Cowan Palace: Don’t Drink Seawater And Other Stuff Kids Know

This week, Ashley’s asking her theatre students to help write her blog.

Greetings, friends! Here’s hoping your week has been full of pie and sans 23 Ides of March stab wounds.

I’ll be honest. I’ve piled my plate a bit too high this year. I mean the Bachelor finale and these Fuller House episodes aren’t going to watch themselves. And between being a mom and working a full time job, I’ve also been busy in rehearsal for Custom Made Theatre’s upcoming production of Middletown (my first full length show since 2013!), trying to be a motivated Maid of Honor for my sister’s upcoming May nuptials, and teaching preschool drama classes on the side.

Because this week was a particularly busy one, I thought I could commission my four year old students to write my blog for me. Their pay? Stickers! Obviously. I’m a pretty generous boss.

So, before we had our warm up and after I had them “shake out their sillies”, I asked my Monday class of five kiddos for their thoughts.


TEACHER ASHLEY: Why do you guys think doing theater is important?

KID ONE: Where are the stickers?

TEACHER ASHLEY: Safe and sound in my bag; keeping my book and my “Jar of Sillies” company. So what do you think? Why do you think drama class is a good idea?

KID ONE: I got new skies! Can I tell you something? I went to Tahoe!

KID TWO: I’m thirsty. I need water!

KID THREE: Me too! (coughs in sudden thirsty despair)

TEACHER ASHLEY: Okay, okay. Let’s take a quick trip to the water fountain. Let’s make a line and pretend we are giraffes! (Kids quickly line up as giraffes and tiptoe to get a drink. Once there, they consume the water in a craze)

KID THREE: I hate seawater!

KID FOUR: Me too! It’s so salty!

KID THREE: I drank seawater! Yuck!

KID ONE: Can I tell you something? I like my skies.

TEACHER ASHLEY: Let’s come back and make a big circle! Let’s see if we can make it look like a giant pizza!

KID FOUR: Seawater is so gross!

TEACHER ASHLEY: C’mon, guys! Let’s see if we can come back to our circle in ten seconds. Remember, if we get through a great class, we can celebrate with some stickers! (Kids immediately run and form a circle on the colorful carpet) Great job! Okay, does anyone else want to share something?

KID FIVE: When do I get to be a mermaid?

TEACHER ASHLEY: You can be a mermaid when we play our storytelling game! Do you think that’s why doing theater is important?

KID FIVE: I’m going to be Ariel. (whispers) And have magic powers.

TEACHER ASHLEY: I can’t wait to see that. Does anyone else want to pretend to a special character today?

KID ONE: Tiger. But this time he really dies.

KID FOUR: Yeah! I’m a tiger too!

TEACHER ASHLEY: Maybe the tigers can fall asleep and wake up with some mermaid magic.

KID ONE: Fine. But then they’re lions.

KID TWO: I want to be a fairy princess baby! And we all go to the castle to watch a movie.

TEACHER: Great! So… is that why theater class is important? Because we get the chance to use our imaginations, work together, and tell stories?

KID THREE: Can I see the stickers?

Pictures by Kid Five and Kid One featuring a magical princess and mountains, respectively.

Pictures by Kid Five and Kid One featuring a magical princess and mountains, respectively.

Ah. Okay. Well, there you go! The kids and I spent the rest of class playing games and making up new stories. I got hugs and laughs and even some drawings to take home! But most importantly, I got a needed distraction and energy boost to help survive these next few weeks with a very full plate. I also learned that maybe money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you stickers. And stickers pave the way to happy trails.

Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: The Privilege to Produce Art

Marissa Skudlarek… checking her privilege?

When we decided the theme for this month’s Theater Pub blog entries, we thought about St. Patrick’s Day and the Luck of the Irish, and decided on “luck and chance.” Those are ancient words and ancient concepts. In the olden days, people often saw a religious component to luck and chance: a god, or gods, had chosen to smile upon you, and therefore you had good fortune. Luck was synonymous with blessings, with fate, with grace.
These days, though, there’s a new synonym for “lucky,” one that is much in the news and the media. And that word is “privileged.”

The theory of privilege asks us to understand that no, we’re not merely lucky, we have benefited from systematic inequalities and prejudices that happened to work in our favor. Grandpa didn’t just pull himself up by his own bootstraps and buy that house in the suburbs; he benefited from racist housing policies that prevented other people, men just like him except for the color of their skin, from buying houses in the suburbs. We shouldn’t be asking people to “count their blessings”; that’s such an entitled, tone-deaf thing to say. Instead, we should ask them to “check their privilege.”

In a sense, privilege is blind luck, because none of us choose what circumstances we’re born into. But it has much more insidious connotations and ramifications than words like “luck” or “chance” usually possess. Therefore, asking someone to check their privilege can be a tricky thing. Take, for instance, this piece about how being a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, as not every mother has the luxury of being able to stop working and support a family on one income. One of my co-workers posted this article on Facebook recently and then got a lot of push-back from her friends who are stay-at-home moms. People can get incredibly defensive when asked to think about their own privilege.

Therefore, at the risk of stirring up the outrage and defensiveness of the people reading this column, I will now say: being able to make and attend theater is also a privilege. Even if we’re working our butts off at day jobs and then rushing to a six-hour tech rehearsal and surviving on five hours of sleep at night, we’re still privileged to have that kind of stress (stress mostly of our own choosing) in our lives. Even if we lament the fact that theater is becoming an upper-middle-class pastime, we are forced to admit that it isn’t always easy for less-privileged people to attend theater. Upper-middle-class people possess disposable income, leisure time, and status anxiety — but if someone lacks some or all of those things, it’s much harder to persuade them to come see a show.

It makes me uncomfortable at times to think about how what I do embodies my privilege, and how the majority of audience members are privileged, too. Many theater-makers look back to the Golden Age of English-Language Theater, Shakespeare’s era where peasants and nobility alike attended the same shows, and we dream of being able to re-create that in our own, 21st-century theaters. But I wonder how realistic that dream is, when we live in a nation, and a city, with rising inequality. I tend to believe that if we want to make theater less of an upper-class or elitist pursuit, it will take more than just making low-cost theater tickets available to low-income people, or of providing more art classes in inner-city schools. I believe it will instead require a radical restructuring of society, a re-thinking of Art and Class and Work and Entertainment, and much checking of privilege. It will take a wide and concerted effort that involves, and affects, more than just theater-makers.

In between our day jobs and our tech rehearsals and the challenges of making art in a late-capitalist society, we do spend time talking about the problems of inequality in the arts. But I don’t know if we necessarily have the time or power or resources that would make us the ideal people to find solutions to these matters. Sometimes I want to say, “I signed up to make theater; I didn’t sign up to solve all the inequalities of society!”

And then I realize how horribly privileged that sounds.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based theater-maker and arts writer. Find her online at or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.