Fort Greene’s Irondale Theatre is bringing police officers and civilians together to break bread and break down biases during a ten-week improv program that culminates in two public performances on Friday, December 14, and Saturday, December 15.

Each week, the program “To Protect, Serve, and Understand,” which is in its sixth round after being launched by Irondale Executive Director Terry Greiss in 2015, welcomes seven officers and seven civilians to eat dinner and to play together. The program uses improv to build communication and empathy between officers and the communities they serve by getting the participants to step into each other’s shoes.

Greiss pitched the program to One Police Plaza after seeing the footage of Eric Garner’s killing on Staten Island and expected the letter to be trashed. Two days later, One Police Plaza responded asking for a pilot program.

Irondale Theatre, which is a performance think-tank for artists who believe theater can educate as well as entertain, was well equipped to run the program after doing similar work for 35 years with teachers, kids, youth at risk of HIV and incarcerated juveniles.

For Greiss, the work is a real adrenaline high, being able to see the cops and civilians talk about meaty issues, listen to each other, and share stories and experiences through theater, food and games.

“Police officers especially come back to us and say they police in a totally different way now,” he says. “It’s been really gratifying.”

The group will be performing two public shows at the end of the ten-week course on Friday, December 14, and Saturday, December. 15. For more information visit here.

Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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