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July 10, 2018

Kevin Jones: Sparking Social Dialogue Through Theatre
Category: 2018 Event, News, Speaker Announcements

option 10                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             “It would be easy to talk about my education, or the many different jobs I’ve had, but those things aren’t the compelling part of my journey. I’ve arrived at this point in my life by studying what it means to be a functioning and actualized human being with all the foibles and flaws inherent in that.”

Kevin Jones has led a life full of transformational experiences. He is fascinated by living systems, communication, and societal dynamics. He has focused on the intricacies of humanity and community, keeping in mind that to discover the catalyst for change within a society, it is important to understand how systems and societies work.

“All systems, including all living things, do the same three things: Protect, Expand and Evolve. Protect: the status quo, homeostasis, preserve what is known and/or sacred, defend against threat, invest in familiar values, beliefs and behaviors. Marginalize difference. Stabilizing function. Expand: differences emerge, disturbances, instability, discomfort, new information enters the system, new ways of doing things begin to get established, learning, some ways of doing things are let go. Evolve: innovation, adaptation to the emerging environment, new ways of doing things, new values, beliefs, habits and patterns.”

What makes Kevin unique is his approach to social change. He believes that the way we talk about social change in America sorts people into categories. “Right and wrong, good and bad. I don’t believe in that,” he says. “I’m not interested in placing blame; I’m interested in figuring out how to open people up to be receptive to change.”

He explains that when blame is placed on an individual, it’s a human instinct to feel threatened, get defensive, and stop listening. That’s where the dialogue ends. “If we’re going to have a dialogue, we have to circumvent those walls of protection, which can’t happen if we’re in the business of pointing fingers.”

Kevin is the co-founder, Artistic Director, and CEO of the August Wilson Red Door Project, a Portland based non-profit with a focus on changing the racial ecology of Portland through the arts. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri in 2013, the New Black Fest commissioned the writing and production of Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments, a series of seven autobiographical monologues by black playwrights that are true stories about their experiences with police profiling. In 2016, The Red Door Project continued the movement in Portland. They produced and started touring with their own version of Hands Up. “We believe that art has the power to bypass some of those protective walls we all put up. It connects on an emotional level, and gives the audience an opportunity to step into someone else’s experience.” The response from the community was tremendous. “What started as a short run of 6 shows has become a multi-year tour that has now been witnessed by over 10,000 people.”

One of the most interesting and moving things that Jones noticed was that some of the people who were willing to start a dialogue about the series were police officers. “A few police officers came to see the show, and they talked about it with anyone who would listen. A few more came, and a few reached out to begin a relationship that I never imagined. And now we are producing a show comprised of police monologues. “

Through the Red Door Project, Kevin has been working on a new production based on the same model used for Hands Up. The new production is called Cop Out, and the goal is to push police to evolve by opening a dialogue and addressing their concerns. “We’re focusing on their struggles, their unresolved pain, their personal conflicts and their humanity with a conviction that without a mirror we can’t see who we are. This is not a new idea to artists. To quote Shakespeare from Hamlet: ‘Art holds the mirror up to nature.’”

At TEDxMtHood 2018, Kevin will be talking about the ways in which our current dialogue around race is flawed and what the Red Door Project is doing to change the conversation into a more productive and focused discussion.

Emma Moorhead