:
It eliminates the shaming and blaming that can occur through polarized storytelling
It activates empathy and dismantles silos across difference
It takes a compassionate low-risk approach to deconstructing complex themes, and fosters vulnerability and action towards change
It sets the stage for authentic organizational change work to occur