• Millie Liao

Fighting For Social Justice Through Theatre

I will never forget the first time I watched Time to Talk.


As a part of a virtual national high school internship program, I was assigned to support the Davalois Fearon Dance Company for six months. My first assignment given to me by the company was to search for clips from their most recent dance piece to add to the website.


But as I watched a dancer perform blindfolded, in a leotard that did not matching her own darker skin tone, yet was labeled the word “nude,” I entirely forgot about my assignment and instead became immersed in her movements, full of pain and forced restriction, like she was fighting against an invisible box that was surrounding and suffocating her.


Here is a photo from Time To Talk, as performed by the talented founder of DFD Dava!

In my six months at DFD, I learned about social justice artistry for the first time, as the primary genre of pieces the company created. Before my internship period ended, I found out from Dava, the founder of DFD, that Time to Talk was actually a piece based on her personal experiences in the dance industry, and the racism she faced.


She shared with me advice that I’ll never forget: “As artists, the way that we communicate with the world is through art. So if we want to share a message that is important to us, what better way to do so than through the very thing that we use to connect with others?”


(Check out the Time To Talk Trailer here, and to learn more about DFD you can visit their website at www.davaloisfearon.com!)


These words made me suddenly stop and think about my own artistry as an actress - was I sharing a message that was important to me? Was I using my voice as a performer to uplift the unique stories that I wanted to tell?


I decided to begin experimenting with forms of theatre that I was too scared to do before. In doing so, I realized my own fear of addressing the internalized racism I had harbored ever since being bullied growing up for being Chinese American.


During the Stop Asian Hate movement, I organized a youth-led rally Youth Against Hate (which would later become a statewide coalition:)) in downtown Los Angeles. For the first time, I performed a self-written spoken word poem on Asian American identity for the youth who attended. Seeing the words that I had written resonate and be amplified showed me the power of theatre as a tool for creating social change.


From there, I was given the opportunity to play Edna in Waiting for Lefty. In order to prepare, I collected and researched the stories of people who were alive during the Great Depression, and experienced the workers’ labor movements of the 1960s that Edna encouraged her husband Joe to become a part of.


A photo of me after performing as Edna in Waiting for Lefty last year <3

Even now, as I have cemented my interest in specifically pursuing creating social justice theatre and using storytelling to pursue social change, I am able to see the inherit societal impact that every piece of theatre has the potential to have, from absurdist pieces to Shakespeare. No matter what it is we’re performing, we have the responsibility as actors to be telling a story that we believe in, a story that will encourage and spark positive change.


To this day, I enter every stage with the goal of doing what Time To Talk did for me- leaving the audience with a perspective that they had never considered or heard before they entered the room. By helping people to widen their own perspectives, and then reflect on their own stories and experiences, we can strive for a more empathetic, and therefore a better world.


I hope that all of you can discover the way you can contribute to positive change in your own unique way, and I am rooting for all of you to take the first step towards social justice in whatever format that best suits you!


With Love, Millie