Difference Makers: Brooklyn theater looks to bridge nation’s divide

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By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The country is seeing a divide that it hasn’t seen in centuries. But what can we do to change it?

One theater company is experimenting with a plan.

“Seven officers, seven civilians come together for 4 hours a week, 4 hours of improvisation, and storytelling,” explains Terry Greiss, of Irondale Ensemble Company.

The theater, based in Brooklyn, came up with the idea in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death, when protesters took the to streets to decry police brutality.

In the play, civilians will be taking on the roles of cops. 

“My name is Cynthia Grayman Pond, and I will be playing Demetrious Starling,” explains the civilian turned cop.

And cops will take on the role of civilians.

“My name is officer Henry Rivera. Today I have the pleasure of playing Michael Sanders,” explains the officer.

It’s called, “To Protect, Serve, and Understand.”

The production will feature a series of monologues before an audience, based on what each other has told them about their lives.

“Your giving people a chance not only to walk in each others shoes for a bit, but you give them the chance to start really thinking as the other person,” Greiss says.

It’s also giving officers the chance to try out a new skill.

“Last acting I ever did was in grade school. I played a tree,” said officer Miguel Van Brakle.

He initially thought the play wouldn’t be worth his time, but decided to give it a try and fell in love with the idea.

“I thought it was some sort of new wave, hippie kind of stuff that was going to happen,” he said. “There were a lot of practical things we learned during the course of program that had really everyday techniques you could use in police work.”

Civilians also see the benefits. 

“Coming out of it I more so immersed myself in feeling their pain too,” said Jophrane Ligonde, who grew up with a jaundiced view of cops in Flatbush.

Performances are now on Zoom.

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