LINE LEARNING

I slept very well. I wake at 5 which, with the hour’s change from Eastern to Central is 6 as far as my body is concerned and that is progress. By the time I return to Enlgand next Monday I will just about be fully acclimatised.

The breakfast is the usual fare including a waffle machine that makes big fluffy waffles over which I can spread butter and liberally pour syrup. I’m a pro, you know. My body is a temple.

The morning is empty for me, as there is no show until 2 and that is just around the corner so I have plenty of time. My plan is to work at some line learning for A Christmas Carol . This may seem a bit odd considering how pleased I’ve been with the performances this year but I have my reasons.

When I first performed A Christmas Carol as a 1 act, 1 man show it ran at about an hour. Over the years I have little by little slipped more and more of the original text in and now it is 1 hour 20 which is about as long as an audience can reasonably expect to be seated. Last year decided I wanted more of Marley in there, more at Scrooge’s school and some other extra bits and pieces, so have developed a longer, 2 act script which I am due to perform at The Knights Templar School back in the UK next week, as well as at The Mechanic’s Hall in Worcester, Mass and at Byers Choice.

Having got the core script working well again, now is the time to start introducing the new passages. Learning the lines is not difficult, as most of them feature in every film or stage adaptation you’ve ever seen. The tricky bit is to actually remember to say them and not fly past on the automatic pilot of my original script.

In between sipping coffee and answering emails I spend a morning with Scrooge peering at the back of his door as if ‘half expecting to be terrified by Marley’s pigtail sticking out into the hall.’

RETURN TO WOODNEATH

At 12.30 it is time to meet Kimberly for the short hop back to the Woodneath Homestead and library. There is not much to be done, the room is still set up from last night and it is a question of arranging furniture for another performance of Mr Dickens is Coming.

1 o’ clock and I have a live radio interview coming in from Chicago. I’m locked away into the Head Librarian’s office to take it. It’s a fun chat that lasts for 30 minutes and the presenter does a fantastic job of promoting the 2 events on Sunday as well as having an intelligent and well researched conversation about Charles’s life and works. Augustus Dickens gets his moment in the sun too.

Chatting to Chicago

Chatting to Chicago

Interview done and I have half an hour till show time, so I get back to the room, where the audience are arriving, head to my store cupboard and get changed.

As we wait for the show to start Kimberly and I discuss some ideas for possible future ventures. Maybe some ghost stories; maybe a tour group coming to England, visiting Dickens and other literary sites with me being a tour guide; maybe a tour of Dickens sites in America, following the routes of his 2 visits here. Before we know it 2 o’clock is upon us and it is time to work.

Mr Dickens is Coming goes well once more although there a couple of audience members that I’m not sure about:  there is a gentleman sitting alone in the front row looking very serious and studious. He has a folder and a pad on his knees and occasionally makes notes. It’s like taking a practical Dickens One Man Show exam! I’m painfully aware of some of the historical liberties in the script and am convinced that he will confront me later. Then, there is a lady sat in the very back, spending the entire show emailing or texting or gaming on her smart phone which is surprisingly disconcerting.

These 2 besides everyone else is having a rare old time and applaud generously at the conclusion.

SHINY HEAD

At the signing table people dutifully file past and offer their thanks and congratulations. Suddenly the studious ‘examiner’ is there. Opening his folder and pulling a sheaf of paper out: ‘Thank you Mr Dickens I thoroughly enjoyed your programme. Could I have your signature please? And he hands me a blank piece of paper onto which I scrawl GerdChlesDickens on (that’s as near as I can type what my signature looks like) and off he goes, a happy man. The Lady of the Text had stood at the end and applauded long and loud with the rest of them. Strange folk.

A mother with her 2 sons comes to the desk. The younger son, probably about 12 or 13 puts his hand out to shake mine: ‘Mister, this is meant as a compliment. Your head is REALLY shiny!’ His older brother crumples in embarrassment.

It’s time to say goodbye to all of the Librarians at this marvellous complex and head back to the hotel for an hour or so rest before the evening’s events.

THE PAVILLION AND JOHN KNOX VILLAGE

I’ve been a bit spoiled with distances during these 2 days but the evening’s show is to be held at an auditorium in Lee’s Summit a drive of…..40 minutes. Kimberly arrives a little early, as we will be driving through heavy rush hour traffic but we make good time.

Apparently Lee’s Summit has the World’s shortest St Patrick’s Day Parade. There is one bar in town so the parade starts on one side of the street, crosses it and ends in the bar.

My show tonight is not in a library, even though the event is organised by the local Mid Continent branch. The venue is the Pavilion at John Knox Village, which is a retirement community. The Pavilion itself is a huge pyramid and is used for rock concerts, opera, theatre etc. The capacity is 1000 in concert mode and for me there are 600 seats set out.

The Pavillion

The Pavilion

I performed here last year and although it is a very intimidating space at first glance, it was a surprisingly intimate hall. A large stage is erected and the chair, stool and hat stand that make up my set look rather lost but the tech crew here is great and when the stage lights are on and the house lights are down it looks superb.

Because the guys are so professional I have decided that this should be the first event at which I try our own microphone. It has become a feature of tours in the past that some microphones are good, some are awful. Some pop and bang, others are crystal clear. Some get knocked by costume, others stay firmly anchored. After discussing the problem with Bob after last year’s tour he has taken the step of renting an excellent looking system to try out and see if it is worth investing in one for the future.

So far on the trip most of the venues have either been too small to need a mic, or have had systems built in. The Pavilion is the perfect place to test for the first time.

The stage manager/tech boss Kent looks over the pack and is impressed by what we have. He plugs everything into the Pavilion’s own syatem system and it all works very well. I’m going to wear a head microphone (apparently known as a Countryman), hooked over my ears.

The audience start arriving very early, some residents from John Knox Village and some public from the Library’s own marketing and by the time 7 pm ticks round we have about 300 in, which is a good number for A Christmas Carol this early in the year.

It is very nice to have a big stage and a big crowd to play to and I can really pull out all of the stops and give a full theatrical performance. The microphone seems to work well, although I am aware that the ear hooks are slipping sometimes although I don’t think there is any danger it actually falling off.

Another very successful and energetic evening. I spend 10 minutes in my dressing room towelling down and changing costume and then it is out to deal with the signing line. Lots of old friends and familiar faces, lots of photographs, lots of signing and questions. Nobody comments on my shiny head, which is nice.

As the signing goes on, I can feel the fatigue settling in and know I’m going to feel very stiff in the morning. More smiling, posing, handshaking. The queue for autographs is quite long but moves along quickly. Must remember that the last person in the queue deserves the same attention as the first. More so, in fact, as they’ve been waiting the longest. Having performed A Christmas Carol, of all stories, it would be poor form indeed to become short, bad tempered and dismissive! Bah, Humbug!

Signing

Signing

The last guy in the line is Don. Don is…..well, stalker is too strong a word, it makes him sound creepy, which he is not. Don has been to pretty well EVERY performance I’ve done for Mid Continent. Oh, I don’t mean the 4 this year; I mean EVERY one for the past 18 years or so. Every time he has something signed, asks if I’ve got a DVD of the show yet, tries to convince me to perform for the Kansas City Library Service, much to Kimberley’s constant irritation. At this afternoon’s show he’d given me a brochure for the Kansas City Repertory Theatre Company’s brochure and put his name and contact details on it: Don McLean. No, surely not……

We finally get packed up and Kimberly takes us to an Italian restaurant for a brief bite to eat and then drives me back the 40 minutes to the hotel before turning round and driving back the 40 minutes to her home in Lee’s Summit.

I have another early start in the morning, so get my packing done and then get straight to sleep.

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