ArticlePDF Available

Performing the Peace: Using Playback Theatre in the Strengthening of Police–Community Relations

  • VA Integrative Mental Health

Abstract and Figures

Background: Police-community relations have catapulted onto the national stage after several high-profile instances of alleged police brutality. Blame and hostility can be barriers to positive police-community relations. Playback is a form of audience-inspired, improvisational theater designed to promote connectivity and empathy through storytelling. Objectives: We tested the feasibility and acceptability of an arts-based intervention, bringing together police officers and formerly incarcerated individuals from the same community in Memphis, Tennessee. Methods: We collected pre/post quantitative data from five police officers and five ex-offenders who took part in the intervention, as well as qualitative data to provide contextual information. Results: The project was feasible and acceptable to participants. Participants showed gains in their ability to make meaning of stressful life experiences. The officers and ex-offenders showed parallel gains in their increased positive attitudes toward the other group. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that creating contexts of safety and understanding necessary to address relational problems is both feasible and acceptable to law enforcement and ex-offenders.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Performing the Peace: Using Playback Theatre in the Strengthening of Police–Community
Melissa A. Smigelsky, Robert A. Neimeyer, Virginia Murphy, DeAndre Brown,
Vinessa Brown, Anthony Berryhill, Joy Knowlton
Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action,
Volume 10, Issue 4, Winter 2016, pp. 533-539 (Article)
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
For additional information about this article
Access provided by Northwestern University Library (6 Jan 2017 22:29 GMT)
533 © 2016 Johns Hopkins University Press
Performing the Peace: Using Playback eatre
in the Strengthening of Police–Community Relations
Melissa A. Smigelsky, MA, MS1, Robert A. Neimeyer, PhD1, Virginia Murphy, MA2, DeAndre Brown3, Vinessa Brown3, Anthony Berryhill4,
(1) Department of Psychology, University of Memphis; (2) Playback Memphis; (3) Lifeline to Success; (4) Memphis Police Department
Submitted 31 August 2015, revised 23 December 2015, accepted 23 March 2016.
National focus on police–community relations aer
several high-prole instances of alleged police bru-
tality clearly demonstrates the need for improved
relations between communities and law enforcement. In
Memphis, Tennessee, the issue of police–community rela-
tions is longstanding, as evidenced by the assassination of
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a crime rumored to have been
sanctioned by the police department and U.S. government at
the time.
Recent violence in Frayser,
a community within
Memphis and the site of the present study, suggests that the
legacy of tense relations continues today.
Background: Police–community relations have catapulted
onto the national stage aer several high-prole instances
of alleged police brutality. Blame and hostility can be barriers
to positive police–community relations. Playback is a form
of audience-inspired, improvisational theater designed to
promote connectivity and empathy through storytelling.
Objectives: We tested the feasibility and acceptability of an
arts-based intervention, bringing together police ocers and
formerly incarcerated individuals from the same community
in Memphis, Tennessee.
Methods: We collected pre/post quantitative data from ve
police ocers and ve ex-oenders who took part in the
intervention, as well as qualitative data to provide contextual
Results: e project was feasible and acceptable to
participants. Participants showed gains in their ability to
make meaning of stressful life experiences. e ocers and
ex-oenders showed parallel gains in their increased positive
attitudes toward the other group.
Conclusions: is study demonstrates that creating contexts
of safety and understanding necessary to address relational
problems is both feasible and acceptable to law enforcement
and ex-oenders.
Playback, theater, ex-oender, police, community
Once a middle-class working community, Frayser became
an economically challenged area when two businesses closed
their doors, terminating more than 1,500 jobs.3 e current
rate of people living below the poverty line is approximately
44%.4 e majority of residents (82%) are African American,
and almost one-quarter of those over 25 years of age have
less than a high school education.4 More than one-half of all
schools in Frayser perform in the bottom 5% of public schools
in Tennessee.5
In communities like Frayser, blame and hostility can be
barriers to positive police–community relations. Research has
Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action Winter 2016 vol 10.4
asserted that the legitimacy of an authority (e.g., police) is
upheld if the authority is perceived to be just and trustworthy;
however, evidence supports the notion that discriminatory
treatment by police is experienced disproportionately among
African Americans when compared with other racial and eth-
nic groups.
e conuence of negative attitudes toward police
and discriminatory treatment by police poses a relational chal-
lenge that must be addressed in creative and engaging ways.
One creative form of engagement is Playback eatre.
Playback Memphis (PM) is a leading example of the Playback
Playback allows people to experience connectiv-
ity, communication, and empathy through storytelling. In a
unique collaboration, an audience member shares a personal
story and then watches professional actors and musicians
bring it to life instantaneously using movement, music,
metaphor, and spoken improvisation. is method has many
useful applications, particularly in exploring social issues,
promoting understanding, and “honoring all that is rich and
wonderful about our shared life, as well as all that is painful
and challenging.”7 e majority of PM performances (85%)
take place in collaboration with underserved communities.8
The current project is one example of a burgeoning
body of research adopting a community-based participatory
research (CBPR) approach. CBPR is a collaborative approach
“that equitably involves all partners in the research process
and recognizes the unique strengths that each brings.”9 Each
of the partners represents a diverse segment of the Memphis
community: government, the arts, community-based orga-
nizations, and academia. As such, each contributes its own
resources and introduces its own limitations. CBPR partner-
ships are based foundationally on mutual trust, which takes
time to develop, and must be open to ongoing transformation.
Given the sensitive nature of police–community relations,
CBPR is an appropriate approach because it goes to great
lengths to maximize benets and minimize the risk of harm
to all entities involved.9 is was accomplished through the
prioritization of partner relations and ongoing accountability
through all phases of the project.
is paper describes the methods and ndings from the
resulting project, Performing the Peace (PTP). e intended
outcome was to establish a method of improving police–com-
munity relations in Frayser through individual and interper-
sonal change, with aspirations of deepening the work into
that of the community partners. e specic aims were to
pilot test the feasibility and acceptability of PTP and examine
its impact on individuals and on attitudes toward the other
group. Finally, we sought to share the impact of the project
by hosting two public performances, one for the command
sta of the Memphis Police Department (MPD) to promote
engagement in future iterations of the project, and one for the
broader Memphis community to oer an unusual narrative
of positive police–community relations.
Partner Agencies
e MPD had worked with PM to address police–commu-
nity relations and youth violence, beginning in 2012. rough
these projects, ocers voiced concerns about the lack of trust
and absence of positive communication between youth and
law enforcement. Specically, the ocers asked for models of
programs that foster goodwill, trust, and relationship building.
e deputy director of the MPD committed to the develop-
ment of PTP and ensured ocer participation.
Lifeline to Success (LTS) is a community-based organiza-
tion in Frayser with the goal of diminishing recidivism aer
incarceration and promoting community reintegration of
ex-oenders. ey accomplish this by helping ex-oenders
have a positive impact through community service, which
helps to diminish negative perceptions associated with having
a criminal record. Because Frayser is an area with relatively
high crime levels, interactions with police are common and
generally unwelcome, fostering an atmosphere of hostility. e
LTS leadership had seen PM perform as part of the Mayor’s
Day of Recognition for National Service and enthusiastically
joined the project. is involvement provided strategic entry
into Frayser, where LTS is a well-respected and highly visible
Dr. Robert Neimeyer (R.A.N.) of the University of
Memphis had been a supporter of PM since 2009. He oversaw
the evaluation of the project as an extension of his eorts to
mitigate suering and foster growth by promoting meaning
making in the wake of dicult life experiences. is pilot
study was partially funded by the Strengthening Communities
Initiative at the University of Memphis, and received institu-
tional review board approval through the same institution.
Smigelsky et al. Performing the Peace
Structure of the Partnership
e partnership centered around PM, under the leader-
ship of the third author (V.M.). She orchestrated collaboration
among the partners for the purposes of the project, though
some partners had existing relationships (e.g., MPD and LTS).
Initial funding for the project was sought collaboratively by
V.M. and R.A.N. e rst author (M.A.S.) was involved in
planning meetings and craing the evaluation, participated
in the intervention alongside MPD and LTS participants, and
facilitated data collection and assisted with implementation
across the project.
Participants included ve MPD ocers who work in
Frayser and ve LTS participants. LTS participants were men
and women who had been formerly incarcerated and were
taking part in LTS’s reentry program. e average age of the
participants was 37.9 years (range, 20–59); ve were women,
ve men; nine were African American and one was Caucasian.
e feasibility of the project was assessed according to
whether sucient participants were (1) present in each session
to carry out the theater-based activities, and (2) sustained
for the duration of the project (all sessions). For example, a
common Playback form, uid sculptures, requires four actors
and one storyteller, plus audience members. erefore, fewer
than seven participants in a given session would have made
practicing the form infeasible. Sustained participation was
assessed by the number of participants who took part in
the culminating performances, which relied on the training
acquired across sessions. Acceptability of the project was
evaluated according to participants’ responses to question
naires aer the intervention.
Psychometrically validated instruments were used to
measure change from pre- to post-intervention. All partners
reviewed the instruments in advance to ensure the questions
were appropriate in terms of content, relevance, reading level,
and comprehensibility. Additionally, the rst three LTS par-
ticipants who completed the instruments provided feedback.
is resulted in removing a measure that participants found
Individual Impact. Living or working in communities with
high levels of crime and violence leads to frequent encoun-
ters with stressful events, whether experienced directly or
vicariously (e.g., shootings, family turmoil, victimization). We
hypothesized that participation would help participants nd
meaning in their own distressing experiences. To assess this,
we used the Integration of Stressful Life Experiences Scale.10 In
the present study, participants identied a stressful life event
that had occurred within the last two years. e same event
was used in the post-intervention evaluation.
Interpersonal Impact/Attitudes. Because a central goal of
the project was to improve relations, we also assessed group
dynamics. We hypothesized that gains would be observed
in greater levels of trust, cohesion, and collaboration. We
measured this using the Group Cohesiveness Scale11 and the
Allophilia Scale,
which measure positive attitudes toward
outgroups. In this study, participants responded with regard
to ocers (in the case of ex-oenders) and ex-oenders (in
the case of ocers).
Participants were identied by the leadership of MPD and
LTS in an eort to respect the autonomy of the organiza-
tions and to defer to their judgment with respect to selection
of initial participants, consistent with the values of a CBPR
approach. e project was explained, consent obtained, and
interviews conducted by the rst (M.A.S.) and third (V.M.)
authors. Participants engaged in 20 two-hour sessions over 2
months. ese sessions were under the purview of PM, which
determined the content and structure based on the Playback
eatre model (see below for more description of these ses-
sions). e rst phase (1 week, three sessions) consisted of
the ocers and ex-oenders meeting as independent groups
* In this initial phase of the project, we oversampled the number of participants in recognition that attrition could reduce them to the
number regarded as workable. is was indeed the case, because 44% of the original participants sampled failed to complete the project
for reasons external to it (e.g., job promotion, scheduling conicts). e great majority dropped out between phases 1 and 2. However, the
second iteration of the project had no attrition, suggesting successful renement of the number of participants recruited and referred by
organizational leadership.
Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action Winter 2016 vol 10.4
to learn principles of nonviolent communication and to have
honest exchanges about dicult issues, including conict,
loss, and mistrust (Peacemaking Circles). e second phase
joined the groups together to learn the forms of Playback and
to continue exploring the themes that emerged during prior
sessions (5 weeks, 15 sessions). e third phase consolidated
shared learning, culminating in two public performances
featuring participants and setting the stage for further com-
munity engagement.
Across sessions, the overarching goals were to (1) foster
trust and build group cohesion, (2) build a safe container for
personal reection and sharing, and (3) practice deep and
generous listening in service of (4) improving police–com-
munity relations through promoting individual relation-
ships focused on connection and shared humanity. is
was accomplished through a four-part process. e group
engaged in theater-based exercises that promoted awareness
of one’s own body, voice, and capacity to communicate,
including both receptive communication (receiving another
actor’s oering and embodying or reecting it accurately) and
expressive communication (extending one’s own oering with
personal integrity while also making it possible for others to
understand). is kind of communication requires empathic
attunement, which was facilitated through reective aware-
ness of one’s emotional experience, dialogue and listening to
others’ emotional experiences, and determining how to move
forward with new awareness toward a goal. e acting exer-
cises employed included several of the basic forms of Playback
eatre (e.g., scenes, uid sculptures, pairs
). Participants
were trained in these forms to facilitate storytelling and
enactment within the group experience and to prepare them
to perform alongside the PM professional ensemble. Each
session brought participants through the four-part process
of experience, reection,learning, and application. As they
engaged in various activities, they were invited to reect on
the experience, including their feelings and needs. Next they
identied what they learned about themselves, the group,
and/or police–community relations more generally. Finally,
they shared how they could apply this learning to their daily
lives, which included personal applications, such as improving
self-care (e.g., stress management, connecting with others),
and relational applications, such as, “I learned I need to listen
more to what the other person is saying, not to what I think
about the person.” is process was repeated in each session.
Quantitative data were collected pre- and post-interven-
tion. ese data were further elucidated through qualitative
context provided by pre-intervention individual interviews, a
post-intervention focus group, documentation of stories told
by participants in public performances, and the eld notes of
a graduate research assistant (M.A.S.) who engaged in partici-
pant observation. Participant observation is regarded as a good
strategy when social relations are the topic of inquiry.14 is
mixed-methods approach allowed us to examine whether or
not quantitative change occurred while simultaneously gath-
ering information to inform future iterations of the project.
Feasibility/Acceptability Evaluation
e project was fully executed with a sucient number
of participants across sessions and at the culminating public
performance, indicating that the project is feasible. e major-
ity of participants (n = 8) agreed or strongly agreed with the
following statement: “is experience was worth my time.”
Similarly, most participants (n = 8) endorsed the follow-
ing statement: “It felt good to have my story told through
Playback.” When asked what one word best described the
experience, responses included eye opening, interesting,
moving, empowering, understanding, emotional, awesome,
and “wow.” ese responses indicate that the project was
acceptable to participants.
Impact/Outcome Evaluation
Individual Change. Mean scores for outcome variables
appear in Table 1. From baseline to post-intervention, LTS
participants showed comparatively greater gains in meaning
making than MPD participants (Integration of Stressful Life
Experiences Scale: LTS, Δ13.2; MPD, Δ3.0). e personal
impact of the project on both ocers and ex-oenders is
further described in the narratives found in Table 2.
Change in Attitudes. MPD participants account for nearly
all of the positive change on the Group Cohesiveness Scale
e authors express their appreciation to Jean Handley of Turning Point Partners for her skilled facilitation of the Peacemaking groups.
Smigelsky et al. Performing the Peace
(LTS, Δ0.6; MPD, Δ10.0), although LTS participants endorsed
the items more favorably during the pre-test, preventing large
gains. In contrast, MPD and LTS participants showed equal
gains on the Allophilia scale (LTS, Δ10.6; MPD, Δ10.8), with
pre-test scores in a similar range (LTS, 72.2; MPD, 66.2).
Systemic Change. Several systemic changes occurred as a
result of the rst iteration of the project. First, training at the
police academy has begun to use Playback performances in
the education of incoming classes of recruits, in the place of
expert lectures on topics such as handling diversity. Second,
participants trained in the rst iteration have performed
on multiple occasions alongside the professional Playback
ensemble in community performances, before a notably
diverse audience of Memphians. Finally, in the second itera-
tion of the project, MPD and LTS leadership specically chose
to refer for participation the more recalcitrant members of
their organizations, rather than those who they presumed
would be disposed to participate. is is a strong behavioral
indication of trust in the project.
is article describes the development and initial evalua-
tion of an intervention aimed at improving police–community
relations in the Frayser neighborhood of Memphis through
individual and interpersonal change. Attitude change seems to
have been facilitated by dierent types of sharing that occurred
throughout the project. One ocer expressed the frustration
he feels when police are painted as the enemy:
You wouldn’t believe how many times we hear [parents
telling their kids to fear the police]. We could be walking
through the store, and a kid’s acting up, what’s the rst thing
the momma always say? ‘ere go the police, they about to
take you to jail.’ Do not tell them that! Why would I want
somebody to be afraid of me? I don’t want somebody to run
from me. If they need help I want somebody to run to me.
is perspective was corroborated by an ex-oender, who
stated, “We disrespect [police] cuz of the way we were raised
and being in the street, knowing negativity.” However, this
participant went on to describe how the project changed his
perspective: “I believe in this Playback because you get to
know a person rather than a badge and vice versa.”
Table 1. Mean Scores for Outcome Variables
Domain Pretest Posttest
Actual Δ
Personal: ISLES
LTS 48.6 61.8 13.2
MPD 68.4 71.4 3.0
Combined 58.5 66.6 8.1
Collective: Group Cohesion Scale
LTS 32.4 33.0 0.6
MPD 20.0 30.0 10.0
Combined 26.2 31.5 5.3
Collective: Allophilia Scale
LTS 72.2 82.2 10.6
MPD 66.2 77.0 10.8
Combined 69.2 79.9 10.7
Abbreviations: ISLES, Integration of Stressful Life Experiences Scale; LTS,
Lifeline to Success; MPD, Memphis Police Department.
Table 2. Personal Change Narratives
Participant Excerpt
Ex-Offender “Most people got stuff on their heart. All I want to do is just get it off my chest. All I want you to do is listen to me.
And I think Playback gives you that. You can get a lot of stuff off your chest that you been holding back for years.”
Ex-Offender “I finally have someone to tell my stories to. Like those stories, I never talked about. And for somebody to actually
sit there and listen to it . . . Because when I talk, I think about it, that solves it more. All the stories that I’ve told,
Idon’t have to think about them as oen as I used to.”
Police Officer “For me, doing Playback, it brings out a lot of reality for me to sit and tell these young men or young ladies,
Ihaven’t been to prison, but I’ve been there and know what you’re dealing with on the inside because I saw my
brother lose his life to it.”
Police Officer “[Playback] brought a lot of emotion to the table for me. . . . Cuz we told some stuff we probably wouldn’t have
told regular people . . . [Playback] changed my heart about a whole lot of stuff.”
Ex-Offender “Lifeline, Playback Memphis, it just opened my eyes to doing positive things. at’s all I want to do now, is be
positive. I don’t think about going back.”
Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action Winter 2016 vol 10.4
Police–community relations play out within a broader
network of complex relations, such as race relations and power
dynamics and the role of individual and collective trauma. For
one ex-oender, the project cut through that complexity and
connected him with a sense of shared humanity:
Playback takes race o the table, you gotta take your pride
and put it to the side. Playback took me back to being a
kid, before I ever did anything wrong. I think that’s why
the kids need to see it because kids think that when you
get to a certain age, you’re too old to laugh, too old to play.
We would laugh, joke, do silly stu. I never thought that
me and these police ocers would talk the way we do. I
don’t even look at them like they police ocers, I look at
them like they people . . . at’s a man that I met, that’s a
man that I spent time with, that I told stories to. at’s a
man that trusts me to tell me his stories.
In addition to the impact on individual participants, there
is potential for considerable community impact. e public
performance for MPD command sta, as well as local news
coverage15 has prompted MPD leaders to seek out information
about how their ocers can participate in future iterations.16
Aer the culminating performances, multiple participants
have performed with the PM professional ensemble and have
been involved in training participants in the second iteration.
Based on the outcomes of the rst iteration, additional grant
support was sought and obtained, allowing more ocers and
ex-oenders to take part. Finally, although the number of
participants directly involved remains small, the story of this
work is being disseminated through various means in the
community, oering a narrative of positive police–commu-
nity relations to contrast with the barrage of negative stories
that pervade our newsfeeds. One example of a positive story
occurred in Frayser, when a uniformed Caucasian MPD ocer
spontaneously stopped in his squad car to greet and embrace
one of the LTS participants who was working in the street
cleaning up blight. eir interaction was observed by several
community members unaliated with the project. Although
it is dicult to evaluate the impact of such occurrences, both
police and LTS participants commented on the very positive
perspective on police–community relations it reected.
Participants provided insight into what was most valuable
about the project for them. One major nding was the perceived
benet of being uncomfortable. Participants noted that being
“silly” in the form of training exercises allowed them to “let stu
out” that was otherwise inaccessible or deemed inappropriate
in the mixed group environment. e symbolic language of
play is well-established with children, specically the notion
that play, art, and movement promote access to unconscious
knowledge and experience and subsequently beckon them into
a therapeutic space.
Some clinical professionals integrate these
processes into work with adults,
and this project provides
further evidence for the value of such integration.
By working through discomfort and engaging in meaningful
expression through playfulness, participants accessed deeper
discomforts, particularly those that arose from hearing others’
stories. Several ex-oenders reported feeling “convicted” by
an ocer’s emotional story of the devastating impact of the
shooting death of a child that occurred on duty. is type of vul-
nerability was made possible through the methodical creation of
a safe space, in which support was made continuously available:
“It [the ocer’s story] was deep, and I couldn’t do nothing.
Because I feel, and it took me back. I felt bad about what I used to
do, what I was doing in the streets.” Friedman and colleagues14
refer to this type of empathic attunement and connectivity as
“resonance,” which occurs when the fundamental humanity in
one person is experienced by another. ey assert that this type
of engagement helps people move out of an internal protective
mode and into an openhearted consideration of the other.
One challenge to the project’s feasibility was getting
started. A major setback occurred when there was an outbreak
of gun violence in Frayser, which led to increased patrols that
required ocer reallocation, including away from PTP.2 is
was necessary despite organizational support from the MPD’s
deputy director. Although this challenge to feasibility was not
inherent to the project itself, it was impossible to circumvent
and delayed the launch of the project by a few months. Another
limitation was the specicity of the stakeholders and the com-
munity in which they work. e visionary leadership necessary
to undertake a project with this level of coordination and com-
mitment is not universal, and the conuence of these specic
groups may be unusually synergistic. Additionally, the current
study did not measure change between phases 1 and 2, so it is
dicult to determine the dierential impact of the initial group
sessions and the theater component on changes in outcomes.
Finally, this was a small pilot study with no control group.
Smigelsky et al. Performing the Peace
Intervention studies targeting police–community rela-
tions are uncommon in the literature, which is understand-
able given the complexity of the work. Rothman
the power of “why” discussions, in which participants in
Cincinnati experienced “resonance” with one another through
the mutual sharing of stories about why they wanted to
improve police–community relations. Creating a “social and
psychological space” in which participants could voice his-
torically and contextually-situated concerns, as well as hopes
and dreams for the future, was believed to be an essential
component of the process.18 is suggests that the process is
indeed fundamental to the desired outcome.
is study is a timely example of how community partners
can collaborate in creative ways to address the escalating prob-
lem of poor police–community relations. Solving relational
problems requires intimate sharing and deep listening that
occur within a context of safety and understanding. Creating
such contexts is a challenge for many communities; however,
this study demonstrates that such work is both feasible and
acceptable to law enforcement and community members.
One direction for future research is to evaluate the impact of
integrating Playback into the organizational learning structure
of the MPD. From the newest recruits to the most senior
leadership, Playback is now reaching all levels of the MPD.
is is perhaps the most advantageous structural change we
could see in the eort to improve police–community rela-
tions. is project is a model that other communities can use
to promote empathy, connection, and peacefulness using a
collaborative CBPR approach.
1. Civil rights division report on the assassination of Dr. Martin
Luther King. United States Department of Justice; [cited 2015
August 9]. Available from:
2. Alexander C. MPD continues to investigate Frayser shoot-
ings, neighbors step up to improve area [Internet]. August
21, 2014 [cited 2015 Aug 11]. Available from: http://wreg
3. Anthony D, Hunter E, Jewell L, et al. Frayser: A turning point
[Internet]. Autumn 2006 [cited 2015 Aug 11]. Available
/ documents/frayser_turning_pt.pdf
4. 38127 Zip Code [Internet]. World Media Group,
LLC; 2015 [cited 2015 August 11]. Available from: http://www
5. Tennessee Department of Education. 2014 school accountabil-
ity: 2015 priority schools [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2015 Aug 11].
Available from:
6. Lee JM, Steinberg L, Piquero AR. Ethnic identity and attitudes
toward the police among African American juvenile oenders.
J Crim Justice 2010;38(4):781–9.
7. Murphy VR, Neimeyer RA. Playback eatre. In: ompson
BE, Neimeyer RA, editors. Grief and the expressive arts: Prac-
tices for creating meaning. New York: Routledge; 2014:85–94.
8. Murphy VR. Email to: Smigelsky MA. (2015 June 17).
9. Shore N, Wong KA, Seifer SD, et al. Introduction to special
issue: advancing the ethics of community-based participatory
research. J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics 2008;3(2):1–4.
10. Holland JM, Currier JM, Coleman RA, et al. e integration
of stressful life experiences scale (ISLES): Development and
initial validation of a new measure. Int J Stress Manag. 2010;
11. Wongpakaran T, Wongpakaran N, Intachote‐Sakamoto R,
et al. e Group Cohesiveness Scale (GCS) for psychiatric
inpatients. Perspect Psychiatr Care 2013;49(1):58–64.
12. Pittinsky TL, Rosenthal SA, Montoya RM. Measuring positive
attitudes toward outgroups: Development and validation
of the Allophilia Scale. In: Tropp LR, Mallett RK, editors.
Moving beyond prejudice reduction: Pathways to positive in-
tergroup relations. Washington (DC): American Psychological
Association; 2011:41–60.
13. Playback eatre. Available from:
14. Friedman VJ, Rothman J, Withers B. e power of why. In:
Roth man J, editor. From identity-based conict to identity-
based co oper a tion: e ARIA approach in theory and practice.
Peace Psychology Book Series. New York: Springer; 2012:21–33.
15. Phillips B. Playback Memphis brings together police and
felons. Memphis Flyer. 2015.
16. Knowlton J. Email to: Smigelsky MA (2015 Dec 5).
17. Bruner KS. Group play therapy with adults. e Arts in Psycho-
therapy. 2000;27(5):333–8.
18. Rothman J. Applying action evaluation on a large scale:
Cincinnati police–community relations collaborative—
Successes, failures and lessons learned. In: Rothman J, editor.
From identity-based conict to identity-based cooperation:
e ARIA approach in theory and practice. Peace Psychology
Book Series. New York: Springer; 2012:191–205.
... Efforts to improve police-community relations are diverse and range from empirical investigation of racial and other disparities in law enforcement to interventions aimed at reducing implicit bias and reinvigorating community policing (Weir, 2016). In Memphis, Tennessee, a program called PTP (Smigelsky et al., 2016) seeks to address the challenge of tense police-community relations by building personal relationships between police officers and ex-offenders, two groups that are categorically divided by mistrust and mutual antipathy. The medium of intervention is a unique form of audience-inspired, improvisational theater called Playback (Fox, 1994), which is an appropriate medium for conducting PR. ...
... Five were women, and five were men. Participants were selected by the leadership of MPD and LTS (see Smigelsky et al., 2016 for more detailed information about the selection process and the community-based framework guiding the project). ...
... Consistent with the Playback model, the actors have no prior knowledge of the stories prior to their solicitation in the context of the performance. The remaining sessions in Phase 2 (between 9 and 15, depending on which iteration) consist of police officers and ex-offenders learning how to perform the various forms of Playback and practicing with each other by telling personal stories (see Smigelsky et al., 2016 for a more detailed description of the project). An individual's story is then "played back" by an ensemble of other participants who make "offerings" that seek to highlight emotionally salient aspects of the story. ...
Full-text available
Restorative retelling (RR) is an evidence-based procedure for facilitating adaptation following traumatic bereavement. In this paper, we introduce performative retelling (PR), a variation on RR, which fosters healing from personal losses and portrays personal reactions to collective tragedy. We describe our collaboration with an ex-offender reentry program, the Memphis Police Department, and Playback Theatre to use improvisational community theatre to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the citizens they serve. We review program outcomes to-date and illustrate its impact using participant stories. We argue that training police and citizens in PR can potentially transform broken narratives of police-community relations.
... Consequently, it is difficult to see how they contribute to an A rating for "generalisability" and "applicability" for policy development in the UK. What use could DCMS make, for example, of a US study of the impact of a theatre production on police and ex-offender attitudes towards one another based on the views of 10 participants (Smigelsky et al., 2016)? Or an Australian study of a "verbatim theatre" play on audience understandings of domestic violence assessed in a small sample of audience members through an online survey (Madsen, 2018)? ...
Full-text available
This paper outlines the growth of interest in the UK in the social and health impacts of the arts from the late 1990s onwards. It highlights the early critiques of claims made about such impacts by Belfiore and Mirza (Mirza, 2006a). Attention is given to two recent commissioned reviews of arts and health research, by the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe, and the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which conclude that the can arts have an important role in promoting health and reducing social and health inequalities. These reports have substantial limitations, however, and the critical concerns raised by Belfiore and Mirza remain to be addressed. The paper concludes that broad scoping reviews are ill-advised as a guide for practice and policy development, and future progress should be guided by rigorous, systematic and transparent methods that ensure that review results are trustworthy. The arts and cultural engagement may have a part to play in promoting wellbeing, but whether or not they can have a substantial role in promoting population health and reducing social and health inequalities is yet to be demonstrated.
... Violent bereavement is over-represented in marginalized sociodemographic populations, indicating the need for violent loss interventions to incorporate sources of resilience present in these populations (Bottomley, Burke, & Neimeyer, 2015;McDevitt-Murphy et al., 2012;Milman, Rheingold, Williams, & Bountress, in press). Meaningoriented protocols make it possible to take advantage of such population-specific resiliency factors by exploring diverse sources of meaning (Neimeyer, 2016;Neimeyer et al., in press), including spirituality (Doka, 2012;Pearce & Smigelsky, 2015), artistic endeavours (Thompson & Neimeyer, 2014), family (Hooghe & Neimeyer, 2013), community (Murphy & Neimeyer, 2014;Smigelsky et al., 2016), and legacy work commemorating the deceased (Hochberg, 2012). This flexibility enables clinicians to foster a sense of peace regarding the death event and a continuing bond with the deceased in a manner that is compatible with the resources and protective factors that are accessible to diverse violently bereft populations. ...
Full-text available
Background: Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) is over-represented among those who have lost loved ones to violent causes. To tailor PGD interventions for this vulnerable population it is critical to examine the aetiology of PGD specifically in the context of violent death bereavement. Previous studies have suggested that violent loss increases symptoms of PGD by hindering the mourner’s ability to make meaning of the death or its aftermath. However, these studies have relied on cross sectional data that preclude genuine prediction and have not differentiated among specific themes of meaning. Objective: This study aimed to identify specific themes of meaning that mediate the detrimental impact of violent loss on subsequent emergence of PGD symptomatology among the violently bereft. Method: A longitudinal, prospective design (N = 171) was used to assess violent loss and themes of meaning an average of six months post-loss allowing for prediction of PGD symptoms an average of eight months later. Results: Violent loss had a significant indirect effect on PGD symptomatology when meaning themes focusing on sense of peace and continuing bonds served as mediators. Conclusions: This study demonstrates the mediating role that specific meaning themes play in the development of PGD symptomatology following violent loss. These findings highlight the potential benefits of applying a meaning-based intervention approach with the violently bereft.
Full-text available
Playback Theater (PT) is a type of theater in which personal stories shared by the audience are represented through improvisation, and where new meanings for the narrators’ experiences are co-created through empathic listening and artistic expression. Since meaning is one of the components of well-being, the goal is to investigate whether a 12 session PT intervention has an effect on participants’ levels of meaning and empathy. A randomized controlled trial was conducted but, statistically, it could not be concluded that the intervention had an effect on the participants. Important theoretical contributions are made linking PT to the constructs of empathy and meaning. Complementing the quantitative analysis of the results with a qualitative one may provide new clues to the use of TP as a well-being promotion intervention.
Full-text available
The question “Why?” – though often avoided by mediators and facilitators – is a powerful tool for unlocking the door between antagonism and resonance when skillfully applied to program planning and conflict engagement. Appropriate use of the question “Why?” engages participants in making core values explicit to themselves and others. It is a key to the successful application of Rothman’s (1997) ARIA process. A variety of successful practical applications are reported, ranging from program planning sessions to large, computer-based cross-community conflict engagements. The article builds upon the authors’ own experience and research in dialogue to present a practical, step-by-step guide, including a checklist and “do’s and don’ts’ for facilitating the “Why Dialogue” in identity-based conflict and cooperation scenarios.
Full-text available
After protracted racial tensions that culminated in what was variously called civil unrest and riots in 2001 The Cincinnati community was in crisis. Scaling up, the Action Evaluation process was adapted and used to launch a “Police-Community Relations Collaborative process.” So began a year long process that engaged thousands of citizens in Cincinnati in a truly innovative, inclusive and participatory problem-solving process paving the way for a landmark federal court agreement lauded by police experts around the country as a new model.
Full-text available
Making meaning out of life stressors has been proposed as a crucial mech-anism by which individuals adjust to these experiences. However, an easy-to-use, multidimensional, and well-validated measure of the meaning made after a stressful life event has not been developed and tested. Thus, the present study tested the reliability and validity of scores for a newly devel-oped measure called the Integration of Stressful Life Experiences Scale (ISLES). In 2 samples of young adults—1 that experienced a variety of stressors (n 178) and another that experienced a recent bereavement (n 150)—ISLES scores were shown to have strong internal consistency and, among a subsample of participants, also exhibited moderate test–retest reliability. In both samples, support was also found for a 2-factor structure, with 1 factor assessing one's sense of having some footing in the world following the stressful life event and the other gauging the comprehensibility of the stressor. Convergent validity analyses revealed that ISLES scores are
Purpose: This study aimed to examine the psychometric properties of the seven-item Group Cohesiveness Scale (GCS). Design and methods: In total, 96 inpatients completed the GCS along with the Cohesion to Therapist Scale Questionnaire and the Group Benefit Questionnaire after participating in group therapy sessions. Construct and concurrent validities and internal consistency were analyzed. Findings: It yielded a Cronbach's alpha of .87, with a one-factor solution with excellent fit indices. A significant correlation was found between the GCSc, the Cohesion to Therapist Scale, and the Group Benefit Questionnaire. Practice implications: The scale shows good internal consistency, and its brevity makes it suitable for use with psychiatric inpatients.
Although there is a knowledge base regarding theoretical and empirical research on attitudes toward the police, this line of research has not fully examined the sources of such attitudes, and in particular the extent to which attitudes toward the police are influenced by ethnic identity. The present study examined the role of ethnic identity in African American adolescent offenders' perceptions of general police discrimination, direct police contact, procedural justice, and police legitimacy. Analyses showed that youth with a stronger sense of ethnic identity perceived more police discrimination but reported more positive beliefs about police legitimacy. The findings underscore the importance of considering processes that may make legal socialization experiences more salient for adolescents, and demonstrate the complex role that ethnic identity plays in relation to discrimination.
Increasingly communities are engaging in community-based participatory research (CBPR) to address their pressing health concerns, frequently in partnership with institutions. CBPR with its underlying values challenges us to expand the traditional framework of ethical analysis to include community-level and partnership-oriented considerations. This special issue considers ethical considerations inherent in CBPR, presents examples of how communities have created their own processes for research ethics review, and identifies challenges CBPR teams may encounter with institution-based research ethics committees. Drawing upon the special issue articles and the work conducted by Community-Campus Partnerships for Health and the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, we propose an approach and a set of strategies to create a system of research ethics review that more fully accounts for individual and community-level considerations.
MPD continues to investigate Frayser shootings, neighbors step up to improve area
  • C Alexander
Alexander C. MPD continues to investigate Frayser shootings, neighbors step up to improve area [Internet]. August 21, 2014 [cited 2015 Aug 11]. Available from: http://wreg .com/2014/08/21/mpd-continues-to-investigate-fraysershootings-neighbors-step-up-to-improve-area/
Frayser: A turning point
  • D Anthony
  • E Hunter
  • L Jewell
Anthony D, Hunter E, Jewell L, et al. Frayser: A turning point [Internet]. Autumn 2006 [cited 2015 Aug 11]. Available from: / documents/frayser_turning_pt.pdf