Youth Online, Grant Success, SATC Updates, HP movies, and a Sad Sad Situation

Happy Easter! (to find out what this image is – keep reading!)

The beginning of the working year has been crazy crazy crazy this year – I took on some additional administrative duties and they’re really time consuming!! So here is a little update of some great news, some catch-ups and some very sad news.

Last week I had my book launch (a joint book launch with Jon Marshall) and we were fortunate and honoured to have Colin Lankshear come over (down / up / across) and officially launch our books. He was just so generous in his praise of our books and in his expressed belief in the value of our work. I am just so fortunate that I know Colin and Michele and they have become central to my International network of New Literacies colleagues. Thanks again Colin!

The book launch was just lovely and I met some great new people who came along who were interested in my work – thanks for coming to those people!  It was a really thrilling feeling to be sitting in the “author’s chair” and at the “author’s table”.  Being referred to as “the author” gave me a real sense of having achieved something special. Is it OK now for me to write the word “author” under PROFESSION in all my official documents now?

In other really fantastic news, I am pleased to announce that my colleague Kerreen Ely-Harper and I were successful in an application to the Literature Board of the Australian Council for the Arts for a grant to fund our What If? Virtual Shakespeare project. Although it is official I haven’t seen the public announcement of the details yet so stay tuned.

Lots of other interesting things have been happening in the pop culture / fan culture scene, some of them being:

- the cast of Sex and the City have given more interviews about their upcoming movie, and SJP is seen here doing one of them:

- The final Harry Potter book is going to be turned into two separate movies

- Britney Spears released an AMV for her latest single, leaving fans of Britney going “What the..?” and fans of the AMV scene disgusted  (and she appeared on How I Met Your Mother, and is also opening her own dance studio, and…)

-  The Beckhams have had their heads stencilled in dark chocolate onto some white chocolate Easter eggs (yes, that’s what my post image shows!)

- Prada created a really unusual short animated fantasy movie to support an upcoming fashion line:

And now in some sad and disturbing news, the amazing Al Upton (whose work with primary school children and blogs I have applauded and pointed to for a long time now as exemplary) has been ordered to close his blog. The outpouring of support he has had from all over the world is reflected in the many comments following his announcement. I want to publicly add my support to Al and his inspiring work with the kids in his class. We’re lucky in Australia that we have certain freedoms to explore and experiment with new and innovative ideas. But we’re also sometimes dragged down by the culture of fear and moral panic about kids and the internet, and this is reflected in some of our policies. It’s so frustrating for those of us advocating the use of social networking tools and practices in the classroom when teachers turn back around to us and tell us that their schools have banned such practices. I really sympathise with Al and send him my best wishes. I think it is always the case that those of us trying to venture into new ground are testing and trialling and pushing boundaries, but we should take heart that the problems we must face and work through will hopefully help those who follow us. I know exactly what it is like to feel like your work is on the margins and not really valued, which is why when I saw the hundreds of comments to Al I felt comforted for him and for all of us in similar situations.

The Hatpin: The. most. extraordinary. Australian. musical. ever!

Life has been hectic lately with grant applications, admin, classes, professional development, meetings, more admin… the usual but I managed to escape work for a while to enjoy the most amazing musical ever: The Hatpin.

It’s a very dark, Gothic, heart wrenching dramatic thriller that was inspired by the true story of a young, homeless, single mother Amber Murray, and is one of the best pieces of storytelling I have ever seen. The fact that the historical events happened just around the corner from where I am living right now sends chills down my spine. It is macabre, grisly, spooky, and terribly terribly sad.

According to the website info, it is:

a tale of great friendship between two women, borne out of tragedy. It … deals with the notions of motherhood, and companionship thriving under extraordinary pressure and self-liberty. Essentially, it is a story about the resilient nature of the human spirit in times of great loss.

The story of Amber Murray and that of John and Sarah Makin in 1892, is considered influential in bringing about awareness in Australian society of the need for welfare for single-mothers and the demand for an Australian Child Protection Act. It marked a pivotal turning point in our history and helped define our society and social structures, the consequences of which are still seen today.

Caroline O’Connor is extraordinary and really gave the show integrity on so many levels – providing some of the most touching and yet comedic moments in the narrative. The music was wonderful – here’s a medley that was made and published on youtube:

There’s also a youtube video of an interview with the writer and composer which provides additional background info:

I also found an excellent review from the Sydney Morning Herald and here’s a snippet from that:

Hardwick’s control of pace and the cast’s commitment to each moment sustain intense engagement. Again and again production choices elevate the material. Costumes are all shades of grey, nuances of characterisation and theme conveyed with bold efficacy – villainy and heroism on a symbolic continuum of human fallibility. Lighting and visual effects are superb, cold streetscapes a gravestone for compassion, choral transitions lit in ghoulish, expressionistic patterns.

Stirring performances abound. Melle Stewart is heartbreakingly real as Amber Murray, the teenage mother who gives her son away. Stewart’s emotional bravery is complemented by Gemma-Ashley Kaplan, who brings just the right amount of peculiar to Clara Makin. Kaplan’s performance of the denouement title song (and Clara’s redemption) is breathtaking.

Caroline O’Connor lends star power to the earthy Harriet Piper, Amber’s friend. With irreverent banter almost improvisational in its freshness, O’Connor lifts this mask of humour to reveal emotional depth with profound effect. Michelle Doake creates extraordinary engagement with Agatha Makin, wresting this villainess back from melodramatic overstatement while pushing to the hilt the psychotic hysteria just beneath the facade of respectability. The male characters are paler by comparison, their snivelling and posturing well executed but less relevant to the drama.

The Hatpin is far from perfect but this fearless production is a must see. Its artistic ambition, committed execution and capacity to engage an audience suggest a landmark moment in Australian musical theatre.

I can’t rave enough about this – if you’re in Sydney, go and see it!!! The storytelling is just spectacular.

And, if you are a Drama / English / History / Theatre / Music teacher of young people over 15, take your classes along!!! There’s a teacher’s resource package here that includes some of the original source material and lesson ideas which are really well developed.


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