The theme of this week's episode of NPR's This American Life, which premieres Friday, is "The Poetry of Propaganda," and one of the stories centers on a unique after-school program in San Francisco that staged an original musical during the last school year all about the gentrification and eviction crisis here. It was called "City Not For Sale," and given that it was co-created and performed by a group of K-through-5th graders, as you can even hear from them in the above promo video from last spring, it was as much about the kids' teachers and parents and the things they'd been talking about all year about the city changing, as it was about the kids' own ideas about this.
The after-school program is called CASA (Children's After-School Arts), and it's a non-profit, arts-focused daily hangout of sorts with a focus on social justice issues, and it should go without saying is very San Francisco.
It's a program that was developed two decades ago at the Rooftop Alternative School, a K-8 public school in the Twin Peaks neighborhood which itself has a social justice and arts bent. As Rooftop parent Meesha Halm tells SFist, CASA came about in part because of how early the school lets out. "It's basically a place where kids can go after school to play, finish their homework, and do art," she explains. "The school gets out at 1:50 p.m. which is ridiculously early, so working parents depend on it to be a safe place for their kids to hang out before they can be picked up." But, she adds, "It's so much more than that. Really it's like summer camp every day. It's very nurturing and tribal."
In addition to leading students in small group art activities that include sculpture, clowning, painting, drumming, "magical arts," and improv, the school puts on a big annual musical each May on a different theme. In 2014 it was "revolution," but the theme that developed for the spring 2015 show was "San Francisco."
Sixth graders "graduate" into their own program called Club Six, which Halm describes as a chill space not unlike "Greg Brady's bedroom" where they have downtime, cook food, and do homework. So, at CASA, the 5th graders are the "seniors," and they help co-write the annual musical, which last year was influenced by the plight of many Rooftop teachers and some parents who were getting priced out of and/or evicted from their SF homes.
48 Hills covered "City Not For Sale" when it premiered, and they spoke to longtime program director Leslie Einhorn who explained, "There’s such a mass exodus of artists and people of color and families out of the city... The kids have a lot questions about it. We have a very diverse group which includes a lot of families who are being pushed out of the city and more and more, kids of tech workers." And, subsequently, "There’s a lot of conversations on the [schoolyard] about what these tech companies are doing to our city."
One has to wonder how the children of recently transplanted tech workers felt about this musical that was kind of implicating their parents for ruining everything. But it was a parent of one Rooftop student who apparently wrote about the show and got This American Life's attention.
Einhorn explains to SFist, "Jon Mooallem had a daughter who was a kindergartener at CASA. He contacted me after the show and said it really moved him and asked if I'd be willing to share the script, as he was interested in writing a story about it [for Pop-Up Magazine]. Jon's family was preparing to leave the city and many of the themes of the play spoke to him." Mooallem then performed the story in a live show the magazine did, which one of the producers of TAL saw.
We'll hear more from Mooallem, and perhaps from kids, teachers, and other parents when the TAL segment airs Friday.
In the meantime, below are the lyrics of the big finale song, written by Einhorn and CASA's musical director. Einhorn tells us that this year's theme is "nature," and CASA's next big musical on that topic will be staged on the weekend of May 14th at Lowell High School's Carol Channing Theater. "Our fifth graders were interested in the plight of bees," she says, "So I'm seeing a big bee number involving kazoos!"
From "City Not for Sale"
There’s beauty all around us, from North Beach to the Haight But a fog of greed covers the Golden Gate We have plenty of energy but a lack of dollar bills Just to keep on climbing these forty-eight hills
With pockets full of memories and one foot out the door We make a vow to love her in richer and in poorer We make a vow to stand up and ask for what is fair We’re shouting from the Rooftops, There’s justice in the air!
Chorus: We gotta Shake! Shake! Shake! Things up Cuz we have had enough We gotta scream and yell and shout and wail! This city’s not for sale! This city’s not for sale! This city’s not for sale!