Playback theater group hands the stage over to Jews of color

District Community Playback
District Community Playback (Courtesy of District Community Playback)

“Jewish Institutions: This Is What Jewish People of Color Need You to Know,” is not the typical musical or comedy you might find at a theater.

The actors in the show will perform anecdotes based on memories shared by the Jews of color in attendance. This online, improv experience, put on by District Community Playback on Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m., is free and open to all. It has been sponsored by multiple Jewish Baltimore organizations.

District Community Playback is a theater company that does playback theater, a type of performance where audience members share stories and then pick cast members to “play back” the stories.

“It’s experiential in nature,” said Harriette Wimms, who had the initial idea for the program and reached out to District Community Playback about putting it on. “I wanted there to be an opportunity for Jews of color and their stories of tribulation and triumphs to be highlighted, not only for JOCs but also for their allies. Playback theater is a therapeutic modality.”

As a psychologist, Wimms believes watching a story can affect someone in a more permanent way than hearing or reading the story.

District Community Playback usually performs in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, where they are more well-known. However, Wimms hopes that with this performance they will gain new fans and friends in Baltimore.

Wimms did not want the event to be theater of the oppressed. Rather, she wanted it to highlight the positive experiences of Jews of color and the joys of being Black and Jewish.

The performance will include musicians. Deborah Zavos, who described playback as “improv with a soul,” will conduct the performance that evening. She said the performance will start with short-form expressions and continue with longer stories from the audience. The actors do not know what those stories will be in advance.

“To even think that I could imagine what their stories will be is white privilege and white centering,” said Zavos, who is a white-skinned Jew. “This is a night for white-skinned Jews to listen and not to share. It’s a visceral learning.”

The stage is a unique opportunity for this kind of learning.

“It’s not just an intellectual perspective but an experience from the heart,” Zavos said. “When your body is engaged, there is a cellular knowing and understanding.”

Gregory Ford, an actor in the show who is Black, agreed that in general no one can know what to expect from this kind of performance. He does imagine some people will be nervous to share their experiences but hopes that it can bring understanding.

Ford said he hopes Jewish guests will be more aware of the overt similarities between themselves and others who share their religion yet have different backgrounds.

“The worldwide relationship between white and Black people will be on people’s minds. But there’s no way to know what to expect,” he said. “I don’t think we can predict what will happen. And it’s a bit hopeful to think, ‘Oh, people will be changed from this.’ The only thing I am sure will happen is that, when people come together, there are always connections made.”

Those interested can register at

Carolyn Conte is a former staff writer of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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