Friday, May 15, 2009

Curtain... 2009

Opening night has always been a magical experience, and this year's Drama Night has been no exception. From rehearsal weeks before right up to curtain tonight there was always something to worry over, some crisis to resolve.

But we opened to a warm crowd, so generous with their cheers and applause, so appreciative of the simple set pieced together on an extremely tight budget. It was the audience that made a big difference to the performance. It energised the performers who took it all in, playing at a level we hadn't yet reached at the dress rehearsal the night before.

Despite the worries, there was no real trouble at all. Everyone pitched in to help, even under no obligation. We had Estate and Security support which was particularly cooperative despite our schools being currently at Yellow Alert status. We had encouraging colleagues who kept our spirits up, plying us with food (thanks, Jojo) and Amy even pitched in to select and collect our reception items from Molly's -- cheap and good wholesale nonya kueh (Mel's recommendation). Speaking of Mel, she personally called in long-distance to wish us all a good show, and probably to remind us what a great time she's having in Poland.

In all the running around I was doing, I'd inadvertently left my cam at my desk, so for the first time, I was forced to watch the show through my own eyes rather then via a tiny LCD screen. Apart from a few minor technical hiccups, and mainly in overcoming the inertia of getting the show started -- it's boring to sit and watch nothing but curtain billowing in the air-conditioning updraft -- the show itself was magic. That is, the magic of previously disparate elements of movement, script, props, set, lighting, sound all coming together for once and seeing the story unfold as envisioned by my student directors of whom I am so proud.

One more show tomorrow night, to most likely a smaller audience. If we keep our heads and not get carried away by tonight's high, I'm certain we'll rock the house again and end our run with a bang. Looking forward to that, and maybe sleep too.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GP would be DADA

If JC was Hogwarts, GP would be DADA (Defence Against the Dark Arts). Quoting Prof Snape about his subject,

"Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible."

"Your defences must therefore be as flexible and inventive as the Arts you seek to undo." (Half-Blood Prince)

The kids are expressing some concern that our teaching methods are nothing like the methods that accorded them so much success at the 'O' Levels. Back then for them, it was straightforward: here's a chunk of text to study; reproduce it on the exam; congratulations, here's your 'A'.

That kind of study assumes that knowledge is finite and non-conflicting. That's the kind of knowledge that is adequate for a worker with a list of daily tasks that won't change over time.

But it simply won't do for the kids at JC level. These are the kids destined to be our future professional decision-makers. They're young, gangly, squirming at their desks, but in not too many years from now they'll be our engineers, architects, lawyers, politicians, doctors, entrepreneurs and probably teachers as well. Many of them are likely to be our bosses too.

I am NOT about to let someone qualified only as a daily-rated worker make any of those important decisions for me. Those decisions have to be made by people who know enough to know they will never know enough, and yet take action when they do know enough.

Knowledge itself at this level is the Dark Arts. Nothing is certain, possibilities are numerous, sensory input is confusing, conflicting and often inaccurate. Much like the hydra Snape describes, knowledge seeks to beguile, charm, sway, harrass, threaten, and overwhelm (and if all else fails, bore) us because there is so much of it and because it operates according to a multitude of conflicting agenda. And our JC kids have to be trained to handle this kind of uncertainty and still be able to make good decisions anyway.

Our 'O' level reliance on plain vanilla facts will make every hydra head indefeatable. If every head is a fact, then we have to take on the whole monster all at once. To fight the hydra, our tools are logic and reason, values and principles, weilded with surgical precision against the monster facing us. We may not defeat it entirely,but through judicious hacking and slashing, we can cut through enough crap to get what we need of it and get the heck out of there.

This is not easily taught through a textbook. Instead, our activities are more toward research and debate; intellectual defence and attack against opponents who are usually more qualified or more skilled than the students themselves. But through the skilled use of logic and reason, everyone plays on a level field regardless of station, position or seniority. We are teaching the kids to spar and duel against dark forces, and in so doing, we are helping them establish their own identities as responsible and mature adults whom we trust to take over in their time.

In the JC curriculum, there is no better subject than GP (except maybe K&I) to conduct this type of training in. I don't blame the kids if they find the going tough. It is.

We often tell the kids that their future is in their hands. But we teach them because of a more fundamental, self-serving reason: our future in in their hands. They'd better be good hands, so we'd better train them well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

4 days to...

Curtian is so close now. Continuing to be amazed at what the kids are putting into this production. The set is entirely handcrafted from recycled materials, and the small army of stagehands that materialized overnight blew me away. They're quite clueless right now, but they're taking on a steep learning curve to be ready in a scant couple of days.

Online album updated with more rehearsal pix. Check 'em out!

Monday, May 11, 2009

5 days to curtain

Drama Night 09 Rehearsals

It may have been the Vesak Day off in lieu, but since it's curtains up this Friday it's business as usual in the theatre with rehearsals and tech. Kids including the full AVA crew are working hard and making me work just as hard with them.

Tix are already on sale at $6 a piece. Come get 'em while they're hot!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Trek

After many repetitions, a tale takes on a life of its own. It evolves and the original premises get all hazy, but that can be a good thing because after many decades of same old, same old, we get a fresh new look and a fresh new perspective on what has long become familiar -- and tired.

In "Star Trek" -- that's right, not Star Trek XI and sans any pendulous subtitle -- we get to see the crew of The Original Series (TOS) as young, rambunctious cadets before they take command of the most famous starship in all of sci-fi. Youth brings such energy to the characters many of us have grown up with. Combine that with CGI and a director who has taken the liberty to reinterpret the canon without messing up its spirit makes for a terrific summer action flick.

Barely out of their teens, Kirk and co. face down a threat from the future led by a maniac who weilds a technology that matches his thirst for genocide. If that was their first mission as cadets, no wonder their subsequent voyages hardly raised a Vulcan eyebrow in comparison.

While this retelling doesn't stinge on all-phasers-firing ship-to-ship battles, the carnage is an extension of the very human need to cope with the pain of loss. All the major participants in this battle have lost someone they hold dear. They either learn to cope and perhaps become stronger for it; or they lose it completely, transferring their pain to others.

It's a great set-up for a story, but the events depicted in this movie will not gel with conventional 'Trek continuity. It is clear that because of people from the future tampering with the past (JJ Abrams being self-referential here?) the timeline has changed, and the young Uhura herself makes a point to state that what this crew is experiencing is indeed an alternate reality.

Yet even in this alternate tale, it's only minor events (if we can consider the destruction of a whole planet as minor) that have been irrevocably changed, but the Enterprise (NCC-1701) and everyone on board remain true to their character. It may be more action-packed no doubt, but it is still a exciting Star Trek story.

Will we get to see more adventures with this new young crew? I'd like that. It's a promising beginning.