Thursday, 27 September 2012

Ruling the Day: Organizing a Rules Practice and Other Rules Resources

This past Saturday, our fearless refs The Tank and Om Nom Chomsky put together the second of two rules practices organized for the league. The first went over the basic rules of derby in terms of the game's structure and the second focused on penalties. Both referees fielded questions and worked intently to help the league's players understand key details of the game we love.

Some skaters understandably might balk at the idea of a rules practice: there's an assumption that if you play, you must know the rules implicitly. But Saturday particularly was kind of a revelation: multiple times, I heard skaters say variations on "Oh, so that one infraction is pretty much all of my penalties ever. Ah. I see."

Roller derby is a complicated sport and there's no shame in not having things completely figured out, so long as you're trying to learn. The more you know about the game, the smarter you'll be able to play, and the less time you'll spend sitting in the penalty box (as our refs pointed out on Saturday). Not only will your performance improve, but you'll probably have more fun and certainly more skating time.

I've written before regarding how a rules test should be mandatory alongside a skills test to mark skaters as ready to play. But how, as leagues, do we encourage our players to learn? Cracking a book and wading through the rules can be intimidating, but it's essential that we get players to do so and in turn realize that the sport's rulebook isn't just a quagmire of big words and sub-clauses. The rulebook is actually pretty user-friendly, but the trick is helping users to get friendly with it.

Rules practices are godsends to players in need of  some explanation. Getting referees to lead players through the rules and explain them will clear a lot of confusion. Our refs decided to encourage players to obtain their own copies of the rules and follow along. A combination of explanations, questions and clarifications shed a lot of light for players new and old. The cupcakes and cookies probably helped as well. When organizing a rules practice, it's important to stress to players that this is also part of derby, that this is as much an investment in their success as doing pack drills and also to trust your referees to lead the practice. They know their stuff.

Other resource ideas include starting up a league "Ask a Zebra" Facebook page or message-board thread, depending on what kinds of intra-league communications your league primarily uses. LOCO's Ask a Zebra page on Facebook took a little while to get started, but once players realized how useful it was, it's become busy doling out answers that other players can learn from too. Another resource is Roller Derby Rule of the Day, also found on Facebook. Of course the mother lode is WFTDA's Rules page, combining Q&A with PDF resources.

The truth (about roller derby) is out there. Help get it closer to home by making sure your league's skaters have multiple ways to access it, discuss it and learn from it.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Movie Review: Roller Town

Perhaps it's appropriate that my Triumphant Return to this blog after being on a Howard Hughes-like lockdown in my apartment for my first comprehensive exam is to review Nova Scotian comedy troupe Picnicface's Roller Town. Much like my return to the outside world after four hours of writing about literary theory, my exit from the theatre after seeing Roller Town was characterized by feeling a bit sheepish and kind of in need of some clarification of what exactly just happened.

Picnicface's Roller Town is a cheerful, absurdist, shameless parody of something essentially parodic in itself: roller disco. The film tells the story of Leo, the orphaned roller disco king of the film's eponymous roller rink. When his beloved Roller Town is threatened into turning into a video game arcade by the gangster who shot his father, Leo sets out to beat the odds and maybe fall in love along the way. Or maybe the love story starts first. I honestly can't remember and frankly I don't have to. If I remember the glitter and the repeated joke about having sex with corn, I've pretty much got this one down.

Punctuated by short, incredibly shiny musical numbers from the fictional disco trio The Boogaloos, Roller Town is bright, cheerful and sometimes really quite funny. A musical interlude called "It's Fuck O'clock" is perhaps the film's shining moment, which tempts me to suggest you look it up on Youtube and decide whether you want to see a film in which that is the apex of its humour. It's entirely possible that you will.

Perhaps unavoidably, the film proceeds unevenly, going from joke to joke: some are clever and some are cheap. The occasional particularly sexualized joke stands out not because it's especially transgressive or shocking, but because the majority of the film has a kind of innocence that  makes some of the humour seem really out of place, even when these instances are funny. It's hard to hold it against the film because it radiates a kind of benevolent self-satisfaction, a bit like that really nice, quiet stoner you knew in high school. You wonder if maybe they know something you don't, but only briefly.

The film is undeniably fun and elevated by two performances in particular, Kayla Lorette as love interest Julia and Pat Thornton as a dimwitted (but notably not the most dimwitted) gangster, Beef. Lorette's Julia is the closest thing the film has to a straight man figure and her occasional confusion with the general wackiness around her seems to be a bone thrown the audience's way. Thornton's Beef threatens to steal the show, with some of the film's better lines and excellent delivery.

Most of the interest I've heard regarding the film has been through derby-related channels, and while there are a lot of rollerskates onscreen, this is not a derby movie. Watching the skater's upright posture and lack of knee pads - both of which are realistic considering the skating style - actually distracted me from getting into the film. But the film can be a fun outing for league members, with the caveat that several of the folks I went with felt our league CEO owed them $11 for her recommendation of the film. This isn't Whip It, but it's fun.

It's difficult to articulate whether I would generally recommend seeing Roller Town or not. I liked it more upon retelling the plot to my partner than I did immediately upon seeing the film itself. It's not a case of being so bad that it's good, because the film has scenes that are legitimately good in the first place, followed by others that don't hit the mark. I think that viewers who enjoy absurd humour, a plot that in no way takes itself seriously and for bonus points, Canadian content, will enjoy Roller Town..

You just might want to be a little drunk.