Chicago Police Recruits Test Their Acting Skills in Empathy Workshop

Chicago Police Department recruits put their acting skills to the test Tuesday afternoon in an empathy workshop hosted by Storycatchers Theatre.

How this role-playing workshop is taking a new approach to improving the relationship between first responders and the communities they patrol.  

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Angel Idowu: In its third year, Storycatchers Theatre is taking a unique approach to help youth in and out of the criminal justice system cope with their trauma. 

Priya Shah, executive director of Storycatchers Theatre: Over 90% of crime is committed due to unresolved trauma. So when we work with them, we use the process of art for them to heal, and understand their actions and consequences and to be able to deal with their trauma.

Idowu: The participants, ages 17 to 24, write out their life-changing experiences. They then work with artistic directors to determine how their stories can be turned into dialogue with an overall message. A stage manager of Storycatchers Theatre says this coping method is imperative.

Nisha, stage manager for Storycatchers Theatre: We had a story where someone’s father was killed. That particular emotion is … you can’t hide it. So, being able to relate to that and then having the CV ensemble be able to be there for you and support you and let you know that everything is OK. That the reason you told your story is to get it out there so that you can better cope with it. Because sometimes just telling your story helps you cope.

Idowu: The thespians then take their stories to the stage for an empathy workshop. Held monthly, more than 2,000 CPD recruits have already participated. Today they re-enacted a traffic stop from both the young person’s perspective, and from the recruit’s perspective.

A police recruit speaks with WTTW News about an empathy workshop hosted by Storycatchers Theatre.A police recruit speaks with WTTW News about an empathy workshop hosted by Storycatchers Theatre.

We’re all people. That’s one thing CPD and Storycatchers say they’re able to take away from this empathy workshop.

Indiana recruit: The more difficult aspect is identifying some of these much more subtle aspects of racism in our society, or differences between the communities that we have to be sensitive to as law enforcement officers.

It’s really important for us to recognize when to utilize our power, and when we have other types of power available to us that are more appropriate. We need to look at individuals on the street not just as offenders, but as people.

Chicago recruit from Auburn Gresham neighborhood: Being a black woman from the city of Chicago, I wanted to be able to help my community members. I wanted to be able to connect to people in ways that an officer that might not look like them, they might be put off by that right away. So looking like someone that’s already of revenue, and then showing them I am this uniform, but this uniform doesn’t depict how I’m going to be as a person. Because it’s not always about hate, a lot of times it’s about fear. And fear comes from lack of knowledge. So just keeping that dialogue open and allowing people to be educated on things that they might not be used to.

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Storycatchers Theatre will be receiving a $10,000 grant in October from the Bright Promises Foundation to continue its work as it tours schools, churches and conventions.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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