Haters, Feelings and the PANTO

After my conversation with the Warden about this blog in September, I’ve been very careful. I put the blog back online a month ago, but I’ve tried to keep it away from the eyes of students in Hall. I have failed. About three days ago, the blog started doing the rounds of House 87, “my” house again. According to twitter, at least four (of the 80ish) students from the house had read some of the blog. 

And one of them hates me. She called me a creep and a freak. She says that she’s scared of the photos of me at the top of page and that she’s scared of me.

She also says that I clearly organised the start-of-year wine-and-cheese parties with the undergrads for creepy reasons. Which drives me mad. Hosting those parties is a requirement of the job. And for two years in a row I’ve requested that we provide tea and biscuits instead of wine and cheese because I think it’s wrong for us to be feeding wine to the first years, but I keep getting overruled. 

Anyway, of course I know that not everyone can like me and I know (and knew already) that not everyone liked the blog. But it is really hard to read those things about yourself. Especially from someone who knows me (although I have to admit that I can’t place this particular girl). I barely slept on Thursday night after reading her comments. And it makes me feel a lot different about being in Hall. 

But this is practice for when I’m famous. And haters are just the flipside of fans.

So I’ve made the blog private again, but am happy to invite anyone who wants and who isn’t a first year in Hall, or a student on any course I’m teaching to be a reader of Project Connor. 

On a similar vein, I was teaching my class of advanced students of English on Friday, when one of them revealed that she lives in the San Francisco of Brazil, i.e. that her city has an unusually high number of gay residents. Two of the other students, both male, both young Latin Americans fell around laughing, and started saying how they’d hate to go there. One of them knew a “joke” about the city. Apparently, the water fountains in schools in this city are very low, meaning boys have to bend over in order to get a drink. The result of bending over so often is, of course, that they turn gay. Cue widespread laughter. 

I smiled. I know from experience that students tend not to realise I’m gay. I did a whole lesson based around a One Direction video with this group, but how could they know I was gay? 

I didn’t shut the conversation down. In my ten years of teaching, I’ve come down hard on students for sexism, for racism, for anti-Semitism and for islamophobia, but never for homophobia. Deep down, I still tend to think of being gay as a silly affectation (I know it isn’t), and I feel silly for fighting homophobia. This is ironic in a week when Irish homophobia is a big story around the world. 

I went down to the staff room and told some of the other teachers about this. They thought it was hilarious that the students hadn’t realised that I was gay. I’ve taught that class every day for three weeks, wearing my watch with fake diamonds all over it on one wrist and my One Direction bracelet on the other wrist. They know the songs I listen to and the TV shows I watch and they didn’t twig. As well as feeling hurt for the students’ laughter, I felt hurt that I had somehow “failed” in my gayness. It certainly wasn’t the first time that I felt like a Pretend Gay and not a real one. 

Anyway, I won’t be teaching that class again. The next class I teach will be one of Irish people, who are generally quicker on the uptake on this issue. 

Speaking of feelings, I have had a number of Feelings lately. I was at my improv class on Wednesday where we were improvising longer scenes than we had before. Every time I started taking my scene down a more humorous or surrealist track, the teacher reeled me back in. He wanted to see something else. In the end, I started working on auto-pilot, which I suppose is the very point of improv. I started saying whatever came into my mind. And all of a sudden I was feeling real Feelings, sad and lonely Feelings, and expressing them in front of a group of people. I was shaking when I sat down. I wonder if that’s why I ended up doing this class. Is it meant to be some sort of therapy. 

I also had Feelings on Wednesday afternoon. I had a meeting with my PhD supervisor. And he’s happy with me and the work is progressing. We’ve got to the stage where we’re talking about what needs to be left out of the thesis (it’ll break my heart to leave anything out) and who we can ask to be the external and internal examiners. It’s a miracle, considering where I was five or six months ago. 

My supervisor rarely expresses praise very flamboyantly. Instead, he says things like “this has substance”. At this meeting, he said, “I like your work”. I was so touched. My PhD has become a deeply emotional project for me anyway. And I love writing this chapter. I leaned towards my supervisor, put my hand to my heart and said, tears forming behind my eyes “I love my PhD again”. My supervisor, realising that Feelings were about to burst out, quickly changed the subject. 

Something that’s been pre-occupying me recently is the election campaign of one of my Boys (the ones I lived with the year before last). He’s going for a post in college. I watched him make a speech that made me really proud, and Feelings began to well up. Then I was talking to one of my friends, who’s not actually one of my Boys, but who is one of my favourite people and is Boy-adjacent and he asked me “Are you proud of your Boy?” I could hear the capital B in the way he asked the question. And I managed not to cry. I did, however, promise to cry once the result was announced. And I’m sure I will, one way or another. Please cross your fingers for him, readers. 

Another of my Boys was in a charity pantomime version of Alice in Wonderland on Thursday night. And I went to see it, because of course I did. 

It was being held in a school auditorium, so I was expecting a repurposed draughty gym with rubbish plastic chairs. But no. This was a private school. It was a purpose-built, really swanky theatre. 

This is a charity panto, so it wasn’t just college students, although most of the main parts were played by them. There were also about 100 primary school children from disadvantaged areas of Dublin, about six or seven years old. And there was a group of intellectually-disabled performers too, who had two scenes. 

It was wonderful. I sat spellbound throughout the first act. This was more than I could ask for. There was a fabulously mad Mad Hatter, who was a positively ingenious improviser. There was an adorable little White Rabbit. There was a One Direction song. There was also a Taylor Swift song, and when the line “dress up like hipsters” came on, all the little girls put on giant hipster glasses at once and my heart melted. There was a wonderfully mean Queen of Hearts. There was one of my Boys in a tutu. (As it turned out there were actually two or three other people I knew from college/Hall involved). There was an endearingly and delightfully stupid dog. There was singing and dancing. There were funny and clever lines. There was a fabulously cute Alice. There were talented children. There were one or two hiccups with failing microphones and small children forgetting their lines and their dance moves, but these added to the charm of the show. 

I was in a very good mood in the interval, not realising how glorious the second act would be. And it was amazing. 

About ten minutes into the second act, it was clear that things weren’t going quite as planned. A group of actors, about a third of the cast, were standing on stage clearly not sure about what would happen next. And this set the tone for the rest of the night.

The sound started going really wonky and much of the time the audience couldn’t hear a word of what was happening on stage and could only hear the sound of children and students in the changing rooms and in the wings, so instead of dramatic scenes of Alice and the Queen, or the ninjas and the knights, we were treated to loud whispers that carried on speakers across the entire auditorium of “Am I on now?”, “I think that was OK”, “You’re a legend” and, on many occasions, “SHHHHHHHHH!” 

The children were getting more and more tired as the night wore on. The show didn’t end until 10:35 and some of these children were only five or six years old. Their little eyes kept fluttering closed. They would forget they were on stage and wave at people they knew in the audience. At least two of the little boys kept hiking up their tights that the mic-packs were clearly dragging down. They grabbed the wrong props and left the stage on the wrong side. By the last 45 minutes of the show, not a single child could remember their own lines and every single one of them was being fed to them by a helpful adult. And the children had a lot of lines. Being children, they weren’t even very stealthy about taking prompts, and would cry out “Oh yeah! That’s right!” before they delivered the line that we’d just heard an adult tell them. 

The Mad Hatter was wonderful in the face of adversity. He managed to stay in character as he interrupted a scene to announce that there were five cars in the car park that would have to be moved before 10:00. As the show ran well over time, he managed a line something like this: “What could we possibly do to warp time so that Alice can go back to Overland? Of course, we could do the Time Warp! But we don’t have time for that, so you’ll just have to imagine it. Instead, we’re going to do a crazy dance off the stage!” and he led all those sleepy children off the stage, none of them seeming at all surprised that they weren’t doing the Time Warp. 

And it was problems with backing tracks that provided two of the greatest moments in the history of the theatre. When the Queen of Hearts was about to start the sing-off against Alice (I know, I don’t remember Lewis Carroll writing about a sing-off either), two backing dancers came on. Oh my God. They were wearing foam fingers and carrying a giant inflatable hammer. This could only mean one thing. She was going to sing Wrecking Ball, the greatest song of all time since Call Me Maybe. I literally squealed and jumped up and down in the seat in anticipation. And she started bawling the song out, exactly as it should be bawled out. And then the backing track disappeared. She kept on for a few seconds, but then decided to go from the start. The music started again. The dancers started from the start again. And then the backing track failed again. The Queen roared that she was going to freestyle it. She went back to the beginning. No backing track. She sang the song in a beautifully raw and desperate fashion. And the backing dancers went at it again. And this time the inflatable hammer burst, and it deflated, in a wonderful metaphor for what was going on on-stage. It was comic and moving and I loved it. 

The second greatest ever moment in the history of theatre happened soon after this one. The intellectually-disabled performers were on stage, dressed as chess pieces. They had a dance number prepared. The music for Get Lucky came on and they started their dance. Then, about ten seconds in, the track stopped and didn’t start again. Five hundred people in the audience froze. No! Not now! The performers looked around them, not knowing what to do. One or two began to wander around the stage. It was clear they didn’t know what was going on. They had professional carers with them. They didn’t know what to do either. There were also some college students on stage and they didn’t know what to do either. I think the entire audience held their breath for about a full minute. It was the tensest moment I’ve experienced in years. And then, out onto the stage came the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts to save the day. They clearly didn’t know the words for the song, but the Queen had it on an iPod and put her earphones in, and as she started to sing, so did the Mad Hatter, and so did the audience, and five hundred people decided that this scene would happen, no matter what. We all sang Get Lucky, the performers danced and we all experienced a relief that has no comparison. It was a beautiful moment that I will always remember. 


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