Saturday, 24 December 2016

Chapter 15 Concerts, plays and charity events

Chapter 15

Concerts, plays and charity events

Pupils enjoy seeing their teachers outside the context of the classroom. They like seeing their teachers in different frameworks and situations, especially situations in which they don’t take themselves too seriously and which allow pupils to see them as human beings.

Come to that, it is a pleasure for staff to present a different face, open up a little and work with pupils in different circumstances and conditions in which each helps the other to achieve a common end.

School concerts, plays and charity events provide a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a change of routine, pace and environment while building rapport and friendship with pupils and other members of staff as we all work toward the goal of presenting a show.

When I started out in teaching, I attended a couple of musical events at the school and found myself quite envious of the camaraderie and fun the participants clearly had, so when I was approached to be a joint master of ceremonies at a charity concert (with a colleague named Bill), I jumped at the chance.

Bill was a natural – he remained calm, collected and competent throughout, but I quickly discovered that my desire to participate was greater than any meagre ability I had to present the acts. I became very nervous, anxious and unsure of myself, and the low point came when there was a delay and Bill and I had to fill the time. I resorted to doing impressions and invited the audience to identify my “victims”. It wasn’t good and I resolved never to repeat the experience, at least not as a presenter. I decided I would help out in sketches or small parts, but I really couldn’t face extended appearances involving chatting to an audience again.

I know that’s bizarre, given my job involved speaking to groups of people all day and every day, but it’s something I never completely got over. Even when, years later, I addressed groups of colleagues at conferences or presented ideas on the use of film in the classroom. The old dry-mouthed, blank-inducing nervousness and anxiety reared its ugly head. In order to cope I prepared thoroughly and tried to amuse and appear calm and controlled, but underneath I was often a quaking wreck.

Nonetheless, there were plenty of opportunities to make shorter contributions to various theatrical enterprises. I found I could cope better if “performances” were comic and brief.

In a charity version of “Blind Date” I impersonated none other than Sean Connery (my boyhood hero), and titillated the audience by suggesting I could “swing my niblick” (a golfing term), but I was a little put out when Bill (I can’t remember who he pretended to be) stole my best line and claimed he was “big down under” (reference to Australia)! Later on, I was somewhat baffled when the wife of a colleague congratulated me on how much I sounded like Mr Connery, but confided that close-up, I really didn’t look much like him ….

Arthur has a very good singing voice and was happy to sing at charity events and concerts. He decided that he would sing “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” on one occasion, and thought it would be hilarious if I and another colleague acted as his backing singers for the chorus. This was a good idea, but for some reason I just could not cope with the words (Do Wah Diddy, Diddy Dum, Diddy Do) and each time I was required to produce these words I uttered a jumbled and largely incoherent version which, fortunately, many took as an attempt at humour and which, indeed, many appeared to find amusing, but the fact is I could not get the nonsense words into my head, except as soon as the music stopped and then I recalled them perfectly, and have been able to do so to this day.

On another occasion, Arthur sang “Unchained Melody” as a duet with our colleague and friend Alison, who also has a very good voice. Despite (or perhaps because of) my performance as Arthur’s backing singer, they asked me to join them on stage though this time as a strictly non-singing participant. It will be recalled that in the film “Ghost”, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore have a romantic interlude with a potter’s wheel while “Unchained Melody” plays in the background. Arthur and Alison thought it would be amusing to set up a potter’s wheel in the foreground of their stage set, clearly referring to the sensual scene in the film. As Arthur and Alison launched into their rendition of the song (which was videotaped for posterity, by the way), I was unsure of what, exactly, to do with myself, but when I spotted the potter’s wheel, I received inspiration.

As Arthur and Alison focused on their delivery and harmonies, I placed myself immediately behind the potter’s wheel (and immediately in front of the audience), and set about running my hands up and down an imaginary piece of pottery in as sensual a way as I could to evoke the spirit of the scene in the film, all the time pulling faces and pouting my lips à la Les Dawson. The young audience was most appreciative and appeared highly amused. At the end of the song, Arthur and Alison seemed quite happy with their performance, thanked the audience most graciously and left the stage without a single word of rebuke to me, nor even mentioning what I had done. Naturally, I thought they were happy with the way everything had gone and that was an end to it.

Until …. five years later, just after registration one morning, Alison burst into my room and declared, “I know what you did!”, brandishing a video tape in my face.

Apparently, her mother had been on a family visit that weekend and, while talking about “old times”, Alison suddenly remembered the video tape of her performance of “Unchained Melody”, which she had never watched, and so she decided to share the moment with her mother ….

“I wondered why the audience was laughing!” she yelled, accusingly, but other than that she was left quite speechless, which was something of a first for Alison!

At the next charity concert, I decided to abandon the prospect of singing and considered instead a “career” in dancing. I had attended a “Blues Brothers” evening with friend and colleague Mike and, inspired by the dynamic and infectious music and dance we had witnessed, I suggested to Mike that we do a dance duet to “Everybody needs somebody to love” from the film soundtrack. To my astonishment, he agreed wholeheartedly and we set about choreographing our routine.

Hardly natural or talented dancers, we concentrated on short, sharp and simple foot movements (à la Bob Fosse) combined with wild arm movements (à la falling over) to distract from the said foot movements. What we lacked in talent, technique and knowledge, we compensated for in terms of energy, drive and commitment. After school, we even cleared away tables and chairs in a computing room and went through our paces with the music booming in the background.

Of course, we failed to take in to account the possibility that another colleague might be tempted to work late in the second computing room next door, and he might be attracted/distracted by the pounding music, the sound of furniture being dragged across the room, or the hysterical laughter of two grown professionals as they fell over one another while trying to produce the simplest of dance steps.

The other colleague (another Mike) never entered the room. He could have come in, chatted, laughed with us or even joined in, but instead he simply stood at the adjoining door and stared fixedly through the window.

When we eventually became aware of him, we just cracked up with embarrassment at the thought of what he had seen.

He, on the other hand, continued to stare in apparent disbelief, his mouth slightly open and with a very slight shake of the head. Then he just walked away, giving us no opportunity to explain ourselves, and he never mentioned it to either of us. It is to be hoped he subsequently learned of the charity concert for which we were rehearsing ….

At exactly the same time, my three young children (aged five and three) contracted chickenpox. I couldn’t remember if I had caught it when I was young, but we quickly discovered that in fact I had managed to avoid it in my youth because now, at the age of 38, I caught it from my own darling children.

Friends, family and colleagues all thought this was hilarious and told me just to enjoy a few days off, though when I was examined by a doctor, he leaned forward and said rather ominously, “You’re going to be very ill” and went on to tell me he had access to medication normally used for HIV patients, though he preferred not to give it to me as it cost £100 per pill. Up to that point I hadn’t felt particularly ill, just itchy.

As it transpired, I needed only four days off school and, covered in some 250 very itchy spots, I was able to perform our routine with Mike, though I have to say the effort nearly killed me!

I was eventually persuaded to perform a song at another concert and I agreed because this time the song itself was not to be the focus of attention – my appearance would distract attention from my awful singing.

I sang “Man, I feel like a woman” by Shania Twain, but dressed as Shania Twain. It took a lot of persuasion because I really am not attracted to the idea of dressing in women’s clothing, but eventually I was convinced that it would be fun and entertaining for the audience.

It is a matter of great regret that I was never photographed in my Shania Twain outfit, in fact I never even saw myself in a mirror. I wore tights, high-heeled shoes and a blouse that belonged to my wife, and a very short hockey skirt. I also received a full make-up job from one of the sixth-year girls who took great pride in applying foundation, lipstick and mascara, and placed a long black wig on my head. Come to think of it, maybe it’s just as well no photographic evidence exists ….

I made my way along the corridor to the rear of the stage, struggling to keep my balance in the high heels (although I found if I took my time and placed my feet carefully, it went quite smoothly), and praying I would meet no-one (which was idiotic, given I was about to stand in front of an audience of about 300).

There were several gasps and titters from the stage crew as I took my place in the centre at the rear of the stage. The curtains were closed and a choir was singing just in front of the curtains. The idea was that after their song a “special guest” would be introduced, the curtains would be drawn to reveal me in all my feminine glory and, as the entire audience laughed, I was to launch into “Man, I feel like a woman”.

The choir’s song ended and I took up my position, arms stretched out to receive the audience’s applause and warm reception. The curtains were opened quickly and I stepped forward to …. nothing.

No response whatsoever.

No laughter, no applause, no warm reception.

Then, just as I was beginning to panic under my fixed smile, there was a communal and very audible intake of breath and an outbreak of laughter and applause as the audience finally recognised me!

I was so convincingly made up and dressed that the entire audience took what felt like an eternity (but was probably about three seconds) to identify me and share the joke.

Now the problem was that the laughter and applause drowned out the musical accompaniment so that I couldn’t hear when I was to sing, so I just launched into it anyway, and I think that only added to the entertainment value.

I even received a special mention from the Headmaster at the end of the show as he gave a vote of thanks and he complimented me on my “performance”. However, the following day I received an even greater compliment when the young ladies in my Higher class arrived and congratulated me on my appearance, one remarking “Nice legs, by the way”, and another agreeing with “Yes, you’ve got better legs than me, and that’s saying something!”

I felt greatly, if a little disconcertedly, honoured.

There was one occasion when I sang “properly” at a charity concert – Arthur and I sang “Le Temps des Cathédrales”, but we had Bruno Pelletier playing on DVD behind us and Arthur can sing, so I got away with it.

I was also invited to yell “It’s Christmas” at the end of the choir’s rendition of Slade’s “Merry Christmas everybody”. I was so loud that some asked about the power of the microphone I had used, and they found it hard to believe I didn’t need one.

For Children in Need in 2010 a number of senior pupils, a student teacher and I cobbled together a routine based on “Haben sie gehort das deutsche band” from “The Producers”. It was suitably awful but reasonably entertaining and evidence of this effort can still be found on YouTube. As I write, the video of our performance has been viewed 188 times. Brave souls.

Apart from these performances, I also helped out backstage with school productions of “Grease” and “Annie”, and I have to say that in every production in which I participated I was struck by the willingness, determination, engagement and professionalism of all concerned. Apart from developing umpteen educational skills, such events enable pupils and teachers to evolve relationships and a community spirit as all work together toward a common goal.

And apart from that, they’re fun!

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