You resist it at first. It’s on TV as you walk into the room, it looks a little ridiculous so you carry on walking and do something manly, like wrestle a bear or eat a scone without any butter. But then someone sets the SkyPlus to record every episode. One night, you’re alone in the house. TV3 is showing The Cosmetic Surgery Show – oh no wait, that’s Exposé. You search the prerecorded programmes looking for a documentary about the Fall of Stalingrad. And then it happens. You watch Glee.
All thoughts of wrestling bears go out the window. You’re sucked into a fantastical world of singing and dancing high school kids with very good teeth. Glee is an American musical comedy drama about a High School glee club called “New Directions”. We follow the group as they try to win the State Championship.
Of course American high school drama is escapist. It doesn’t necessarily resonate with any memories I had of secondary school. Deerpark CBS on Patrick’s Road between 1990 and 1996 didn’t have a Glee Club. However it did have the next best thing – The School Concert. Each year the English teacher, Bill O’Sullivan, would script, produce and direct five or six plays and cajole tens of ‘feens’ into acting them out. In his choices of plays, Bill didn’t stoop to the lowest common denominator. There was no nonsense like jazzing up the dialog of the classics to make it ‘more relevant to today’s youth’
Hamlet wasn’t walking around threatening to “reef the uncle out of it“. This was the real deal. Shakespeare, Cervantes, TS Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe were all rendered faithfully. Well sort of faithfully. Mr O’Sullivan did sometimes have to intervene to stop excitable First Years running amok with the props. Of course, a key element in Glee is the chemistry between the sexes. And where a play required a female role, Bill would draft in some girls from the nearby girl’s school – a practice known among the thespians as “getting the Hane Beors up“. Our canny director knew that, although risky, that the introduction of some women into the set up would get people to be more effusive in their performances. After all, Acting the Maggot was still acting.
My first performance was when I played the Devil in some mediaeval drama. I injected as much ferocity into the role as my pint-sized frame could muster leading onlookers to comment that “he must be off his game, biy“. Buoyed by the confidence of playing the devil and winning, I joined the Inniscarra Dramatic Society. In 1995, I undertook my most famous role: Ike Skidmore in the musical Oklahoma. Auditions were strict – we had to sing a song. After my audition it was agreed Ike should be a largely speaking role.
For those unfamiliar with the script of Oklahoma, it is set around the time that the territory of Oklahoma becomes a state of the Union. It’s a celebration of the American MidWest. This being a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, this is not a devastating portrayal of the genocide perpetrated against the Choctaw tribe by rapacious landgrabbing settlers and cow herders. The plot is mainly about two men fighting over a girl.
Following a climatic struggle between the two main protagonists, Oklahoma drifts to a happy conclusion in an auction scene. This was the scene of my greatest dramatic tour de force. The auction is to raise money for building a new school. The local young ladies have made hampers of food. The men of the area – a lairy group of cowboys and farmers (and that’s just the cast) – bid for the hampers. As well as getting the hamper, they also get to spend the day eating it (the hamper) with the lovely young lady who prepared it. A sort of If you liked it then you shouldda’ putta bid on it…
The auction had nearly been my undoing during rehearsals. It may surprise people, but back in the day I was a bit of a smart-arse. It was all I could do. I was a 16-year-old boy in a musical. And, unless he’s a really, really good dancer, all a 16-year-old boy thinks about doing is impressing girls. With biceps like hens’ ankles, the only way to impress girls is to be a smart arse.
As we rehearse the bidding scene one night, it’s my turn to bid. I’m supposed to say “I bid three dollars”. Instead I say: “Three dollars is an awful price to pay for a hamper.” Giggles are stifled. The director roars at me: “Say the effing line or eff off out of Oklahoma” I whisper “Three dollars,” and the bidding continues around me as I stew in my own shame.
But just like in Glee, even the worst sinner can be redeemed. Flash forward to the opening night. The show is going well and the messy business of the love triangle has been dealt with (and that’s just the cast). The auction scene is in full swing. Now, the important thing about doing an auction in a play is that everybody has to remember to bid in the correct sequence. Otherwise chaos ensues. In Oklahoma, the key sequence in the bidding is;
Ike Skidmore: I bid three dollars
Cowboy 1: Five Dollars!
Farmer 3: Make that seven!
That’s how it’s supposed to go. The bidding was underway, the amounts were hollered out as per the script. It came to me. I dug deep and bid the three dollars. I had my game face on now. I wanted that hamper. Silence followed. There was no other bid. The man playing Cowboy 1 had forgotten his lines! On the upside, it looked like I was getting the hamper cheap, on the down side, there was a lot more bidding to be done and a whole lot of dialogue that followed afterwards. Unless someone put five bucks on the hamper, the whole show could grind to a halt. But who was going to do that? The dramatic tension was palpable. But it was the wrong kind – it was the tension where everyone on both sides of the fourth wall realised there was a hames in progress.
“FIVE DOLLARS” I roared. The cast visibly relaxed – the audience breathed again. The show went on. In the ensuing dramatic release no one either noticed or cared that Ike Skidmore, the canning leader of the farmers, a man not normally given to flights of fancy, had outbid himself on a hamper. In the ensuing years, that kind of behaviour would have got you a relatively senior position in Anglo Irish Bank. But those were different times – both in Oklahoma and Inniscarra.
After the show, the director and I exchanged glances. Her eyes said Thank You. And my eyes had tears in them. Tears of glee.