As Ithaca deals with police concerns, Civic Ensemble stages a creative expression of community voices

September 18, 2014 by Brianna Pennella

This Friday, Civic Ensemble opens the curtains on "Safety," a play spanning two weekends that will include a mini-tour of Ithaca, the Cornell and Ithaca College Campuses, the Latino Festival, and Calvary Baptist Church.

"Safety" focuses on the issue of public safety and police actions through the eyes of the Ithaca Community. The project has developed over the last twelve months featuring the input of both civilian community members and police officers. The actors are eleven civilian community members bringing a voice to the stories and interviews that Director Sarah K. Chalmer has been collecting since October 2013.

The cast of "Safety." Photo provided.The cast of "Safety." Photo provided.The ensemble itself features civilian community members ranging from age 16-70 who have been working together since July to bring the project to life. The eleven members are Blane Bent, Gabriela Borges, Larisa Camacho Lillie, Deborah Campbell, Rachel Cullenen, Ed Dvorak, Lisa Ellin, Rudy Gerson, Tin Ho, Danny Marte, and Valerie Sykes.

Civic Ensemble’s staging of "Safety" comes at a time when the issue of police and public safety holds great relevance to the Ithaca community and country at large. In the wake of the events of Ferguson, Missouri that have left the country feeling uneasy and disquieted about police-civilian interactions and race relations, Ithaca itself has had its own instance of community concern regarding police activity.

Earlier in August, heighted police awareness due to a string of burglaries and vehicle fires resulted in an incident involving four unarmed teens of color and a police sergeant who wasn't in uniform. With the nation feeling the heat of Ferguson and concerns rising in Ithaca, Mayor Svante Myrick made a statement urging patience. Chief John Barber, among others, attended the Mayor’s meeting with the families regarding the incident.

As the community responds to both the incident and the Mayor’s advice, it comes as no surprise that the Civic Ensemble has the community and the Ithaca Police Department in mind during their creative expression, hoping to capture and honest and judgment free picture of life through shared stories.

Artistic Director Godfrey Simmons says in a press release that, “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.”

Chief Barber paid a visit to the cast, along with several other officers, in order to provide their points of view on police and the Ithaca community.

The play’s opening night performance will be held at the Lehman Alternative Community School at 8pm this Friday, September 19th, with two showings at 2pm and 8pm on Saturday the 20th. Next weekend the performance moves on to its mini tour from the 25th to the 28th. For more information about dates and times visit civicensemble.org or call 607-241-0195. Reservations are encouraged and patrons are welcome to pay what they can. All proceeds from the final performance will go to the South Side Community Center.

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