Describing the feeling of learning lines and playing different characters on stage, NYPD Officer Ronald Maldonado-Burke put it simply, “I’m outside my box.”
When he received the order for mandatory training involving role-playing, he had no idea it meant learning to think like an actor.
“I’m thinking more training like, how to do car stops or domestic violence incidents. I didn’t know I was doing this kind of game,” Maldonado-Burke said.
What do you want to know
- A unique workshop by the Irondale Ensemble Project asks seven officers and seven civilians to play together to develop empathy and understanding.
- Theater manager Terry Greiss says he pitched the idea to NYPD brass in 2014 after Eric Garner was killed in a confrontation with police.
- A different group meets in the spring and fall to learn drama games that teach skills that participants are encouraged to take to the streets.
The 19-year-old veteran attends a unique Irondale Ensemble Project workshop in Brooklyn that takes seven officers and seven civilians and asks them to play together to build empathy and understanding.
“They don’t just break you in, they just throw you in there,” Maldonado-Burke said. “They break you nice and slow, so I’m still uncomfortable.”
Theater manager Terry Greiss says he pitched the idea to NYPD brass in 2014 after Eric Garner was killed when NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo strangled him during an arrest for selling cigarettes in bulk.
“We knew we were going to use improvisation as a tool, not to develop actors, but to develop acting skills that help people listen more intensely and specifically,” Greiss said.
He saw the disturbing video of Garner’s death as a tragic breakdown in communication, asking “how do we start to relate to each other as human beings and lose the fear of the uniform, the skin color or the history of the neighborhood?”
Garner’s repeated cries of “I can’t breathe” went unheeded and became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The workshop is in its seventh year. A different group meets in the spring and fall to learn drama games that teach the skills needed to take to the streets. It helps when they get to know each other in the process.
“I look at them differently now,” said Justin Rodriguez, a civilian workshop participant. “Now I look at them more like ‘I hope you’re having a good day.'”
After ten weeks, the group is challenged to perform in front of an audience.
“I’m scared bro, I’m so scared,” Maldonado-Burke laughed.
The program will resume later this year with a new group, hoping to make an impact one workshop at a time.
“These gestures that they teach you, these open gestures to help the audience even more, so the blessing is that they train me, but they help me help more people,” Maldonado-Burke said.