karl jenkins

Karl Jenkins – Freedom Theatre’s new CEO

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Philadelphia’s Karl Jenkins Rolls the Dice (Raw) and Takes Over Freedom Theatre.

Here’s a great way to start Black History Month. Coming up on its 55th year of operating as Philadelphia’s premiere all Black theater, North Broad Street’s Freedom Theatre (alternately known as the New Freedom Theatre) is due for some sprucing. Especially when you consider that its longtime Executive Producing Director, Sandra Norris Haughton, left her valued post in August 2020. And that’s its figurehead Walter Dallas, the legendary artistic director of the Freedom Theatre, died in May of last year. Enter Karl Jenkins. Also known as Dice Raw.

Some of you know him from his occasional raps with his family in The Roots. He was still in high school when Black Thought and Kelo brought Karl into their circle. Fond as they were of his hardcore raps and punishing flow, The Roots pushed Dice Raw to make his debut on “The Lesson, Pt. 1,” then guest features on the likes of “Episodes” and “Adrenaline”, and so on.

karl jenkins

Here’s Dice Raw’s tally with The Roots, so far.

“The Lesson, Pt. 1” on Do You Want More?!!!??!

“Clones” and “Episodes” on Illadelph Halflife

“Adrenaline!”, “Diedre vs. Dice”, “Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin’ New” and “Don’t See Us” on Things Fall Apart

“Rhymes & Ammo” on Phrenology

“BOOM!” on The Tipping Point

 “The Lesson, Pt. 3” on Home Grown! The Beginner’s Guide To Understanding The Roots, Vol. 2

“Here I Come” on Game Theory

“Get Busy”, “I Can’t Help It”, “I Will Not Apologize” and “The Grand Return” on Rising Down

“How I Got Over”, “Walk Alone”, “Radio Daze” and “Now or Never” on How I Got Over

“Make My”, “One Time”, “Lighthouse”, and “Tip The Scale” on Undun

 “Black Rock,” “Understand”, and “The Dark (Trinity)” on And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

Lest you forget, there’s a roughhouse Dice Raw solo debut album in Reclaiming the Dead on MCA Records from 2000. To say nothing of 2013’s Jimmy’s Back and 2018’s The Narrative.

karl jenkins

Dice Raw AKA Karl Jenkins, however, began to shift his emphasis in 2012/2013 to something more literally and literarily theatrical with a second career as a stage actor, as well as a playwright. And producer with socially conscious and politically astute self-penned shows such as “The Last Jimmy” and “Henry Box Brown: A Hip Hop Musical.” Both of which made their Philadelphia debuts at Freedom Theatre.

“Freedom Theatre has been my focus for a while. And, now I’m proud to say that through a career switch that’s interesting all on its own, I’ve taken over as its new CEO,” said Jenkins. “I have been working there since 2013. Through the legendary flood of 2018 when a burst pipe meant that I had to move my “Henry Box Brown” to Bonnell Auditorium at Community College of Philadelphia. After the flood, my interest was sparked in seeing what was going on with Freedom and making more of an impact. How I could help.”

Karl Jenkins started as a board member at Freedom with the late, great Bryan Dilworth. And carried on in his memory, while bringing other illustrious Philly arts name to Freedom’s board room, such as award-winning choreographer/hip hop innovator Rennie Harris. “I walked him through Freedom and gave him a guilt trip about not being more involved,” said Jenkins of Harris. 

The more Jenkins did, the more Jenkins wanted to do. Which is how we wind up with Jenkins as CEO. He’s not the producing artistic director, yet. Instead, he’s currently building up the website, producing in-house events and acting as an overall presenter of artists creating their own work. A pared-down schedule due to the pandemic.

Currently, Karl Jenkins, Orlando Edwards and Keith Ruffin have taken on the lion’s share of the presented work, with a streaming platform, mostly for educational presentations, with additional writers digitally coming on regularly.

A larger scale, audience-focused public platform is on its way. As well as a team of performing arts professionals (“people with 30 years’ experience or more”), as part of Freedom’s new staff. And a bolder, more interactive Freedom Theatre website and new online store launching by mid-February. You can also find out about Jenkins’ new “Project Steampipe” which will preview new Freedom theatrical presentations.

karl jenkins

“I’m here to restore Freedom Theatre to the glories of its heyday. To what John Allen and Bob Leslie did. To the 60s and 70s of Walter Dallas, then Sandra Horton. I’ve got big shoes to fill. And new ideas to fill them with, a new perspective on how to get that done.”

To that end, Jenkins has created promotional and shared partnerships between Freedom and the Annenberg Theater in West Philly. And with Mural Arts who are set to craft interchangeable mural panels for the front and back of the North Broad Street property over a five-year period. 

“As far as second careers go, Freedom Theatre is keeping me real busy,” he said with a laugh. “And as far as bringing Freedom back to its former glory while maintaining Dice Raw’s signature comes down to my background. I don’t think or do typical theater things. I have a lot of support from artists I’ve worked with over the years. Which are many and diverse. Coming from a hip-hop background, I don’t come up with the usual. A mix of new ideas but old stable ideas from what Freedom’s foundation was built will get us through. And get us over. It’s a heavy lift, for me and the new team. And some of the old team, too. But, we got this.” 


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3 thoughts on “Karl Jenkins – Freedom Theatre’s new CEO

  1. Correction, John Allen and Bob Leslie ( as far as I know/remember there was no Bob Allen) were the founders of Freedom Theater!

  2. This article is all kinds of ridiculous and incorrect. First, thank you for correcting the last name of ROBERT E. LESLIE SR. That is his name and how it should be noted. Bob is for those of affection. Also, do your due diligence, Walter Dallas was not around until the 90s. The theater was founded at the end of the 60s. There was no Walter and Sandra. AFTER John Allen (my father) died in 1992 is when Walter was asked to come on as Artistic Director. Sandra Houghton, came much later though she has had a relationship with the theater over the years. How you can take on a legacy and not know it’s history. Please note Sandra Haughton was absolutely NOT a valuable member to Freedom Theatre. She was the destruction of the legacy of John Allen and Robert Leslie. She has ruined it for the future of many. I am not sure how Karl Jenkins plans to continue a legacy he knows absolutely nothing about. He never knew the founders, he was never a student at the theater nor was he a teacher. What does he really know of John and Bob? Did you ask that question? What about their legacy does he want to keep going? Please note the Freedom Theatre that was founded in 1968 is no longer. What exist now is a building with the name on it. But what goes on inside has nothing to do with what was started there.

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