If I may be so bold as to speak for the other members of Team Tilney, we really had a fun time “explaining it all”–that is, why we think Mr. Tilney is Austen’s best hero, as well as exploding some of the myths and scandalous falsehoods that have been circulated about him–to the audience at the JASNA AGM.
I conceived the idea a little over a year ago and browbeat, er, persuaded several fellow Tilney fans to join in with me, and submitted the idea as a breakout presentation for the AGM. Imagine my surprise and delight when the organizers contacted me and asked if we would be willing to have our presentation be a special event in the main ballroom before the official opening of the AGM. That sounded like fun, and as Heather pointed out, also had the advantage of getting it over with early and then we could relax and enjoy the rest of the AGM, and wouldn’t have to miss anything. We were also really pleased that the organizers seemed to catch the idea that we wanted to have some fun with it and be entertaining.
While we had an outline and the basic idea of what we wanted to do, we didn’t seriously begin to get into details until a couple of months ago. Kelley Brown (known on the Janeite Interwebs as Kelley B.) used her professional project manager skills to keep us organized and also arranged for a weekly conference call that was really helpful in getting a far-flung group organized and on the same page.
After some discussion, we realized that we needed something extra…a live body to read Mr. Tilney’s lines. We could read them, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Teammate Lynn Marie Macy, who is a playwright, director, and actress (we have sung the praises of her wonderful stage adaptation of NA many, many times), suggested hiring a local actor, and used her connections to find a good prospect, Joe Homes. We couldn’t audition him in person (STOP SNICKERING, YOU GUTTERSNIPES) but he had a great background and the right look, and seemed perfect in every way. We had no idea how perfect he would turn out to be! Lynn Marie worked with him over the phone and e-mail, and he entered into the idea of the presentation with great gusto.
In one e-mail, teammate Heather Laurence (known to AustenBlog’s Gentle Readers as Cub Reporter and West Coast Bureau Correspondent Heather L.) jokingly wrote a partial parody of the hilarious Old Spice commercials featuring Isaiah Mustafa. We immediately said “WE MUST DO THIS!” and had Heather write up a full treatment.
We decided we would have “Henry” sitting in the audience and then introduce him as a surprise guest. We told only AGM co-coordinators Frank McClanahan and Mary Margaret Benson and asked them to keep it on a need-to-know basis.
The presentation came together very quickly. Lynn Marie wrote some great dialogues and suggested we use fans as props and as a running gag (that Henry made us hot, of course) and also got together a costume for Joe to wear. We assigned topics and sorted out what we would say, and after two quick practices at the AGM with everyone present, including Joe, we were ready for an audience of Janeites on Friday morning.
As planned, we had Joe sitting in the front row, off to one side, as the audience came in to choose their seats. I warned him that some of the ladies, not knowing he was a participant and assuming he was an audience member, might be so thrilled to see a young man so into Jane and NA that he would dress in Regency costume outside the ball at an AGM, that they might want to, er, pet him a little bit, and that he shouldn’t be too alarmed. Sure enough, while we were attending to last-minute details, a few ladies approached him and were clearly thrilled to see him.
We were introduced by my friend Lorraine Hanaway, which was a thrill and an honor (and who by the way figured out what was going on about as quickly as Henry figured out Catherine’s mind outside his mother’s room), and I talked a little bit about why I like Henry Tilney. I introduced each member of the team and invited them to talk a little bit about what they like about Henry. Then I said, “You may notice we have an extra chair up here, and we have invited a special guest to join us. He’s a graduate of Oxford University–”
–and there was a SHRIEK from the audience–
“…his turn-ons are horrid novels, large dogs, and a true Indian muslin; his turn-offs are neat freaks, imprecise language, and greatcoats with insufficient capes.”
The excitement in the audience, which was cottoning on, was palpable at this point.
“Joining us all the way from Woodston, Gloucestershire, please welcome the Reverend Henry Tilney.”
Lynn Marie’s Spousal Support Unit, David, who was sitting in the audience, said he felt the hormone rush go past him at this moment! There was a huge ovation and great excitement as Joe took the stage and did the Old Spice parody. With Heather’s permission, I reproduce the script below:
Hello ladies. Look at your Mister Darcy. Now back to me. Now look at Captain Wentworth. Now back to me. Sadly, those gentlemen are not me. But if they knew enough about muslin to buy their own cravats and were more nice than wise, they could be like me.
Look down. Back up. Where are you? You’re in the Lower Rooms with the gentleman your gentleman could be like. I’m asking you to dance. Unlike some gentlemen who refuse to dance, I love to dance, and you are handsome enough to tempt me.
What’s in your hand? Back at me. I have it. I’m reading that novel you love. I’m reading it to my sister.
Anything is possible when your gentleman is Henry Tilney.
I have a puppy. (Arf!)
[whistle Old Spice theme]
He really did have a puppy, a beanie baby, which Heather wrestled away from her youngest to bring along. And of course he had a copy of Udolpho to read to his sister. 😉 Several people have asked if we recorded this. We didn’t, but there might be a video upcoming, though not for a month or so: watch this space. 🙂
“Henry” took his place among us and we proceeded to explain why Henry Tilney is made of awesome with awesome sauce, dusted with awesome powder and served on a bed of leafy green awesome. It certainly helped our cause to have Da Man himself right there with us, handsome and charming, and reading all his best lines OUT OF THE NOVEL, YES! with panache.
We did the Team Tilney cheer: “TILNEY RULES AND DARCY DROOLS, GOOOOO TILNEY!” and the presentation was over. We were immediately surrounded by delighted audience members, who told us how much they enjoyed the presentation, and when Sheryl Craig (the editor of JASNA News) approached me for a picture, I looked around to find Joe, and discovered that he was surrounded by paparazzi!
Several ladies asked if Mr. Tilney would be at the
Cotillion Ball AGM ball, and were most disappointed to discover that he would not be. (The Spousal Support Units joked that we should have auctioned off a dance with Mr. Tilney!)
We all were approached all weekend by people who told us how much they enjoyed the presentation, and we’re so glad that they did, and of course glad it went well and started off the AGM with a fun bang, as intended. We also hope we might have made a few people re-evaluate their opinion of Mr. Tilney, and even if they’re not quite ready to move him ahead of their favorite hero, at least they have begun to see his many charms.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow team members, Heather, Kelley, and Lynn Marie, who not only agreed to do this with me but entered into it in with so much spirit and enthusiasm and talent. It was very much a group effort and everyone’s contributions, both of organization and of content, were vital. Also I’d like to thank Joe Homes, who was a delight in every way. He learned his lines and accepted direction at long distance, nailed his character and performance, and handled the fangirls with great aplomb. We all thank the Spousal Support Units, Jeff Laurence and David Macy, for taking photos, holding bags, giving opinions, and acquiring much-needed Pepsis at critical moments. For those who asked, my little Henry medallion pin was a gift from my friend Anna, who made it, and I’ll ask her if she wants to make them to sell. Our Team Tilney t-shirts were purchased from DeeDee Baldwin’s Janeite Supply Shop, which also has other Austen-related goodies.