by Mariah Schultz and Aidan Senn
There is a fine line between satire and humor. The two can often coalesce, but humor is merely a byproduct of satire, not the sole function. At its heart, satire is meant to critique a clear truth in an exaggerated and often absurd (and humorous) extent. It requires precise language, thorough research and clever wit.
Apparently a certain writer from The Black Sheep didn’t get the memo, or at least lacked the basic competency to Google the term ‘satire’. The Black Sheep at DePaul published an article, “Theatre School Producing Junie B. Jones Is Not A Crook, Because Apparently We’re All Six Years Old”. We were in fact all once six years old, so you can already tell this writer really did his homework.
The author insinuates that The Theatre School is too cowardly to take on productions that tackle issues such as “class conflict, racial injustice, and misogyny”. The reasoning, according to a fictitious, TTS professor named William Shake It Up (really?) was because “the last thing [The Theatre School] wants is a play encouraging any sort of rebellion or questioning of authority among the students…Junie B. Jones Is Not A Crook is perfect for keeping [our audience] at a nice, mentally compliant age like six”. From this point on, it’s clear that any and all forms of research or critical thinking that would have to be done beforehand, even for satire, were going to be noticeably absent.
The first mistake the article made was having all the exuberance of that classmate who brings up in every conversation how they went to the same high school as Timothee Chalamet: trying too hard. The article praised The Theatre School for its accomplishments like our notable alumni, and history of shows tackling relevant issues only to immediately undercut these achievements. This would be permissible for a satirical article in alluding the audience into one image, only to present them with underlying truth. But there isn’t any established truth to go off of here, other than the alumni this writer managed to have the time to look up for this sloppy introduction clearly written on a deadline.
The author also displays an abundant lack of working knowledge on how The Theatre School’s seasons work, which is more infuriating than any “satirical” article ever has any right of being. Our mainstage series is separated by our three theatres: the Fullerton, the Healy, and the Merle Reskin. The Merle Reskin Theatre houses our children’s show series all dedicated to (you guessed it) younger audiences. It would make sense for us to do a show for children in our children’s programming slot. These shows are meant primarily for children, which the writer seems to turn their nose up at. Though if he had bothered to attend a performance, who’s to say a fellow college student couldn’t get something out of it as well?
Not only was there a lack of understanding of how The Theatre School’s season worked, but also the basic plot of Junie B. Jones. Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook deals with Junie B. when she is in kindergarten, not in first grade as the article states. It is also has strange inaccuracies referring to Junie B.’s teacher as Teacher instead of the popularly known Mrs. yet names such as Grace and the author Barbara Park had time to be looked up. The plot and characters could have been better remembered by, dare I say, a six year old. And when you’re diminishing the intelligence of children, on top of a loss of credibility, and reaching for humor where there is none to be found, it speaks for itself.
But then comes along the author of the Black Sheep article, who probably just saw a poster for the show around campus and chalked that up as, “Junie B. Jones? What are we, six?” After this, they concluded that the reason we’re doing this show is because we’re condescending to our peer’s intelligence and not doing any challenging work in our field. (We cannot verify the first part of this paragraph because we didn’t reach out to the author, but hey, they didn’t bother to do any research either.) Maybe if the author had actually attended our production, it could have been a different article altogether: “Why All College Students Are Still Like Junie B. Jones” “Junie B. Jones: the Original Feminist Icon” “Junie B. Jones’ Jargon, the Only Way to Speak”. Just spitballing here.
At a certain point, the article stops being satire. The article stops being light-hearted. The article stops trying to reach toward some kind of truth through humor and starts being hurtful. It instead becomes neglectful toward the work that we, as artists, try to accomplish.
Although intended for younger audiences, Junie B. Jones was around when many of us were growing up. The change in facial expression, the lighting up of eyes, the warmth in people’s smiles when they heard we were doing this show cannot cannot stress the the joy in this discovery. And there’s a reason for its resonance. We all still struggle to find self-acceptance from among our peers, in learning to make friends as adults, and to find a way to celebrate ourselves instead of conforming to societal expectations of beauty, class, and relationships.
The show, like most art anyone creates, feels incredibly personal. Every day for about a month, there’s not a more satisfying feeling than getting to walk into the rehearsal room and sink your hands into a production that you are proud of. All of the cast and crew’s handprints are visible in this production, intentional or not. Every other day, getting to possibly be a part of someone’s first time ever seeing theatre is the perfect motivation to get out of bed. There is a privilege in getting to engage with the audience in that pre-show announcement for each performance, and the kids in Chicago Public Schools who come in screaming good morning, unprompted. Your heart can’t help but grow three times larger, a la the Grinch, each time.
So many people are eager to tear other people’s work down for the sake of being funny or poignant, even right now, in our writing about this person’s attempt at satire. But where is the line drawn between making constructive criticism, being witty, and being mean? There has to be an answer, but we pulled this out of thin “hair” (as Junie B. would say). What we do know is shows like Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook are important, and the more time we spend producing online media based on a lack of research and poorly articulated arguments, the less valuable our words become. We would rather spend time working on a show aimed for six year olds than write from a mean-spirited, poorly executed, persona of authenticity any day.