Playwright Q&A

A whole lot of people contributed ideas to the musical. Lead writer Trish Elliott explains the story behind the satire.

Why did you write the musical?

There’s been lots of talk about the financial cost of Lean. I think it’s important to also consider the human cost.

What is the human cost?

Programs like Lean are really all about changing and managing behaviour. They seek to make us more compliant and production-oriented. The ideal Lean workplace or school is a hive of busy bees focused solely on the objectives of an over-class of manager bees. Such programs claim to be democratic, but impose many layers of control, fear and group-think. Dissenters are “resistant to change.”

Why does the musical take place in a school?

Lean has come to education. Teachers and staff face endless meetings and reports, near-total loss of decision-making, and constantly escalating pressure to do more in less time. Schools are being physically redesigned to serve Lean theories, resembling large open-concept office buildings.

Why is recess central to the plot?

Initially, I simply worked out the logic – free playtime would be muda, the Lean word for ‘waste.’ I thought that was funny. Then I learned it was a real thing. In the U.S., recess was primarily cancelled in schools with a majority of Black of Hispanic students. Stressed-out principals and teachers saw the students as ‘behaviour problems’ who threatened achievement quotas, and who must be more tightly controlled than wealthier white kids (whose recess stayed the same or even longer). So ‘flexible’ scheduling meant more play time for the privileged, less for the marginalized.

What’s the situation in Regina?

The school divisions say they didn’t cancel recess; they merely ‘adjusted’ it to take place during the first and last 15 minutes of the day. It’s great double-speak! Again, this was done exclusively at inner-city community schools, with the argument that managing student behaviour was reducing ‘Time-on-Task,’ a Lean-related term. Instead of an outdoor break, students do short bursts of regulated physical and mental exercises in class. True, recess can be tough to handle, and maybe not every single standardized, buttoned-down curriculum task can be met that day as a result – but who’s to say which is more important to human development? All children should have an equal right to play.

Are there good outcomes?

I guess activities that mirror an actual car assembly line would likely benefit, any production-oriented task, because the methods come from Toyota and Ford. As for human services in general, it’s harder to say. All governments that invest in these processes boast about reduced wait times and improved production. I lived in China back in the day when glowing Lean-style reports eclipsed reality on a daily basis, so I’m skeptical. People should rely on their own experience. Is your mom receiving improved elder care? Was it really quicker to get an appointment for your bad knee? Is your kid better at math than the previous generation? Is your kid’s teacher happier and better able to teach? These gauges are far more accurate than consultant-generated reports.

Are we headed to an Orwellian future? Where’s the hope?

Endless meetings, every aspect of your day under a microscope, fantastical production quotas – it sure seems that way. But history and human nature tell us the more controls you impose, the more rebellion is created. The breaking point comes not by evolution but by revolution. People get fed up and say, “Enough!”

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