Working blue: Police perform in improv show

Brooklyn Paper
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These officers have put together a different kind of line-up.

A group of Brooklyn police will take the stage for two nights of frank and sometimes funny improv at Fort Greene’s Irondale Ensemble on Feb. 5 and 6.

The show caps two months of weekly workshops titled “To Protect, Serve, and Understand,” which brought seven cops and seven civilians together for silly and serious exercises designed to break down stereotypes and open up new conversations, said Irondale’s executive director.

“We’re using improv theater, theater games, and exercises as a way to bring people together in a room,” Terry Greiss said. “When people play together — whether that’s baseball, checkers, or improv — they develop an empathetic understanding for each other. You’re falling down, taking risks together, you learn that you can expose more and share a bit more.”

The show will include improvised scenes based on audience suggestions, musical numbers, and a silly exercises in which those onstage juggle multiple tasks at once.

“There’s serious parts and some funny parts,” said Greiss. “I’d say we’ve peppered it with funnier, lighter moments, but it’s to be listened to.”

The more serious exercises tackle the disconnect between community and police. In one such exercise, officers will portray civilians describing their interactions with police, based on interviews conducted during the workshop. The interview subjects were surprisingly open and some told powerful stories, Greiss said.

“A woman told one of the female officers in the program about how callously she was treated after she was raped, and it totally blew us away,” he said. “It was powerful to see [the officer] act that out.”

Police top brass say the workshop helps to build skills that officers use on the job.

“What does it take to do good improv? Be creative, think on your feet, and understand where the other person is coming from,” said Susan Herman, Deputy Commission for Collaborative Policing Susan Herman said. “Those are all skills police officers need and use every day. The more refined those skills are the better.”

The department runs mock scenarios to train officers for situations they might encounter on the job, but this is the first program of its kind in the city, Herman said.

“This stood out as a participatory, potentially fun, creative, and innovative way to foster understanding between police officers and community members without intellectualizing it,” she said. “They’re experiencing it, and I think participatory learning is very valuable.”

The police participants, none of whom had any theater experience, volunteered from precincts all around the borough. All of them are out on patrol on a regular basis.

“To Protect, Serve, And Understand” at Irondale Ensemble [85 South Oxford St. between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street in Fort Greene,, (718) 488–9233]. Feb. 5 and 6 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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