Ithaca, NY – Civic Ensemble opens their 2nd Annual Community-Based play, Safety on Friday, September 19th. The topic of the play is community police relations. Safety has been developed over the course of 12 months with input from civilian community members and police officers.

Every year, Civic Ensemble mounts a community-based play which is collaboratively written with community members and performed by a self-selected cast from the community. The topic of their next production is community-police relations and how these relationships can both help and hinder the cohesion of the community. Artistic Director Godfrey Simmons states, “Civic Ensemble is committed to creating an environment in which the community can examine different points of view without judgment. This project uses collaboratively created storytelling to address the divisions in our community with regard to policing and public safety.” Civic Ensemble believes that a truly civic theatre cannot exist without the voices of the community it serves.

Eleven members of the Ithaca community make up the cast of Safety: Blane Bent, Gabriela Borges, Larisa Camacho Lillie, Deborah Campbell, Rachel Cullenen, Ed Dvorak, Lisa Ellin, Rudy Gerson, Tin Ho, Danny Marte, and Valerie Sykes. They range in ages from 16-70 and come from a variety of backgrounds. The cast has been working together since early July to put the play together. The play is comprised of stories told by community members and interviews with law enforcement officers conducted between September 2013 and August 2014. Additionally, several Ithaca Police Department officers, including Chief John Barber, visited the cast to discuss police viewpoints on community and police. There will also be original writing and devised scenes included in the play.

Civic Ensemble is holding two weekends of performances; the first is at Lehman Alternatives Community School and the second is a mini-tour reaching both the Cornell and Ithaca College Campuses, the Latino Festival and Calvary Baptist Church. Partial proceeds from the final performance on Sunday, September 28 at Calvary Baptist Church at 6pm will go to South Side Community Center.

Safety is led by Civic’s Director of Civic Engagement, Sarah K. Chalmers and Artistic Director, Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. Chalmers has a masters degree in Applied Theatre from the City University of New York. She specializes in creating theatre with communities. Of the Safety project she says, “I’ve been conducting story circles for Safety since October 2013. I’ve heard stories from a wide variety of viewpoints about everything from traffic stops to drug busts to shootings. Our work on this play is not to find the right answers, but to find the fruitful questions. What do we need to ask ourselves and each other in order to move through this human experience together in a new way?” Simmons, one of the creators of the Off-Broadway documentary play Dispatches From (A)mended America, adds, “A piece of theatre allows the community to see this issue in an artistic framework instead of a political framework. This work provides a lens for community members to say, ‘I may not understand the other side’s perspective intellectually, but I do understand it emotionally.’”

This project is supported by the Community Foundation, the Cornell Public Service Center, Tompkins Trust Company, and Shared Journeys.

Civic Ensemble is a non-profit theatre company serving Ithaca and Tompkins County that produces new and overlooked plays, reinterpretations of classics, and community-based plays that deal with the social, political, and cultural issues of our time. Through the production of plays, after-school and in-school education programs for young people, and civic engagement programs with Ithaca community members, the company works to bring audiences of different races, classes, and experiences together in a public forum on the American experiment. Civic Ensemble is committed to employing Ithaca-based theatre artists whenever possible. It is our vision that theatre be accessible to all people, onstage and off.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.