Ithaca, N.Y. — Civic Ensemble, an organization dedicated to social and political theater, created a production called “Safety” that explores police and community relations.
Civic Ensemble has been working on “Safety” since September 2013. Directors researched community policing, race and policing, the war on drugs and interviewed civilians as well as officers while developing the play.
Ithaca police officers came to rehearsals and spoke with the cast and directors about some of the issues specifically facing the Ithaca community. (The play ran from Sept. 19 to Sunday.)
Most of the skits were stories gathered during interviews from individuals about their interactions and challenges with the police. The skits demonstrated both positive and negative police interactions.
“I talked to people in Ithaca about the history here and got perspectives about the specific challenges, pain, and many different points of view that people hold. I’d say the most useful research was from people. People who have been here. People whose personal stories serve as the foundation for the play,” Sarah Chalmers, co-director, said.
Friday night’s performance at Ithaca College brought Ithacans of all ages, genders, races and opinions. After the performance, the audience engaged in a “talk back” with one of the directors, Godfrey Simmons, and the entire cast.
Simmons asked the audience to talk to someone in the room that he or she did not know and discuss these two questions: “what did you see tonight that challenged your beliefs?” and “what did you see tonight that confirmed your beliefs?”
The cast of “Safety” didn’t all agree on the issues or conflicts that the play addresses. Chalmers says that the conflict among the cast was essential to its creation.
“The cast sat down near the end of the rehearsal process and discussed what they wanted this play to be. It was quite a heated conversation and I recorded that and used the recording to write the end of the play,” Chalmers wrote in an email to The Voice.
“Safety” touched on topics like “use of force” and the steps officers go through in determining what level of force is necessary when dealing with a suspect.
One of the more serious moments of the production was toward the end when the cast named victims of police shootings throughout the country, and then went on to name officers that have been killed on-duty.