Triad residents Ron Jones and Andy Schlosberg are using their comedic talents to tackle a societal issue that is anything but funny – prejudice.
Jones, an Emmy winning actor and Winston-Salem resident, began his journey with “The Black Jew Dialogues” nearly a decade ago, traveling the world performing the show he co-created with Larry Jay Tish.
“The BJD,” which has been especially popular on college campuses, uses improvisations and skits to encourage dialogue about prejudices that African Americans, Jews and countless other minority groups face on a daily basis in America.
“Our hope is to use this show to plug into people, as young as we can get them, and try our best to raise the bar of social conscience for all of them,” Jones said of the show, which explores the commonalities African Americans and Jews share from a historical perspective and the many ways in which all everyone’s individual stories intersect in the larger vein of the human experience.
For some time, Jones and Tish had discussed recruiting younger actors to take their places in the show to bridge the ever-growing generational gap between the two performers, both of whom are in their 50s, and their overwhelmingly college-aged audiences. Several months ago, Tish gave up his position with The Dialogues, which was featured on CNN in 2010, to pursue another acting venture, and Jones recruited Schlosberg, a 34 year-old Greensboro resident, to take his place.
“I got to know Andy and he’s funny. He’s one of those guys who’s so funny I want to just hit him with a bat because he just won’t stop,” Jones quipped. “He’s got the divine comedic spark.”
Schlosberg, a former high school youth director at Greensboro’s Temple Emanuel, brings his own perspectives and flavor. He and Jones have worked for several months to perfect the revised show in preparation for the Succasunna, N.J. native’s July 11 debut at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C.
“What I really want to do is get this message out, particularly to young people, and get them moving,” Schlosberg said of his aspirations for the show. “…Hopefully, they open their minds to it and they realize that the work is not done – that’s the most important part.”
For Schlosberg, a University of Maryland alumnus, being a part of “The Black Jew Dialogues” is both a cultural and a spiritual mandate. The father of one spent time working as a news producer in Japan and says he experienced racism firsthand there. That, combined with his experiences in trying to engage youth at the temple in social justice issues has culminated in a passion for the work, Schlosberg said.
“Not only do I know what it feels like to be a minority as far as being a Jew, but being a white guy in Asia is a hugely different experience… that, I would say, planted some seeds as to my ideas of social justice, but the push for this was working with the temple,” he stated. “In reformed Judaism, the idea of ‘Tikkun Olam’ – repairing the world – social justice is like the heart of the movement. The emphasis is on social justice and getting involved in the community.”
The success of “The Black Jew Dialogues,” which is hailed by audiences as “funny, entertaining” and “wonderfully inventive,” spurred the creation of Dialogues on Diversity, an umbrella corporation that offers a variety of programs that highlight social justice and the need for greater unity across societal divisions.
“We are now basically a diversity training and education company, but the thing that makes us different than every other company out there is we are coming to them from the posture of fun, knowledge and compassion,” Jones said. “We know and the research has shown that when people are more at ease, they’re way more receptive to absorbing complex or difficult information.”
Comedy is a method that Jones says has served Dialogues performers well on the road.
“The great thing is the delivery system is such that it always opens people up to have a conversation,” said the Washington, D.C. native, who settled in the Twin City three years ago. “In the close to 400 shows that we have done at this point, we have never, ever felt like the audience didn’t get it.”
In addition to the show, the company offers “Dialogues on Diversity” workshops for colleges, companies and communities at large, a “Get Out of Your Bubble!,” college orientation show that promotes cultural curiosity, understanding and growth, and “ACT-ion,” a social justice training model that teaches student actors to utilize the BJD model to encourage dialogue and action around issues of race, gender and culture on their own campuses. Jones and Tish also joined forces with Linda Cunningham of the University of Nebraska Medical School and Dr. Gary LeRoy of Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and two other actors to create “A Prescription for Success,” an innovative program that uses scenes and scenarios inspired by real world experiences to help teach cultural competence to medical students.
In a world dominated by media, which Jones says is often responsible for perpetuating negative stereotypes, the challenge of relaying Dialogues on Diversity’s message continues to grow, but Jones says he has no intentions of turning back. For him, it is not a job; it’s a calling.
“I can’t tell you how important it is to me – it’s almost impossible to describe,” he said. “This is who I am – it’s not just what I do. I feel like I have been asked to help people understand a greater narrative about us all.”
For more information about “The BJD” Dialogues on Diversity, go to www.dialoguesondiversity.com.