As Sheriff Terry Burton in Hard Cell, Jen Cody does and says some pretty hilarious things – but she took her preparations for the role quite seriously. Her research included a Saturday night ride-along during the second week of rehearsals with an officer from the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department.
Jen’s sheriff training began at 9:30 pm, with an explanation of the equipment an officer carries and wears while on duty. She got her own bullet-proof vest to wear in the car, and an overview of the essential safety equipment (including gloves and a mask for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation), weapons, and restraints (including this particular officer’s favorite bright pink handcuffs). An explanation of how tasers work came in particularly handy back in the rehearsal room, for choreographing a bit that’s become an audience favorite on stage.
Next, Jen attended the officers’ roll call. Despite the name, these meetings go well beyond taking attendance to include reminders of department policies and updates on outstanding incidents from previous shifts, so Jen was able to learn a lot about how the officers interact and the kinds of situations they face on the job.
Finally, it was time to head out on patrol. As Jen reported at rehearsal the next day, most of the night was pretty boring. But toward the end of her ride-along, a call came in for the Ontario officers to take over pursuit of a suspect who was about to cross into their jurisdiction, having already been chased through two neighboring counties. Jen’s vehicle was part of the high-speed chase, and the suspect was in fact apprehended in Ontario County. Jen finally left to drive home at 1:30 am – accidentally still wearing her vest (don’t worry, it’s since been returned).
Over the course of the night, Jen got to ask a lot of questions about things her character does in Hard Cell. Usually, the answer was that the officers she met would handle things quite differently. As the audience learns early in the play, Terry is “sort of an odd duck” and doesn’t always play by the same rules as other law enforcement officers. But even when the lessons from her research couldn’t be copied faithfully on stage, it’s been helpful for Jen to know when Terry is departing from standard procedure. If you’re wondering just how often that’s the case, well…there’s only one way to find out!