Participants literally have to remove their shoes at the door, shedding a part of their identity in preparation for adopting another one. Based on the results of a quick survey, each one is assigned a short profile to read and a name tag with initials. The profile doesn’t mention race, gender, religion, or politics; it’s just a sentence or two about someone’s hopes and aspirations. (Ex. You’ve dreamed of being a doctor your entire life.) Participants are told to keep this persona in mind — something to hold on to as they proceed. Each one walks alone through a sequence of three scenes, which each take a few minutes: a middle school classroom, a job interview and a city block at night. Each scene has actors (children and adults), who treat participants according to their name tag. The actors may throw taunts or cat-calls. They may stared or laugh. They may harass participants or avoid them entirely. The actors comments and behaviors may also be very subtle (micro-aggressions).

What participants don’t realize is that they’re living the experiences of real people — people who they will soon come face to face with. When a sizable group has finished the walkthrough, they meet the real person behind the initials on their name tag and hear their story. One of the greatest barriers to mutual understanding in our diverse society is a lack mutual experiences. The idea of Shoes at the Door is to immerse people in difficult situations they may never encounter in the real world and generate empathy through shared hardship. I was inspired by diversity educator, Jane Elliott, and her “Blue-Eyes, Brown Eyes” exercise that simulates discrimination based on eye-color.

The wonder of Shoes at the Door is that it is relatively in-expensive and versatile — requiring a only a handful of actors and any compartmentalized space (schools, office buildings and hotels all come to mind). I think Shoes at the Door would function best as an itinerant theatrical company that could travel to schools and workplaces throughout the country. I think many institutions would be willing to provide the experience to their students/employees. Moreover, I do not think it is a stretch that Shoes at the Door could attract donations from non-for-profits with similar aims. This would allow the company to perform free of charge for those who cannot afford it.