Tuesday, March 27, 2012

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 Susan-Boyle.com 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 Susan-Boyle.com 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, www.susan-boyle.com, and its www.forum.susan-boyle.com, 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 Amazon.com, 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)

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