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“Pirates vs. Leprechauns” at the Wayward Artist

Gold Rush: Bandits of the high seas meet Irish legends in first children’s play at Santa Ana theatre

By Joel Beers

True story: The person typing these words toiled as OC Weekly's theatre critic for 25 years but had never read a play until his early 20s and had seen only one: a junior high production of “The Hobbit” when he was in fifth grade. On the ride home, his driver, also known as Mom, asked if he liked it.

“It could have been better,” he said.

We cannot escape our destiny, but we can brace against pint-sized critics walking into our theatre, which is what Sydney Raquel is doing as the opening of ”Pirates vs. Leprechauns,” an hour-long play with six songs and the first children’s theatre show in the six-year history of Wayward Artist, approaches.

Although it’s the first time she’s directed children’s theatre on a stage other than a kid summer camp or equivalent, Raquel, who is the production manager at Wayward, has been around theatre long enough to know two things: kids don’t have filters, and every show, other than one featuring kids just learning how to act, requires actors to invest in the reality of the play. 

“Kids can be the harshest critics because they will tell it to you straight,” she says to the first point. “If they don’t think something's funny, they will tell you it’s not funny. So I have that in the back of my mind. It’s a little exciting and dangerous. But the cast is hilarious. I know that will not be a problem.”

But funny still requires work. Which brings up the second thing she’s learned.

“The actor still has to find the truth of their characters, the underlying truth, whether the audience is children or not,” she says. “Because if they don’t, the audience won’t care about the play or trust the play.”

And that truth boils down to two questions, she believes: “What do (the characters) want, and how are they going to get it? Actors still have to find that reality (because) even in a fantastical world, there is an underlying truth that they must have a sense of to be believable.”

Playwright Craig Holland agrees that “children are very interesting audience members. They laugh at what’s funny, and if they don’t, they won’t give a courtesy laugh. And they laugh at things that you don’t expect, and that can be fun.”

Holland, who joined Wayward two years ago and is managing director, designs video games by day but he’s also a playwright and screenwriter with a particular fondness for theatre for young audiences. He thinks that stems from his love of animation and how the best children’s films also have jokes or references that register with adults, so when writing a kid’s play, you can write for a broader audience.

The idea for this play, which involves a group of pirates landing on an island reputed to have buried treasure and encountering some leprechauns with the same idea, came from Holland’s grandson.


“We were watching a show about pirates landing on an island, and I asked him what other group do you think would be a good match for pirates,” Holland said.“ And he said leprechauns. I thought it was brilliant because they both like gold and treasure but they have much different skill sets, and I thought it’d be fun to explore both.”

The fact that the pirates aren't very good at being pirates and the leprechauns aren’t very good at being leprechauns lends itself to one aspect of this play that makes it truly distinctive from an adult show, Holland said: interactivity.

Holland, who workshopped a half-hour version of the play with a theatre class at Mater Dei High School, which then performed it at local elementary schools, has seen that interactivity himself.

“There are at least a dozen times when an actor turns to an audience member and asks ‘Can you help me figure this out?’ The kids are encouraged to say anything that comes to their mind at any time.”

And that brings up the flip side to kids’ brutal honesty, an attribute kids possess that most adults abandon at some point, but that, if tapped into, can yield its own kind of gold. Because even if kids are more than willing to point out when the emperor has no clothes, if they vibe with the duds, they’re all in.

“Their imaginations are so much more open than adults,” Raquel says. And if those imaginations are engaged, “they are much more willing to go on a journey like this.”

And what’s it feel like to a playwright when kids do go on that journey? Here’s how Holland explains it the first time he watched the earlier version of the play produced for elementary school children.

“There were 500 kids in the audience, the entire school,” Holland said. “And there is just something about hearing the laughter of 500 kids and their clapping and reactions. It really impacted me. Having 500 kids experiencing the joy of life theatre it was…well, it was life-changing.”

Joel Beers is a freelance journalist based in Orange County.. He has also written and adapted 10 full-length plays produced in Los Angeles and Orange counties. 

“Pirates vs. Leprechauns”

The Wayward Artist

125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana California, 92701

December 8 - 17, 2023

(657) 205-6273,

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