Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Wicked - the musical

Last night I accompanied a group of students to the theatre to see Wicked. I didn't know anything about it beforehand, but hey, it's a free theatre ticket, I'm not going to say no. I knew it was a musical and so expected singing, dancing and superficialness. Yes, there was the singing and dancing but I was surprised by some of the challenging themes it addressed. 

The show is basically the backstory to The Wizard of Oz and begins with the Good Witch Glinda announcing the death of Wicked Witch of the West to the people of Oz. They are hesitant to believe the good news at first but once convinced celebrate gladly. One asks Glinda 'But weren't you friends with her once?' Shocked silence. Glinda at first deflects the question, then decides to answer honestly. The show switches to flashback mode and we get the story of the Wicked Witch's life from her birth to her death.

Born green, her father, the governor, had no time for her and more or less abandoned her. When her wheelchair-bound sister was born she was given the role of looking after her. As teenagers they went off to boarding school together, though Alphaba had been allowed to go only because her sister needed her. She is shunned because of the colour of her skin. Her sister isn't treated much better due to her disability despite them both being in a supposed position of influence being that they are the governor's daughters after all. The theme of racism and prejudice continues and develops into a paradigm of how a society, particularly one in hard times, creates its own scapegoats and how easily people buy into the idea. 

The scapegoats in Oz are the animals. All animals can talk and hold down regular jobs such as teaching. One by one, species by species, the animals are silenced and in some cases caged. They are dismissed from their jobs and lose all 'human' rights. As people's minds are poisoned against them, there are few to stand up for them and those that do are seen as subversive. That the scapegoats of choice are so readily turned from upstanding citizens into public enemy number one is reminiscent of 17th century witch hunts, 1930's and 40's Nazi Germany, the US's Reds under the Beds anti-communist frenzy of the 1950s and the present day scaremongering and paranoia about 'illegal immigrants' and 'bogus asylum seekers' as propagated by the likes of the Daily Mail.

Despite the ill-treatment and disdain, Alphaba is good. Good and righteous she is one of the few to stand up for the animals. When she first arrives at the school she looses her cool and demonstrates her ability at magic. The headmistress, impressed by this ability, takes her under her wing and gives her special lessons in sorcery. Alphaba works hard at these lessons as she wants to attain a standard high enough to warrant an invitation to meet with the Wizard himself. Finally she is able to realise her dream of meeting the Wizard and we find out that her reason for wanting this so badly is because she wants to ask him to do something for the animals. To her dismay, she discovers that the Wizard is not all he seems and his power is due more to clever PR than any real talent for magic. To consolidate his position it is he who is behind the scapegoating of the animals.

Alphaba ends up on the run with her name blackened. She continues to fight for justice in Oz, but the Wizard's media savvy PR is far more powerful and effective than her magic. 

Other characters from The Wizard of Oz, such as the Tin Man and the Scarecrow are woven into the story and we find out their backstories too. Glinda, the Good Witch, starts out as a spoilt and self-centred airhead whose only interests in life are her looks and getting her own way. For her and Alphaba it is a case of loathe at first sight. Thrown together as roommates they come first to tolerate each other and then to become friends. Through her friendship with Alphaba, Glinda becomes the good person she later becomes renowned for being. 

I really enjoyed the exploration of so many different issues reflective of contemporary life (there are more than I've touched on here), and also enjoyed the way the story was so cleverly linked to the original to become a 'believable' prequel. I can now understand why it is so popular and why so many people rave about it.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Introduction to BELA

Up early this morning to drive to a primary school in St Helens for the first day of my BELA course. I got there early and sat sipping a coffee as the other delegates arrived. There are 21 of us in all. Most of the trainers we'll be meeting over the next few months were there too to introduce themselves. 

BELA stands for Basic Expedition Leaders' Award and will qualify me to lead bronze and silver expeditions for Duke of Edinburgh Award students. It's only one step down from the walking group leaders' qualification and so should stand me in good stead to achieve that whenever I get round to going for it.

It's quite a time commitment as between now and November I have to attend three residential weekends. They start on the Friday evening and finish on the Sunday. I have to do another one in March for my assessment. In between finishing the third residential weekend and the assessment I have to fit in 30 hours of leading kids on walks. This concerns me a bit as it'll be in the winter when daylight is short and the weather may be bad. Although this wouldn't stop me from going out on a walk myself I won't be able to take students out in the dark or in torrential storms and heavy snow drifts. I thought I'd be able to backdate these 30 hours to the spring and early summer when I spent, what seemed like, most of my weekends out with kids on practice and assessed bronze and silver expedition weekends. 

What I can backdate is my own walking experience. I have to fill in a log of walks I've done myself. Easy-peasy - I've got lots of them logged on here so I just have to flip back through my blog and copy the details over. 

Throughout the day we went over the expectations of the course and got a lot of the admin and form-filling done. Then we looked at equipment and did quite an interesting exercise in which we were given an equipment list, a total cost spent and lot of pictures of equipment from which we had to choose items to fit the cost we'd been given. It really showed how little you can spend to get the basics on a low budget and how much you can spend if you want to splash out on the best of everything and/or go for named brands. 

We looked at some actual equipment and were advised on how to tell if something is good or not and which items it's worth spending a bit more on to get something decent (basically the things that can hurt you - boots and rucksack and also jacket because being soaking wet and cold is the equivalent of being 'hurt'). 

All in all it was a good day and I'm feeling excited about my first residential the weekend after next. 

Friday, 6 September 2013

What's the best way to learn drumming?

What's the best way to learn drumming? Well, according to research the best way to learn anything is to teach it.

I got my new timetable just before we broke up for summer and SHOCK! HORROR! I'm going to be teaching two year 7 classes music. As I am the least musical person I know this is going to be quite a challenge. I'm convinced I'm tone deaf, I have no sense of rhythm, I can't hold a tune, when I sing even cats cover their ears. 

Luckily I have a very understanding Head of Music. Before we broke up she asked me what I would like to teach and as I would like to learn drums myself of course this is what I said. I put it on my list of challenges as I think learning a musical instrument will help make me become a more rounded person (at the moment I'm relying on cake to do this) and drums are my instrument of choice because hitting something seems a really good way of dealing with stress at the end of a bad day and this would be a legitimate way of doing this.

The Head of Music spent some time teaching me the basics before we broke up for summer. I got excited, she despaired. We're going to do some work on beats and rhythm and then, a few weeks in, we'll get the samba drums out and start proper drumming. I have a lot to learn before then as at the moment I can't even say the names of the various drums let alone play them. 

Just to help me along (and because I'm enthusiastic) I ordered myself some drums over the summer. I've got a set of bongos and a bodhran. I've got these because they were the cheapest out of all the different types of drums and at the moment I just need to something to practice my rhythm and beats on. 

As I don't know anything about levels or stages of drumming I don't know what to aim for to be able to say I've completed this challenge. At the moment I'll just say it's in progress and decide later what my actual goal is.