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A Triumphant Finish In Edinburgh

When the curtain falls on a show, a whole series of emotions can assault the Director.

When the Director also happens to be a Scout Troop leader, responsible for the safety and protection of 30 boys – abroad in a foreign city – relief is usually the first one to be felt. curtain

After years of development, writing and rehearsing – we had finally done it.

I have been criticised for perhaps pushing the boys a bit too hard in the search for theatrical perfection. Parents reported sleepless nights, bitten nails and missed meals. I was not immune to the pressure and stresses of show business either.

The years spent writing A Scout Master’s Journey was a trying one for my marriage. Margaret was as supportive as she could have been, but I believe that I left her alone for that year. My work takes me away from home several times a year, long hours and high pressure situations led to us barely seeing each other – before you even take weekly Scout Meetings into account. gang show

After I returned from Edinburgh (I had to book a week off work and pay for the minibus out of my own pocket, but it was worth it) I got down on my knees to apologise to her.

The drive back had been long and stressful, the boys were excitable after there performances and I didn’t have the heart to squash their enthusiasm. They bounced from wall to wall of that bus for the entire 5 hour drive home – singing and screaming. I’m surprised we didn’t crash.

When I got through the door, tears were already beginning to form in my eyes, as I thought about the long, easy summer nights that I had missed with my darling Margaret. How I’d left her to live her life alone, with only the dog to talk to and care for. Her work is tough and often stressful, I knew she needed more than a faithful canine companion to talk to at the end of a long day.

homeShe must have heard the car pull up, the door unlock – because she was waiting for me in the hall when I entered. A smile on her face that was worth the wait – she could see my regret and dismissed it in a matter of seconds. Telling me to never regret my actions, that she understood the kind of person I was when we married.

My next play will be about the most important person in my life.

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Cost Of Brilliance

You’d be absolutely amazed at how much work goes into putting on a show. The logistical challenges alone are astonishing. You’ve got to get people all in one place which means co-coordinating about 30 kids which means 60 parents, and all the gang leaders and all the people volunteering helping out with technical and artistic and staging and organising and catering and travel and costume and make up and ushering and sorting out the venue and sorting out the kids and sorting out programs and all these things, these things, these things!

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There’s a lot going on. Now I take a lot of this on my self as I am the leader and I am the main Choreographer and director and whole host of other things. You know, taking on all these roles makes some people into martyrs, they think that because they have taken this all on everyone else owes them some sort of debt even if no one asked them to take such a lot of work on. My father was like that: He worked very hard to earn money which he spent on the house we lived and the food we ate, but he worked himself so hard that he was always stressed and difficult to be around, and he felt he had a right to be because he worked so hard ‘for us’ but we never asked him to be full of such nervous energy and so work so hard, we would have much preferred a man who was easier to be around and easier to share love with and just eaten value chicken.

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The kids go through it, we’ve had to take our lead dancer down to a Liverpool sports massage clinic place three times now. Because yeah we push them hard. Because we have high standards. Yeah that’s right we have high, high standards. But wait till you see the show…

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Update!

Hello there gang show fans! How are you all? Hope you are all doing absolutely amazing and all that. It is exciting times here in both the gang show and the Scout Troop in general. In terms of gang show rehearsals are moving on at pass and every day we crack another little part of the story and I couldn’t be more proud of all the work that our Scouts have put into getting this show ready for a fantastic performance. Though our Aslan had to drop out after being shot by a dentist we have a new one and are retaining a strict no dentist policy at practice.

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Aside from that I have also been heavily involved in the ongoing works on the development of the new scout hut. It’s all coming together really nice and I think we are well on our way to having the greenest scout hut in the country! Solar panels and wood pellet burners have been ordered. Now were going through more of the details for the build. We’ve been looking at maybe having a conservatory area which can double as a green house. Luckily, as often is the case, we’ve got a connection through the troop! This time it is with Allerton Windows who do conservatories in Liverpool. One of our kids has an Uncle involved with the place and it is looking we are on to complete the deal!

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Green!

 

Aside from the conservatory plans we are trying to concentrate on how to make sure that the hut can be as warm as possible using as little energy as possible and that means insulation. We might even be able to get some sort of government grant or something for good roof insulation as they are apparently trying to encourage everyone to get that done. I guess if the government are offering to actually help for once I’ll try it. We’ll see though.

 

So there you go, there is a little update on how it is all coming along. See you again soon!

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The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

So, here we are, looking forward to our new winter production. So many fantastic productions have come and gone, we have completed our 15 part adaptation of the Expenses Scandal using children dressed as Bee’s who keep eating the honey. We had our wonderful 12 hour Opera performance of the ‘Who Shot Phil Mitchell?’ story line from EastEnders (which was unfortunately cut short seven minutes in due to a copyright claim from BBC London). Who can forget our Nativity performance where Jesus is played by the donkey and the donkey is played by Jesus? The local church weekly called it ‘shockingly misjudged’ and we had a vibrant set of feedback on social media with comments like ‘disgusting’, ‘why was Jesus pooing so much?’ and ‘The story was hard to follow as Donkey-Jesus could only speak Donkey and Jesus-Donkey kept on pontificating philosophically on life as a donkey.’. It really got a conversation going!

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Sorry Donkey.

So this year I really want to go big and I mean Big! I mean The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe big! The main reason that I want to do The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is that I want to finally live a life long dream: to work with Ice! And with the Ice Queen, I can do that. I can work with Ice. I was recently at a fantastically lavish party to celebrate the centenary of the invention of right handed sewing (and rightly sew!) and they had a host of Ice work by Glacial Art including a quite incredible Vodka Luge.

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And since then it has just been ice sculptures, ice sculptures, ice sculptures! It is all I can think about since seeing that beautiful Vodka Luge, they really are just about the coolest things you’ll ever see. So this is what I’m picturing: basically a vodka luge but a little less vodka! Instead, water that will pour down to create an icy pool over which we will plunge dry ice as the evil Ice Queen herself comes out onto stage. It will be brilliant, It will be bold, it will be beautiful. It will be icy. It will be so, so icy.

So, what do you think?

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The Future of Scouting

I was asked an interesting question yesterday. The question went thusly:

“Do you think The Scouting Associations relationship with the Monarchy is necessarily a positive thing?”

I think our position up here on the Mersey, far away from London and ‘The Home Counties’ might just give us a unique perspective on this question. A question which really ought to be taken seriously. Because the Royal Family is not all things to all people. It does not mean the same thing to all people. To some of the fine fellows who may consider themselves very connected and acquainted with The Scouting Association and what it ‘means’ this may seem like an extra ordinary question. One that should be immediately dismissed. “Of course our relations with the Monarchy are a positive thing, they are the most positive thing. They bring glory on us all! Glory glory hallelujah!” Well, ok, maybe. But really?

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Right, now this was pointless sensationalism by The Sun and it has worked. But all this story reminds us of is the reality of who the monarchy are: they are a small group of incredibly privileged individuals who share in a culture of their divine right to this privilege, They are the most upper class of the upper class. The upper class are very much a minority in many parts of the country, the type of culture and status they represent is alien to the the children and families The Scouting Association is trying to reach. Now that we are trying to build ourselves as an organisation that reaches out to disadvantaged communities who suffer at the hands of structural inequality, is it really appropriate that our President, Prince Edward of Kent, is also Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England and First Grand Principal of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England i.e one of the heads of Freemasonry in the United Kingdom? I don’t think that Freemasons really represent an equality spreading force in our society. They are very much part of the superstructure that maintains the class system as we know it.

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Prince Edward of Kent

You know what most people see when they see this man? They see a toff. They see privilege. They can hear his voice as it guffaws and patronises. Our 2018 pledge claims our goal is to “embrace and contribute to social change”. Is this pledge real? Do we want to be just another upper/middle class organisation that pays lip service to the idea of a better society whilst being far more intertwined with old power and old wealth? I do not wish to politicise scouting, but I do wish we would recognise that we are already of political importance. Our ‘troops’ have long been seen as a mini military service for the little ones. Are we blind to our position as military and royal propaganda machine for children? Because many families are not and many young people are not. They see the class relevance of how we operate and they stay away. If we are really committed to disadvantaged young people, maybe we need to listen to and think a little more like them rather than listening to and thinking like their exact opposite, privileged old people.

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Often old buildings that have long lost their purpose and their structural integrity are kept supported by the vines and undergrowth that have entwined themselves with the structure.  Long ago, when the bricks and the mortar were strong and the building was unmovable, the vines had clung so that they could grow, so that they could survive and thrive. Now though through remaining so intertwined they actually hold it up. They are responsible for house remaining, long after it is of use or of service, long after it truly supports itself. Now what appears to be a smaller entity supported by the strength of the house is actually using its strength to support the house. If the vines where to learn to grow independently, and de-entangle themselves from the house, it would fall. The Scouting Institution is one of many vines on the old House of Windsor. We once grew on the back of its power but it is us and institutions like us that are supporting it and holding it up. So we must ask ourselves: is that is that how to reach out to the ‘disadvantaged youth’ we are supposed to serve?

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General Scout Blog

Hey Gang Show fans, we’re proud to say that the show is coming along nicely with everyone getting very much involved. The power of theatre and performance is to give people confidence they never thought they would have before and give them a way to escape out of themselves and into a new person, a new character, for a short while. We are all playing characters all the time to some extent. But it is hard to detect the elements of yourself that are real and those that are fake, one way of helping yourself to do this is being someone else for a while. When you slip back into yourself and re-adopt your normal character you feel the bits that fit more and less comfortably. It is quite something, something I recommend to all.

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A sight we should all see at some point in our lives.

So that’s all coming along nicely, but I thought I’d bring you some more general Scout news, and a key issue we’ve been talking about at local, regional and national meetings recently. Many troops around the country are facing hut renewals and trying to raise some money to fix, re-design and sometimes completely re-build old rotting scout huts. Here in Birkenhead we’ve decided that we think this should not be a burden, it should be an opportunity. An opportunity for what I hear you ask. Well, an opportunity to re-create the Scouts as a leader on environmental sustainability. Starting with…

Solar panels.

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Our huts are very located in fields and parks where they receive a generous amount of sunlight throughout the year. This sunlight is currently falling onto roofs and bouncing straight of. This is energy and money that we are letting just fall right through our fingers. This is unacceptable! If it was raining money, you would go outside and collect it! And you’d encourage your scout club to do the same. We could cut our energy bills by an amount whilst also leading by example for the scouts and the wider community, sounds good to me.

Alternative heating. 

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I feel like I know what you’re thinking… what the hell is that thing? Well my friends, that is a wood pellet burner. Wood pellets are a by-product of many industrial processes and are now being recycled and used as an alternative fuel source. This is a booming industry that our humble part of the country happens to be at the absolute forefront off with a new wood pellet import facility being built at Liverpool docks. We have a great opportunity to get in at the ground floor here of an idea and an industry that we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of over the coming years and beyond. Seems like a good idea to me…

But I want to put it out to you as well. How can we update the scouting system starting with the huts? How would you like to see them changed? Can you think of any other ideas for making our huts greener? Please get in touch.

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What are the Origins of Gang Shows?

The origins of Scout and Guide Gang Shows lies many years ago before the Second World War, when a man called Ralph Reader decided that the Scouts needed a new type of entertainment. Mr Reader was a choreographer and Scout Leader, he was in fact one of the most respected and in demand choreographers in all of London’s West End, yet despite these demands he made a bold decision- to mix his two passions of choreography and Scouting. So it was that in 1932 Mr Reader wrote, produced and directed the first ever Gang Show in London town.

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It was not long after this first performance though that everything came to a halt with the outbreak of World War 2. This world shattering event obviously meant a complete halt to all gang show proceedings, a crushing blow to the scouts involved and Mr Reader himself. In 1939 rehearsals and preparations for the gang show were brought to a halt whilst in full swing and Mr Reader’s life seemed to swing in a different direction as he was posted to the RAF in counter intelligence. He served his country with distinction in France where he posed as an entertainment officer with in RAF camps. Here he organised shows for the troops with many ex-scouts who had signed up whilst also working secretly to weed out dissent and monitor subversive propaganda. In the end Reader had created 24 RAF gang shows that toured around all the theatres of war (and the theatres of war…) from Burma to Iceland. Over 3.5 million service people are estimated to have enjoyed these shows, which all adds up to a uncountable impact on troop morale. Well done Mr Reader!

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Many of the performers in these shows where men who were deemed unsuitable for combat duties, and went on to become stars. As a small example, non other than Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock and Dick Emery got their break in the RAF gang shows under the direction of Mr Reader. It really is quite incredible!

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At the end of the war Mr Reader returned home and by the 1950’s was hard at work resurrecting the Scout Gang Shows. The London Gang Show became a huge event and was emulated by Scout Troops around the world, from Hong Kong to Belfast, Australia to Chicago.

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On May 18th, 1982 Mr Reader passed away. He left a Scouting legacy second only to that of Baden Powell. His legend had long been secured in the west end, but it is in the scouting world that he is truly cherished. We can all only say thank you to this great man, for the gang shows which bring us such joy.

So let’s get this show on the road!

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