Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 6

“Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 7:11)

Leslie pastes herself into the guest blogging for a moment: I’m selecting the Scripture verses for Marie’s posts. She would not purposely choose complimentary words for herself – but I can!

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Wednesday, 3/28/12
4:30 pm in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

Respond to God’s unexpected invitations.

Bonnie Campbell and I are sitting in the waiting room of BBC Newcastle awaiting our live drive-time interview with Jon Harles, a popular radio program host.

This is the day after opening night of The Susan Boyle Musical, I Dreamed A Dream, which is receiving widespread favorable reviews from media as distant as the Los Angeles Times.

The musical, itself – given its subject and its prominent cast and creative team – sparks media and public interest on its own. But we 100 supporters with our diverse accents enhance the story. The newshounds want to know why we came here from 15 countries, including Australia, and 20 of the United States of America. Many print, television, and radio reporters have stopped us in the streets or in the Theatre Royal foyer or restaurants, brandishing mics, cameras, and classic little paper pads for capturing shorthand notes.

Our group has no official spokesperson for these events, so any of us may consent to an interview and many of us have over the last few days. This speaks to the egalitarian structure of our fansite. While our servant-leaders (volunteer board of directors, administrators, and sueper moderators) help all run smoothly and as courteously as possible, the energy comes from widespread grass-roots interest and talent. As active supporters, we carry more accurate details about Susan’s life and career than most journalists.

At our lovely luncheon today, the call went out for someone to volunteer for this assignment. Others could have served admirably, but I raised my hand first.

Bonnie’s and my instructions were: “A cab from BBC will pick you up in front of the Premier Inn at 4:15.” Which it did.

The very courteous staff at the BBC Newcastle offices checked us in, gave us our badges, and asked us to make ourselves comfortable. Which we have done, despite a few nerves.

Suddenly, it’s 4:40. The show’s producer greets us and leads us into the green room, where we can view the radio hosts through a soundproof window. The friendly young woman producer chats casually with us, helping calm our nerves.

Now it’s 4:47. The previous interviewee – a sports star – emerges from the studio, and in we go. Bonnie had not intended to speak, but the producer and host and I wheedle her into sitting in front of one of the mics. She is hooked.

I think you’ll agree she has a future in radio!

And, by the way, I meant to say, “April 11, 2009” and “100 million YouTube hits.” Thank you for understanding.

Listen here (thanks to a supporter in Pennsylvania who quickly uploaded the interview to YouTube for easy access):

“Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 5

“Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Tuesday, 3/27/12
7:30 pm at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

We have entered kairos time.

Of course, I am not actually typing away on my laptop during the world premier opening night performance of The Susan Boyle Musical, I Dreamed A Dream. But the experience is surreal enough that it’s hard to tell chronos from kairos time. They are sharing space at the beautifully renovated Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Lead actress Elaine C. Smith employs “fairy dust” and finger snaps to move simple scenes, actors, and audience from the present to the memories in Susan Boyle’s early and recent life. What I feel most surreally is the awareness that we audience members who have actively supported Susan since April 11, 2009, are genuinely a part of the story unfolding on stage.

Many of the very same people are with Susan in both times and places at once. We were there in 2009. We are on stage or operating behind the scenes. We are in the plush maroon seats laughing, crying, cheering, fishing Kleenex out of our pockets.

We are here on opening night – either in person or eagerly awaiting reports launched into cyberspace.

We are here on opening night – and, as Elaine C. Smith dons a beautiful long red coat symbolizing “Susan now,” many of us wear red crocheted roses of support.

We are here on opening night – and at least one of us sits in the Happy Valley with his father when Susan “stops the room” nearly 30 years ago with her first-ever public karaoke performance.

We are here on opening night – and the April 11, 2009, audition fills our and millions of other computer screens as, one after another, we discover and send this must-see YouTube link to our friends and family.

We are here on opening night – and we find and post links to television news reports projected on the creative TV-screen stage backdrop.

We are here on opening night – and, horrified by the unconscionable conduct of some media, we arise in verbal protest in the comment sections of the online bully-press.

We are here on opening night – and we huddle around our computer monitors watching the heartbreaking finals of Britain’s Got Talent.

We are here on opening night – and we are on stage as the helpful souls during Susan’s dark few days at The Priory who tell her how much she means to us, how she has unwittingly soothed our own sorrows and rekindled the God-given passions of our lives.

We are here on opening night – and we are among the millions who treasure the albums featuring some of the musical’s songs.

We are here on opening night – and we are the awaiting adoring crowd at Rockefeller Plaza on that crucial crisp dark morning when, according to the play, Susan chooses to embrace the startling new life that has come upon her.

We are here on opening night – and the real Susan Boyle takes the stage to greet the real people who are part of her story.

“Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 4

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12a)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Tuesday, 3/27/12
11:16 am in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

Susan Boyle and her worldwide growing contingent of fans became constants in my life on April 15, 2009. Often I go to sleep at night filled with gratitude for this community.

As Susan continues to astonish the world with outside-of-the-box “firsts” (like consenting to and participating in this classy musical), my non-fansite friends and family members have had to admit that Leslie, Del and I were on to something from the start and have been faithful to it. Eye rolling has ceased although full-hearted understanding has yet to develop.

How could they understand something we, ourselves, do not?

At work Friday afternoon, I hoisted my small backpack, preparing to catch the bus to the airport. One co-worker asked, “Where are you going on vacation?”


“I knew it!!!”

They all chuckled indulgently, even enthusiastically, as I explained our mission. “Have a great time!”

“Fan” inadequately describes our role in Susan’s life since April 11, 2009. In fact, we are supporters motivated by inexplicable love and heart-response to a singer and person who inspires us to go out of our way on her behalf and on behalf of others. The hundreds of active supporters whose fansite or real names I recognize represent only a small percentage of Susan’s worldwide fan base.

In June 2011, a fansite member in England started a thread on the discussion forum. She asked, simply, if any of us would care to attend, as a group, opening night of The Susan Boyle Musical, I Dreamed A Dream, at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. If so, she would serve as the group contact with the theatre. Although March 27 was nine long months away, Jan “the subofan” quickly heard from 40-some members – a number that grew to nearly 100 people from 15 countries and 20 of the United States of America.

Last June, none of us knew that Susan Boyle, herself, would sing two songs after the curtain dropped. We responded immediately and unconditionally, trusting that the musical would be good and desiring to show our support regardless. We need not wait for the reviews to make up our minds to buy our tickets, book our hotel rooms, make airlines reservations. In fact, we wanted to write our own reviews for interested fans who could not attend. We wanted to write our own reviews to document, as accurately as possible, the true experience. We volunteers wanted our reviews out there to enrich and, if necessary, to counter the professional media’s understanding and reporting.

Since many of us are on budgets, this trip and others in support of Susan represented an investment in what we hold dear. I’ve heard that, if we want to know someone’s actual, not merely espoused, values, we look at their checkbook register.

Or we look at their volunteer timesheets. Even those unable to attend the musical were preparing for it. Our fansite (and others) has attracted many dozens of talented volunteers who simply show up online with a creative effort to further our support for Susan and for the “good guys” in her life. For example, when early publicity for the musical started appearing in UK and other media, our members posted the links on our forum, which engendered thoughtful and sometimes spirited discussion. We have become a cyber-salon reminiscent of scintillating Parisian venues in the 17th and 18th centuries.

(Truth be told, at other times we are a cyber-extended-family-potluck to which all the grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and their friends are invited or simply welcomed. Sometimes we get into arguments, with one or two stomping out or being asked to go walk around the block to cool off. We are a sort of collection of… it’s a collection of… uh… characters from many walks of life and pockets of the world.)

Susan has attracted such unsolicited spontaneous support from around the world since April 11, 2009.

On April 11, when a London construction worker inspired by Susan’s performance hastily constructed the first fansite, we began discovering one another, gathering online to find, post, and discuss all things Susan. Many of us also gathered at a YouTube audition video site, affectionately named “Susan’s Pub,” forming friendships that continue today. These volunteer fansites – the very concept new to most of us – were alive and thriving months before Sony established the Official Site for Susan’s albums. I am pleased to say that our now-fan-owned and volunteer-operated fansite,, and its, offer the most up-to-date and diverse news and discussion about Susan, relying on the dedication of volunteers whose efforts money could not buy.

But that is now. We began when Susan’s astonishing future was yet unknown.

Early on, we drew Susan and her team’s attention as the champions who defended and stood by her when anonymous online comments turned nasty.

We sent hundreds if not thousands of hand-written personal letters encouraging Susan and thanking her for the blessings and encouragement she bestowed through her singing and her inspiring yet humble, humorous, earthy example.

We sent dozens and dozens of “Rose Votes for Susan” – beautiful bouquets of flowers to the studio on the day of the BGT finals in June 2009, when, as non-UK world citizens, we couldn’t affect the actual vote. Susan acknowledged these in her autobiography.

When Susan quickly left The Priory – on her own terms – so that she could participate in the Britain’s Got Talent 26-show tour, supporters booked tickets for various venues and managed to film with cell phones and upload into cyberspace about a dozen of Susan’s 20-some performances. I remember many a night after a draining day at work staying up late with the worldwide fan community to watch, re-watch, comment, re-watch…every performance. We could then knowledgeably inform our day-to-day compatriots that Susan was, in fact, resurrected from the tabloid ashbin, performing brilliantly, as we knew she would.

Then, fans from all seven continents in the world responded to a thread, “If we made a quilt for Susan, would you contribute a square?” During this cyber-quilting-bee, we sent Carol in Texas 100 beautiful quilt squares representing our country and state; non-quilters gratefully accepting the generous offer of Phyllis, an Iowa quilter, to make squares for us. Supporters also took it upon themselves to contact people important in Susan’s life to allow quilt squares to be made for them. Carol assembled all in her sewing room, creating a beautiful reminder of our love and support, which Susan could wrap around herself on cold days.

When we learned that Susan was producing an album, we lined up at, winding around cyber-city blocks to await the instant we could begin pre-ordering the album. On that day, September 3, 2009, I placed my first order from an internet café in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland. Our spontaneous worldwide fan response broke Amazon records.

In mid-September, about two dozen of us traveled to Los Angeles and stood for hours in line to join the audience for the America’s Got Talent pre-taping of finals-night entertainment. We wore the now-famous red scarves that Susan could easily spot in the darkened auditorium, subtle signs of encouragement for our heroine. We know from her book about her paralyzing stage fright before she yet again wowed the world with her rendition of “Wild Horses.” Of course, someone immediately uploaded the performance to our fansite for others to find.

When the first documentary of Susan’s life was being assembled for initial airing on December 13, 2009, the producers, Talkback Thames, invited fans to submit videotapes of themselves saying, “Hello, Susan!” Fans from various countries sent their homespun contributions, several of which appeared in the documentary. We did this for love, not for money – as volunteers.

During October and November, the first organized fan gatherings started cropping up – first in Northern California (I believe), then everywhere fans could congregate. Especially for those of us whose near associates didn’t “get” our heart-response to Susan, these meet-n-greets were and are precious opportunities to meet face to face, to laugh and share with those whose personalities we had gotten to know through forum postings. The cyber-salon increasingly resembles the actual salons of Paris. Genuine friendships continue to be fostered through fan-organized meet-n-greets that take a variety of creative forms – including the “Anyone live on I-80 or I-90 between NYC and Montana?” roadside restaurant meet-n-greets with Del and Leslie in August 2010.

We found out that Susan would appear November 23, 2009, on NBC’s Today Show. She would be performing outdoors at a free concert in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City – the day her first album was to be released. This would be aired live to NBC’s millions of viewers around the United States. We looked around at each other in the cyber living room and said, “Let’s go!” About 100 of us got tickets and flew, drove, or railed from all corners of the United States, Canada, and a few European countries to stand for hours in the cold and dark, to cheer Susan on – and to treat ourselves to the thrill of hearing her sing in person, most of us for the first time. We shared hotel rooms and slept on couches and spare beds in the homes of other fans.

We learned from Susan’s public relations representative, Nicola Phillips, that she had invited the press to Susan’s arrival at JFK and that she would like fans also to greet Susan. Some three dozen fans, many of them newly having flown in for the Today Show concert, gathered at the British Airways greeting area with welcoming signs, red scarves, a Scottish Saltire flag – and enough red scarves for every news reporter and camera person to wear.

Of course, we gathered the evening before the Today Show at St. Andrews Restaurant near Times Square – a tradition later memorialized in the recent documentary, Susan Boyle: An Unlikely Superstar. After the Today Show, we enjoyed a festive brunch at Rock Center Café – which is where some of us met Susan for the first time, when she, Andy Stephens, and other members of her team made a surprise appearance. There, we also presented the beautiful handmade quilt and other objects demonstrating our love and support for Susan. She began to know us as down to earth, funny, generous, creative, enthusiastic, and certainly willing to go the extra 3,000 or so miles.

All of this early worldwide volunteer support began before Susan had sold a single album. That cold sunny day in November 2009, she started breaking sales records worldwide, and her history-making professional singing career continues.

While we fans and active volunteer supporters can claim only partial credit for Susan’s phenomenal impact on the world, we do represent a profoundly important part of her story. We, ourselves, could not have done this had the circumstances not been right.

All of these memories and others passed quickly through my consciousness as I unpacked my dressier shoes and ironed my dress for opening night.

In the fullness of time, Susan was ready for the world and we were ready for her.

“A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12b)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 3

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Saturday, 3/24/12
3:00 pm at London Heathrow

Susan was ready for the world and we were ready for her.

Astonishing, isn’t it, that I could drop a pound coin into an internet machine at LHR and learn that one of our intrepid elders had been lost but now was found?

Three years ago, 83-year-old Betty from the state of Georgia, USA, did not know silver-haired Pam from Australia. Now they have become frequent Susa-event roommates. When Betty did not arrive as expected in Newcastle, Pam SOSed the group email list of those traveling to Newcastle. Tout de suite, fans from other countries tracked down Betty at her son’s home in Georgia and reported the finding. Betty had missed her flight and would be delayed for a day. All were relieved.

This is the necessary era of simple, inexpensive worldwide communications into which Susan has come to prominence.

In the fullness of time, Susan was ready for the world and we were ready for her.

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 2

“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Monday, 3/26/12
12:00 noon on the train to Newcastle

“Notice serendipity and report it” is one practice of living in kairos time.

Serendipity illuminates yet another gift Susan brings.

My lovely seatmates on the packed B747 flying from SFO to LHR were an attractive young woman and her mother. I normally don’t socialize on airplanes, but something about their casual, practical attire; their fitness; their ease with the crowded conditions, reminded me of Oregonian relatives and friends. They looked friendly and, after stowing my backpack under the seat at my feet, I said, “Okay, now, here we go.” And the conversation began.

Jessica, a fifth-year student at the University of Oregon in Eugene, is majoring in theater arts with emphasis on costume design. Janet, a former actress, is a theater professor in Eugene who teaches Shakespeare to at-risk and to gifted students in grades 6 through 12.

The London-bound duo obviously enjoys each other’s company. Jessica will live with a host family for the next three months and will participate in a special course offered by a knowledgeable University of Oregon professor. The group will visit historic and modern Meccas of theater. Janet will settle her daughter in at her temporary home then visit Shakespearean sites for the next few weeks. For each, this theatrical pilgrimage is a dream come true.

All of this I learned in the first 30 seconds.

So, I took a deep breath and revealed, “I am joining nearly 100 friends from 15 countries and 20 American states who are going to Newcastle for opening night of the musical, I Dreamed A Dream, about the life of Susan Boyle.”

I reported on the positive tweets beginning to pour in after the first preview, just hours earlier in real time.

The pair – who of course knew of Susan and actually knew something of her life – was delighted that a new live theater production was attracting a worldwide audience. “We would like to think that theater is not a dying breed,” said Janet.

Between catnaps during our 10-hour flight, Janet, Jessica and I discussed their passion for live theater.

Janet reported that many of her students have difficulties in the regular public schools and so are transferred to alternative schools where Janet teaches. “Learning Shakespeare is like learning a second language,” she said. “It engages their brain synapses in new ways, and their overall test scores improve.”

She also told of one boy who found it painfully difficult to speak up in class. However, playing roles of Shakespearean characters, he could speak fluently and comfortably, using different accents, because the persona – not himself – was on display. That improved his general self-confidence.

I posited that, perhaps, the camaraderie that develops among cast and crew producing a play could serve as a healthy alternative to young people who might be drawn to the pseudo-community offered by gangs. Janet affirmed this, citing experience with some of her students.

Jessica’s passion for theater costume design began as a young child, when she would draw elaborate costumes for fun. She, herself, was born one month prematurely, before a certain aspect of vision could develop. Fortunately, her parents sought and found vision specialists that trained the parents to work with Jessica to overcome this barrier. She speaks enthusiastically of her mother’s ability to engage young people from all walks of life in the theatrical classics.

I felt uplifted by these two women, who found their passions – their “who I was born to be” – early in life and are following them for the benefit of other people. Quoting a Susafan Facebook friend who wrote to me recently, “I just love goodness!!!!”

This airplane-seat education gave me even greater appreciation for Elaine C. Smith and the other professionals who have invested their talent and energy into a classic art form. Now, they have risked directing this creativity to a brand new musical about the early life and budding career of one of the most inspiring women of our time.

Indeed, I would like to think that I Dreamed A Dream will demonstrate that good theater, far from being “a dying breed,” can serve the world in unexpected beneficent ways.

“I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere Him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blessing Blackburn Musical ~ Installment 1

“A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown

Sunday, 3/25/12
1:15 am in Blackburn, Scotland

In the fullness of time, Susan Boyle was ready for the world, and the world was ready for Susan. This is kairos time – God’s time – which interacts with but is not governed by the chronos time that wants to rule the world.

Chronos can be a fickle master: Two weeks ago in California, I set my watch one hour forward for Daylight Savings Time in the Pacific Time Zone. That and the SamTrans 292 bus helped get me to the San Francisco Airport on time for my Friday-evening flight. Remarkably, like full-uddered cows congregating at the milking barn at precisely the right hour, hundreds of other United passengers converged on cue at the departure gate. Yesterday en route from California to London, I set my watch seven hours forward to match the mother of all time zones – Greenwich Mean Time – so not to miss my flight to Edinburgh. A kind friend who had offered to drive me from the airport to Blackburn arrived at 6:30 on the dot as planned. About 15 minutes ago, I set my watch yet another hour forward because Daylight Savings Time just started in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, the sun, moon, and stars God created move placidly in their apparent orbits around Earth oblivious to our clocks. My own body has no intention of settling down for a good night’s sleep at 5:15 pm – even though my mind knows breakfast will be served in a few hours at 7:30 am, which is really 11:30 at night, according to my stomach. Chronos is a fickle master, indeed.

Because this tyrant-at-times governs much of my present daily life, I have decided to observe the next 10 days in a kairos way by attuning to synchronicity and participating in God’s design for this time in West Lothian and Newcastle. Aside from necessary bows to Chronos (I have, after all, a few planes and trains to catch, B+Bs to check into, Masses to attend, curtain times to honor, pre-paid meals to share with the fan community), I have left most hours open and unplanned. Already I feel relaxed and poised for adventure.

Three years ago, 48-year-old Susan Boyle lived her quiet, devout, financially strained life with her cat, Pebbles, less than a mile from my little room here at the Burnview Bed and Breakfast. She was famous only in West Lothian, where the locals knew of her astonishing voice and established ways. She and the townsfolk shared intersecting daily orbits in Blackburn and the collection of villages. All was much the same as it had been since the cataclysm (for Susan) of Bridget Boyle’s death in 2007 at age 91.

Until, in the fullness of time, “I dreamed a dream….”

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)