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Archive For: Alpha Company Stuff

New search feature!

New search feature!

Today I put a new searching functionality into the Alpha Shows website. It works on mobile devices too. It gives you options (just hit the gear icon) to choose what to search, I’ve turned the forum posts off by default as it was getting a lot of random results with it on. This should make it easier to find what you are looking for, or indeed, who you are looking for, as it also searches through our social network to find members and status updates on the groups etc.

Try it out!

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New contact page

Tonight I updated the contact page to be much simpler.

It now allows for children and audience members to send a message without having to log in or become a member. It will post their message straight onto our blog here under the category ‘Fanmail’! And it will auto-register them with a username, along with an auto-generated password. So that when we reply to the post (say we answer a student’s questions etc) they will actually get a notification that we’ve replied.

I couldn’t figure out a way to make it auto-post to the forum section of the Social Network (along with all the other messages we have received years ago), but this is kinda better anyway, as it’s more prominent on the website.

We used to (years ago) have this facility on the website, for students to be able to send us a message very easily without registering or logging in – as I was referring to you can see many of these messages by going to the Fans & Alpha Audiences group in the Social Network. But unfortunately, back then, it meant that when we replied, because no account had been created for them, they never knew about our replies. So our actors would spend hours replying to all the messages only for the students to actually think we were ignoring them!

Now I’ve finally found a solution to have the best of both worlds – an easy form submission for messages to the actors that doesn’t make children jump through hoops (thus making them lose patience and not bother), and also an auto-rego thing so that the person who sent the message gets the responses. It’s also in a nice area of the website, as a blog post. And this will also post to the Social Network activity feed still, so it will be easy to see. Make sure you reply to any messages we get. Comment on the POST, not as a comment in the Social Network.

We used to get HUNDREDS of messages from children every month, but not any more – because a few years ago I locked down our website to require everyone to be registered. We got a lot of spam too, it was hard to manage.

This should solve all those problems.

I’ve also made it easier to register (and no more spam registrations, with a new picture based captcha thingy which can’t be beaten by spam bots), and easier to send a message as a grown up. There’s a few other tabs as well for finding out phone numbers and facebook details.

Anyway, have a look.

Tour Manager’s (and other cast) – do what you can to try to promote to the boys and girls to write to us, as we know many have questions but haven’t had an easy way to write to us for a few years now.

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New 2012 Brochures for all shows!

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Feedback we sometimes get and why we like it!

Here are a couple of items that we often get feedback on from teachers (seen as a negative) that we actually do on purpose (as a positive result for the event for the children):

 

“The message of the show wasn’t understood / went over their heads / wasn’t able to be recalled.”

We actually get an overwhelming amount of feedback to the contrary – that the messages in the shows are amazing, really well integrated, and had a hugely positive impact on the students, especially when discussing the issues back in the classroom. But if younger children or other students don’t recall the ‘message’, this is ok too! In fact, this is PERFECT! This means they didn’t perceive it AS a message, as something they were supposed to ‘learn’! We have reached the unconscious realms of the student’s mind and soul, without their conscious mind getting in the way. Unless a child wasn’t actually in the room, there is no way the message of the show didn’t ‘get in there’ somewhere. The message of each show is actually very obvious and there is an entire section dedicated to focussing on it, often with specific wording that children are asked to repeat with emotion and passion. However, we would prefer that the values and life lessons in the show be only seen by the children as ‘assisting the character on stage’ so that their filters don’t prevent the learnings from automatically becoming part of their lives. Children (especially older children) are often very cynical and will filter out anything that feels lecturing or about what they ‘should’ do.
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What is Education’s Responsibility?

An essay about choices

Well, considering the diverse range of opinions and styles we have encountered in over a decade of touring, it seems there is no one answer. If I could sum up the best of the education community’s efforts, and be so bold as to say that it probably should be something like – to create choices.

Choices are created by helping a student to increase awareness – obviously specific awarenesses about our world, mathematics, sciences, etc – but we can’t just stop there, as this will only give a partial understanding of the world and therefore limit choices. We then extend the education to the physical, to the metaphysical, to the intangible – like sport, music and art, and in some cases, religious studies. Even then we are left with an incomplete pacakge.

So what next? There must be something that wraps everything up and provides experiential and subconscious changes in students. That moves them to a consciousness that enables higher level choices. In no way am I suggesting that Alpha Shows do this completely, but I do know this is our outcome, and as but a small part of your entire annual package of ‘teachings’ it is time and money well spent.

And the great thing is, you also get to tick off a few of those boxes! Music, art, movement, dance, appreciation of the arts, theatre with audience participation, bullying, role models, values, social development, creative studies, fairytales unit, classic myths (like Hercules and King Arthur), story writing, school musical tie-in…just to name a few.

Dare I say it but there have been schools we’ve talked to over the years that blatantly tell us that our shows do not fit in to their curriculum. This puzzles me – is your curriculum different to other schools? Equally puzzling is when a school has us once but then tells me we ‘won’t fit into the curriculum’ in the following year! The thought behind this is not deep enough, it’s thinking that Alpha’s shows only cover very specific focusses that may only apply in a single year and be very different in the following year. I understand that each school has a different focus, as a general philosophy of the school and for each year.

But what I always say is that Alpha’s outcome is to bring events that have positive ramifications and effects that go deeper than just a particular subject of focus for that year. The shows are designed to reach a child at their core, their soul – to move them to make better and more loving choices for themselves and how they treat others. They are also designed to help them release fears and anger and all the frustrations that children have to endure and often bottle up inside. This, along with letting them be expressive in laughter and fun and communication, leads to an experience that develops their soul. Whilst they are in this receptive state (what we call a ‘peak state’) they are open to receiving new ideas about how to be, without feeling like they are being lectured at or ‘told’ what to do. We have experience and a known track record of the positive effects our shows can have on students and the choices they make – choices that become more loving and actions that are more aligned with truth and integrity, respect and passion. This of course leads to children that are better students, better learners, happier people. This makes TEACHING them easier and more beneficial.

With the new National Curriculum, we also know that Arts and performance is definitely part of the curriculum. So given that Alpha’s shows present the most theatrical and highest quality theatre show that can come into your school, and that they also help students be better at learning by releasing negative emotions and being inspired to make better choices, the idea that Alpha won’t have a positive impact in ANY year regardless of the specific educational focus isn’t seeing the bigger picture of what the shows are about.

Often we get hired just for a fairytales unit, something I really try to note that we do not specialise in. Our shows are designed for whole school incursions that invigorate and challenge an entire school community.

How often does a student’s school life focus on experiencing great quality theatre, being inspired by storytelling, art, drama and comedy, as well as learning new strategies for their own wellbeing and social skills? How often? We certainly spend a lot of time on other elements of Australian life that is said to have a similar positive impact. Sport is a great example. It doesn’t provide any intellectual or academic benefit to a child, and yet, in some ways it does. It helps with teamwork and fitness of body and mind, all things that would positively effect the rest of a student’s work. And we focus so much of school life on sport. How much compared to things like an Alpha Show that even in one 90 minute event can possibly have as much of an impact provided a student fully participates (what we call ‘play full out’!).

What saddens me most is that all schools have a rich and comprehensive sports program WITHOUT QUESTION and WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Australia is a sporting nation so it seems to be valued by our society to educate our children into this sporting culture. I don’t refute that, the point I would make is that:

Choices

If our responsibility is to give children choices, to empower them to make better choices, then it is our responsibility to expose them to as many experiences as possible, and continue to choose experiences that have been proven to have a positive impact.


 

Sport does this. So does an Alpha Show…

Every child grows up with a thorough education in ‘sport’ and other areas. Does every child have a natural ability for sport? Does every child move into a career as a sportsperson? Does every child love sport? The answer to all three is ‘no’. But – is a comprehensive sports program still necessary at all schools? The answer is an absolute ‘YES’. Sports programs create choices – this is our criteria for whether something should be included in education – so therefore it is valuable (regardless of cultural tendencies).

Children, therefore, have the right to choose once their education is finished, whether sport should be part of their lives. Theatre and personal development ideas should be given the same focus, as should many other elements of Australian life. Melbourne especially has not only a rich sporting culture, but also a rich theatre and arts culture. We should support this by giving children quality arts experiences that enable choices.

However, you cannot choose something you have no positive emotional experience to. Unfortunately, most theatre for children (not just in schools but everywhere) does little to create this opportunity for choice. Or, instead, it only creates the opportunity for choosing to dislike theatre – naturally, if specific theatre falls short and is just simply ‘bad’, then of course we should ‘dislike’ it. The problem arises when it is a child’s FIRST experience, and maybe ONLY experience, of theatre – and they continue to believe throughout their entire lives that all theatre is as bad and boring as that first experience. They will be unlikely to ‘try’ theatre again, therefore they have missed out on an important part of our culture. You can see that this is getting a little more serious! And this actually happens! I’ve personally spoken to many children who have experienced a bad show and how it made them feel about theatre (“it’s stupid”). We often get around that by labelling our show as something different (‘musical rock concert’). Further, I’m sure we would consider it a failure if a student who would naturally love mathematics, and perhaps even have a strong talent for it, had a bad teacher early on in Primary School and from then on always hated maths because they had a bad ‘anchor’ to it.

So after this discussion, we can now see the expanded criteria for experiences for children in school:

• It must create choices
• It must move them emotionally
• It must move them to a higher awareness or a more loving condition
• It must reinforce or create neural connections in the brain/soul that move the child to positive behaviours that lead to positive results in theirs and other people’s lives
• It must play some part in preparing them to be a positive contributor in our world; to become aware of how to gain true fulfillment

Alpha’s mission is to do the opposite of the first bad experience of theatre – for any child (or adult that didn’t get the chance as a child!) who is a natural arts lover, potential performer or potential theatre enthusiast will now have that choice. And just like with sport, we can’t know which students will benefit from the theatre or sports programs so therefore all students should be exposed to both programs.

Additionally, as our criteria for an educational experience is whether something creates choices, Alpha Shows qualify as part of the curriculum, without any doubt. And this is accomplished not by focussing on a ‘curriculum box’, rather, by focussing on something that transcends this administrative requirement – something that focusses on a child’s evolution as a human, on their development into a person who goes beyond the averageness of existence.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that Alpha events create that experience for children – it is, as we say, theatre that they can get excited about. It gives them that freedom of expression, the permission to do it. Too often children believe it is ‘cool’ to withhold expression, to be cynical, to be subdued, indifferent and lethargic. Unfortunately this is the side-effect of culturalisation of our children, and is mostly the example we set as adults, so that’s why they mimic these behaviours (because all children, like adults, naturally have the desire to ‘grow’ and for most this translates to ‘grow up’ or ‘grow older’ rather than ‘grow better’ or ‘grow in love’).

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Alpha’s Social Network!

So we have a new social network, where you can make friends, comment, like, post, chat and share, just like on other social networking sites! But here, we don’t have restrictions on needing to be over 13! And given our main audience is under 13, we want to make a place for kids to come where they can do all those things, in an environment that is about fun, performance, music, singing, and being your best.

So register to become a member now!

http://www.alphashows.com.au/register

And if you’re already logged in, head here:

http://www.alphashows.com.au/socialnetwork

To view my profile and add me as a friend, go to

http://www.alphashows.com.au/members/benjackson

Oh – and if you were a member of the old forum – your same username and password will work!

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How to re-launch & overhaul an entire set of websites for Alpha!

Well, after about a month of completely revolutionising the entire collection of Alpha’s websites, it has been completed!

Much of what I had to do was mainly about bringing current content from a static website into WordPress.

WordPress is wonderful. It has been what I’ve used for making websites for the last 4 or 5 I’ve made now. Alpha’s one was the last one standing. The previous site I spent a LONG time on as well, adapting code from Apple’s website to try to make it modern and dynamic. But my coding skills, given I no longer do it as a full time job (web design was my job before I started Alpha in 2002), are lacking and it takes me too long to make things from scratch! So I had to copy stuff but that means that things don’t work quite as well as the original code (in that case from apple.com).

But migrating over to wordpress means that you can dynamically use wonderful design and code straight from lots of coders who have given their time to make the project better every day.

Once I found a WordPress theme, called DynamiX, and saw how it could do many cool things, some of which were similar in design to the old site, and some new things that were just going to prove to be a much more elegant and simple way to present the vast amounts of info we have now, I was convinced and excited to get going.

I had LOTS of problems. In the middle of development, our host crashed and I lost a week’s worth of work! I had a backup of the sql database but missing a lot of the content outside of that.

The main things that took a long time to develop were the new shopping cart to allow the functionality to buy shows on the site to remain and be much improved over my custom javascript hack from the last site. Now it’s all standard and should be very self explanatory to customers. You can book either on any show page, or from the main store page. Should be pretty familiar to people who have ever shopped on the internet. You can also pay your deposit with paypal if you so choose. But we still accept cheques and deposits.

The other thing that took a long time was trying to migrate over our vast forums. They were and always have been in phpbb, another free piece of software that was wonderful in its day but has gotten a bit clunky compared to the way Facebook or other sites work, that people have become accustomed to. Forum software is a bit outdated and people get bored and impatient with it.

When I found out that WordPress had a social networking layer to it called Buddypress, I was keen to get that working. But I knew I didn’t want to lose all the old phpbb forum either.

This was INCREDIBLY difficult.

Firstly, I had to get the phpbb tables from mysql into the same database as my wordpress one. Then I used a script called phpbbtobbpress or whatever it was. I had to install a standalone bbpress (the plain forum software WordPress has – quite confusing as Buddypress also has a version of bbpress in it, and you can also use a bbpress plugin in wordpress, as well as a standalone install!).

Took out all the apostrophes from the forum descriptions in phpbb. Then the conversion worked. That was the easy part. Getting bbpress standalone into WordPress wasn’t easy. I spent a week trying to get it into the plugin version with a piece of code from a guy called Orson, called forumconverter. That NEVER worked. It gave lots of errors. I eventually gave up, he got it working for some other people.

In the middle of trying this is when I found out about Buddypress, so I felt focussing on getting the forums into that would be better, under ‘groups’ and then the forums attached to those groups (the way Buddypress works, kinda more like Facebook groups).

Because our audiences are mainly under 13’s, we got very excited that Alpha could have a social network for our main audience who cannot use Facebook as they don’t allow under 13’s. Alpha will be a safe place for kids to come and hang out, talk to the actors, but also just chat and make friends with each other. Buddypress has activity streams, like buttons, friend connections, groups, all the things people are used to on Facebook. So we can kinda ditch our integration with Facebook. I’ll also take down the message at the end of the shows and encourage our young audiences to get on to our own social network instead.

There’s even chat! I know how much our audiences love to use chat.

Anyway, about at this stage was when the host died, so that delayed me a week as I had to redo a bunch of work.

Then once it was kinda back up to where I was up to, I continued. I could get the buddypress groups set up, and change the group metadata to match up to the forum ID of the bbpress forum. I decided to tell Buddypress to use an already existing install eventually (I tried both about 5 times each!).

The problem I finally figured out today was the lack of bbpress having imported over (probably a limitation of the phpbbtobbpress script i used, but there isn’t another one I don’t think) the “topic slugs”.

Without topic slugs, the link for each topic just had /topic//

The name of the topic was supposed to do in between those 2 slashes. Without a name, it wouldn’t link anywhere. So the topics were visible but you couldn’t read them.

Silly!

I almost gave up, thinking I’d just tell everyone to start over – the actors in the shows use the forums a lot to organise stuff for the tours, it’s a great way to stay in touch and keep on the same page. The new system will be even easier to do this.

Anyway, I found a script to supposedly create the topic slugs, a plugin that would supposedly do it when you activated it. It did nothing. Called ‘create-slugs.php’ or something. Another useless script.

I eventually exported the tables and thought, I can do this myself. I took it into bbedit on my mac, which is what I’ve used for years to edit html. Then I realised I really needed a spreadsheet app, as I exported as CSV so i could do it.

I took the topic names and did lots of find and replaces, got rid of the spaces and replaced with ‘-‘, and all the rest of the odd characters so I only had letters, numbers and dashes – I think this is the requirement for slugs.

Then I fiddled around with trying to bring those values back into the sql database. That wasn’t easy – a lot of this was new to me even though I’ve worked with databases before. instead of using phpmyadmin, i used ‘sequel pro’ app on the mac to make things a little easier to do. I like nice mac gui’s!

FINALLY, it worked! I was missing display names for users, so I fixed that too in the same way.

But then I had about half the users not display in the buddypress list, even though they’d all show in wordpress admin?!

So i spent hours basically going in to each user that wasn’t showing up and just ‘saving’ it basically, just hitting enter on update on each user. That seems to fix that problem, and all 250 users or whatever we have collected over the years are now on buddypress.

Whew!

There were heaps of other problems i had, too many images in the image galleries that dynamix theme created. Lots of crazy permissions things, php memory limits, hosting problems and fixes, .htaccess things, php.ini changes…

eventually, with the help of toastyhosty our host reseller, and the hostdime main host they use, we got it all working!

I shut down the old backstage.alphahsows.com.au and linked it to the main sites blog (as well as imported all the old blog posts from that site, you can view these posts by going to www.alphashows.com.au/blog)

I shut down forum.alphashows.com.au and had it divert to the new forums as part of buddypress groups – www.alphashows.com.au/forums

There are now the groups too, where you can post things more akin to status updates, rather than starting an official forum topic. If you just want to chat and let others comment in a more causal fashion.

I put a bunch of plugins to make this better as well, so you can like, or post youtube vids, or chat, or get email notifications for forum posts etc…

Then I finally shut down store.alphashows.com.au and diverted to the internal store – www.alphshows.com.au/store.

When I originally created all these separate sites, I thought it would help. But Tracey, who has come on board, suggested and I agreed that it would make more sense to bring everything under one roof. If you’re logged in, you can do anything you want – post to the forums or groups, buy shows, comment on posts, edit or write posts if you’re an author, or whatever else you might want to do by being logged in.

Kids will feel better like they’re part of the site now, they can become Alpha members by registering at www.alphashows.com.au/register

The only site that is still separate is auditions.alphashows.com.au. I am thinking about bringing it in too, but I’ll leave it there for now. it’s too much work!!

That’s it for now. I’ll post another post about the new social network and encourage people to sign up and make friends etc.

Comment on this post for any thoughts or ideas or problems.

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Theatre Captains

We had a teacher today ask what the assigned ‘theatre captains’ can do – students who get assigned to be in charge of our visit!

Usually Year 6ers…

Here is what we came up with!

• Read our website, and the teacher support documents.
• Learn Fly Away and choreograph a dance, or look on facebook to see the Alpha SHows videos where you can see almost a full fly away being performed and learn our choreography. Then encourage others during the show to perform it with the cast.
• Encourage the audience to yell out and make a whole bunch of noise (at the appropriate times) during the show Рthe cast always love a rock concert like audience! But then help to quieten down people at more dramatic moments to get the full effect of the character journeys
‚Ä¢ practice and think about what they might like to ‘wish’ for in their own life, and encourage other students to come up with a list. So that they have a few ideas of what they might wish for during the show and have a REASON to delve into the emotions (that bad ones) that might block them from getting what they desire.
• prepare a thank you for the cast that they deliver after question time on the microphone
• Come to the hall (with a teacher) during set up and help or learn about things (time permitting), the set, how it works etc
• play full out during the show Рprove that they love performing by performing themselves from the audience! cast will gravitate to interact with those with the most energy automatically.
• Write a review for the school newsletter, come interview the cast, take pictures, videos etc.
• send in to local newspaper, organise the media (local paper or whatever, news tv) to come film the show
• encourage students to get on the website (forum.alphashows.com.au) or facebook (if permitted by parents) and write to the cast

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