BERKELEY -- To prepare for a performance of "Cops and Robbers," Jinho "The Piper" Ferreira merely opens a newspaper. "All I need is a chair," he claims in an interview.

Playing 17 different characters and riding solo on his life experiences and a soundtrack pulled from the audio play version he produced, Ferreira's one-man, many-voices exploration of an officer-involved shooting plays at The Marsh Berkeley Arts Center through Sept. 13.

Like many things, when it comes to the native of West Oakland who graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in black studies, toured through 24 countries with an alternative hip-hop band, wrote an attention-grabbing screenplay and entered the police academy in 2010, it's complicated.

Ferreira is a married man, father of three, raising his kids in the East Bay. Peel back the top layer, he's a bundle of connections that route themselves through the dysfunctional relationship of law enforcement, the media and the black community. There's no filtered lens, he insists, there's just real life, onstage and off.

Using the "unreal-ness" of a schismatic life that straddles volatile rapper/cop worlds as fuel, Ferreira fashioned a play in four days.

"I don't examine as I write. I just speak from the heart," he says.


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In his heart was a dual landscape. One scene included hanging with his band Flipsyde and opening for Snoop Dogg and The Black Eyed Peas, or writing anthems for the 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2008 Summer Olympics. The flip side was looking into the wide-open eyes of an 11-year-old African American girl, who called on him to protect her from a white man who'd flashed a knife. "She asked me if she was safe and I told her I'd found him and he was in jail. She was realizing the power of her voice: she came to a cop and justice was done," he recalls. "Wouldn't it be good if everyone could look at all criminal justice officers in that way?"

Shifting between the two worlds. Ferreira realized everyone was speaking, but no one was listening to anyone but their own choir.

"Every time I open the paper I'm reminded both worlds are convinced they see the right vision and they have no idea there is a world outside the one they are in," he says.

He says people in the audience are either forced to listen or get up and walk out.

But negative reactions won't deter him. "We can't be afraid to make a mistake, if we want to move this country forward."

Ferreira wrote and produced the original audio play more than a year ago -- recording 60 background voices himself and a six-track EP with his band.

In bringing the play to the stage, he stripped any excess from the script and says the characters have grown, even during a four-month fallow period when he set it aside.

As a seasoned performer, he feels the crowd's energy each night and says inflection, timing, and emphasis vary, but the script is constant and universal.

"Every inner city in the U.S. -- they know about the problems. We paint a pretty picture when it's not pretty," he says. "Everything I learned in life; it's in the play. The African ancestor from 500 years ago or the 13-year-old who's sexually exploited: It's all there."

Ferreira says one of the characters has taken on an independent life of his own and a new album is in the works.

"Cops and Robbers" is also a project and a book that Ferreira brings to schools and correctional facilities in the Bay Area. Performing the play at a recent mental health workshop offered a powerful opportunity to witness how it brought sectors of the community together. "

"I'd like to create more of those empowered, 11-year-old girls," he says.

Not planning to give up either half of his hemispherical life, Ferreira's dream is simply that the two halves stop talking long enough to listen to each other.

If you go
Actor, writer, hip hop artist and Alameda County Sheriff's deputy Jinho "The Piper" Ferreira wrote and performs "Cops and Robbers," a one-man show playing Aug. 16-Sept. 13 at the Marsh Berkeley Arts Center, 2120 Allston Way. Tickets are $20-$35. 510-841-1903, themarsh.org