THEATER | Pillsbury House’s “Breaking Ice” program helps organizations open the channels of communication


Since 1992, Breaking Ice, a theater program developed by Pillsbury House Theatre, has been helping to break down the barriers to communication found in the workplace through dynamic custom performances geared toward specific institutions or organizations.

Tackling issues of racism, sexism, gender issues, and cultural differences among other topics, the company helps open a dialogue through their unique style of theater. Last year the program won the Nonprofit Mission Award for Anti-Racism Initiative from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

James Rodriguez, who has acted with Breaking Ice for the past year and a half, says that  “I think most actors who have done it think it’s one of the coolest things to do.” Each show is brand new and specifically created for the organization. “You are telling someone else’s story to them,” Rodriguez says, “so you take a lot of pride in getting it right.” Though its issue-based theatre, he said it’s never cheesy or preachy. “When people see themselves, you can actually see them feeling something,” he said.

Before the performance, Breaking Ice will research a company to find out what issues are inhibiting communication. Then they create a performance using poetry, movement, and scene work to open up a dialogue about issues facing the workplace. Rodriguez says that often the movement isn’t a literal translation of what happens, but rather expressive, using movement and gestures. “It’s really more abstract than linear,” he says.

Most of the show is developed through improvisation, with someone from the outside documenting the work. “It’s hard,” Rodriguez says. “We want to get it specific and clean.”

There are also moments in the performances where the actors share poetry that they have written. The poems are about where the actors, who comprise a diverse cast, are from and about their lives. Rodriguez says he’s never written for the stage before, but he has enjoyed the experience. “It’s a really personal show,” he says.

In addition to depicting issues that come up in the workplace, and how communication can break down in meetings and one-on-one communication, Breaking Ice performances also shows how those issues can affect individuals at home. “We do that to show that every person at work also has a an outside life, and workplace problems can be carried into family and personal relationships,” says Rodriguez.

After the main presentation, there is a talkback session where the audience shares their reactions to watching the show. “You can tell when someone is moved,” Rodriguez says. “We bring the issues to light.”