Keep SUA Weird: Reilly Dolan and Ms. Backherms
SUA's Unusual, Unconventional, and Unrecognized Hobbies
by LUCINDA HITTLE '22
If you were lucky enough to find yourself wandering campus during the spell of warm weather this past autumn, you may have encountered Reilly Dolan '21 and her “long Furby.” Dolan’s creation somewhat defies description - its head looks like the popular 90s toy, but its torso has been elongated to a length of around three or four feet. It more closely resembles a body pillow or some surreal, nostalgia-fueled snake. It truly needs to be seen to be believed. Reilly originally got the idea from TikToks and the project mostly started as a joke, but she eventually found herself invested in the process. A big challenge was teaching herself how to sew!
More work went into this bizarre creature than meets the eye. Reilly explained that her most longest creation, a neon green and pink doll named Paul, took around five days to make, about 10-15 hours in total. Because the toys are no longer being manufactured, long Furby-makers must turn to thrift stores or the internet, where Furbies can cost up to $200. The most Reilly has spent on a Furby is about $35, but fuzzy fabric can cost anywhere from $5-$20, depending on how much she wants. She owns 23 Furbies of varying types, three of which she has modified into creatures the internet has dubbed “longbois.”
In order to elongate the Furby, Reilly must undergo what she jokingly refers to as a “gruesome” task - stripping the “skin” from the Furby, revealing its robot skeleton, and removing the plastic faceplate. After the face is glued onto the new fabric, Reilly sews, starting from the top of the head, and fills the fabric tube with stuffing. Finally, she inserts a flexible metal “spine” so that the Furby can sit up and be bent into position. For the finishing touch, she adds ears, feet, and hair.
Right now, Reilly has three longbois - Sir Bartolomule Rojo, Paul, and her most recent creation (which is currently unnamed).
Although the long Furbies do not always make an appearance here at SUA, you may have spotted Reilly’s baby earrings - a popular commodity, especially among those involved in theatre. Reilly started making earrings out of knickknacks she found around her house at the end of sophomore year, but the jewelry didn’t really take off until she started gluing small plastic babies to earring backs. She originally bought the infants online after watching a YouTuber who hid them around his college, but eventually decided to turn them into her first pair of earrings! She got so many compliments on them that she started selling them, donating 70% of the profits to her favorite charities. Between selling them to SUA students and online through sites like Depop, she estimates that she’s made about $150 in profits. She’s still selling both baby earrings - she now has infants of various skin and hair colors - and ones with other knickknacks, most recently cards.
I also interviewed a former student - Ms. Backherms (class of 1973) - about her musical interests when she went to school at SUA.
As a freshman, Ms. Backherms provided piano accompaniment for the Saint Ursula musicals, working closely with the director and learning a lot about music in the process. She was really taken with theatre and was inspired to write her own musical, which was produced at SUA during her senior year.
Ms. Backherms, who you might know as the director of our wonderful SUA orchestra, started composing when she was around five or six years old, beginning with piano pieces. “I grew up in a very musical household,” she says. Her father was an excellent pianist and led a jazz band and her mother starred in her own high school musicals. She had a fondness for opera, which Ms. Backherms listened to a lot during her formative years. Her parents encouraged her musical interests and placed her in piano and guitar classes to help her hone her craft.
All of her hard work culminated in her very first original show, which she simply titled Musical. The production was comedic in nature and centered around high school students, much like herself and her peers, putting on a musical. She says it was “tremendously cool” to see her work come to life onstage. She especially notes how rewarding it was to see the director and actors put their own unique spin on her words!
After Musical, Ms. Backherms composed eight more musicals, all except one of which were musical comedies. Every one of her shows has a unique fantasy element.
Today, Ms. Backherms serves as the music director here at SUA, leading our symphony orchestra to wondrous heights. As some may recall, Ella Becker '19 conducted an original piece, entitled “Yearning,” at last year’s spring concert, proving that SUA’s fantastic music department continues to inspire students to reach their full potential.