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Breaking the conversational ice on race and poverty

Actors from the Pillsbury House Theatre perform a scene from “Breaking Ice,” a production created to generate dialogue about race and poverty. (Photo by Aaron Fenster)

A group is coming to Duluth to break the ice – but not in the way that you might think.

“Breaking Ice” has nothing to do with our northern Minnesota weather. Instead the Minneapolis-based theatre production will focus on getting businesspeople and employers to talk about race and poverty.

“The goal is to generate productive dialogue, to get people thinking to create positive change in their environment,” said Noel Raymond, co-artistic director at the Pillsbury House Theatre.

Pillsbury House Theatre developed the interactive theater experience to help organizations meet the challenges within the workplace.

“Normally a business would identify key issues they’ve noticed in their business or group. Then we use drama to show how these issues play out,” Raymond said.

One of the key issues for the performance at the Underground on Weds., April 30 will be the emerging racial diversity in Duluth’s workforce. After the 35- minute performance, there will be a facilitated discussion to address what viewers saw.

“After seeing the performance, we open up conversation about the issues that would generally be hard to talk about. Often people find it easier to discuss after the show,” Raymond said.

The performance is presented to Duluth area businesses, human resource personnel and others free of charge by the YWCA through a grant from the St. Paul Foundation and local sponsors.

“Breaking Ice” has been presented to major businesses such as Best Buy, Cargill and Xcel Energy in addition to universities, human service organizations, hospitals and governmental departments.

“We were fortunate to have “Breaking Ice” perform at our ascena Retail Group’s annual leadership meeting in New York last year. It was a moving performance that clearly illustrated the themes that were critical for our leadership to focus on with our associates and our company,” said Kim Hall, senior manager of human resources, ascena Retail Group, Inc.

It has also been presented in a number of businesses and organizations in Duluth. Most recently it was presented to a Head Start program on April 18.

“We’ve been to Duluth quite a few times in the past few years. There seems to be an appetite to bring forward conversation there right now,” Raymond said.

“We hope to fill the Underground and have members of the community take back what they learn to their businesses and organizations,” said Linda Riddle, one of the event organizers.

Riddle is part of The Table, which describes itself as “a coalition of engaged citizens who are organizing to promote racial equity in the community, provide resources for understanding and action, and facilitate dialogue and partnerships that result in fundamental, systemic change toward racial justice.”

The Table is made up of emerging Action Tables that address inequities in the community. This particular event was created by the Employment Action Table which formed in August of last year. Other local sponsors include Essentia, ascena, Boldt Construction, St. Louis County Health and Human Services, the African American Men’s Group and the NAACP.

Refreshments will be provided at 5 p.m. by At Sara’s Table, the Duluth Grill, Kwik Trip, Grandma’s Restaurant and Whole Foods Co-op. “Breaking Ice” will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a facilitated discussion following the 35-minute performance.

While business leaders and employers are encouraged to attend and send staff teams, the event is open to the public and all are welcome. RSVP to or go to Employment Table Duluth on Facebook. For more information, call Linda at 218-722-7431, ext. 25.

If you go

What: Breaking Ice

Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St., in the Depot

When: 5 p.m. Wed., April 30

Cost: Free

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176