Irondale Ensemble, BK Reader, To Protect, Serve and Understand, Eric Garner, Irondale theater performance, community arts program, Brooklyn arts program, Brooklyn community program, Irondale program, improv workshop, NYPD, Brooklyn community, Terry Greiss, community performance, Brooklyn community, NYPD community relations, community policing, community dialogue
Photo credit: NPR

Brooklyn’s Irondale Ensemble brings together seven members of the community and seven NYPD officers to facilitate dialogue through the art of improv theater.

To Protect, Serve and Understand is a theater program created by Brooklyn’s Irondale Ensemble that brings together seven members of the community and seven NYPD officers to facilitate dialogue through the art of improv theater. Photo credit: Irondale Ensemble

Following a ten-week long workshop, seven civilians and seven NYPD police officers will be taking center stage to present “To Protect, Serve and Understand” at Irondale Center on Friday, February 9 and Saturday, February 10. The theater program, created by Brooklyn’s Irondale Ensemble, aims to foster communication between NYPD officers and the community they serve, teaching participants how to “step into each other’s shoes.”

In 2015, Irondale invited the New York Police Department to join them in developing a program that would use theatrical improvisation to build communication and empathy between officers and the communities they are charged to protect and serve. This idea came to Irondale co-founder Terry Greiss after watching the video of Eric Garner’s fatal 2014 encounter with police officers in Staten Island – he felt enraged.

“I kept seeing people not talking to each other, not looking at each other and the tragedy that evolved because of that,” said Greiss in an interview with NPR. “So in my anger about this, I wrote a letter to the police commissioner and I said: This is what we do and I think you need it.”

To the company‘s surprise – the NYPD replied immediately and “To Protect, Serve, and Understand” was born.

Photo credit: NPR

Since then officers and community members have come together to eat, talk and play together. The program unfolds over a period of ten weeks. Each workshop begins with the group sitting down together to have a meal. A vital part of the experience, the meal gives the group an opportunity to sit down and exchange different perspectives on various topics. After dinner, the company jumps into the work which consists of improvisation games and actor techniques taught by Irondale’s teaching artists.

The participants learn to improvise, to tell their own stories, and to “step into each other’s shoes” by  interviewing people in their communities and to use their personal stories. Cops interview civilians; civilians interview cops – and then they play each other. The goal: By speaking, moving and thinking as another person, and ultimately making someone else’s story their own, the participants develop an understanding that leads to an increased level of trust and cooperation.

“To play together we must learn to speak each other’s language. And by playing together we begin to break down insecurities we may have that come from not understanding,” said Greiss. “We can actually teach each other in a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere—an atmosphere of joy, play and healthy competition.”

The workshops culminate in original and spontaneous public performances that show what can come from mutual trust and empathetic understanding. And on the weekend of February 9 and 10, attendees can witness how this kind of theatrical magic unfolds.

For tickets go here. If you cannot attend, but would like to support the program, Irondale has launched an Indiegogo campaign

Irondale Presents: To Protect, Serve and Understand

When: Friday, February 9 and Saturday, February 10 at 7:30 pm | $10 general admission

Where: Irondale Center, 85 S. Oxford St, Brooklyn, NY 11217

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Andrea Leonhardt

“Made in Germany,” Andrea Leonhardt is the managing editor for BK Reader. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, with minors in American studies and education, and a master’s...

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