Fortunately today I do not have a long or an early drive to reach my next venue.
Breakfast is what breakfast is in American (and British, it must be said), motels. A rather sorry buffet with congealed scrambled eggs, sausage patties, bagels etc. Here I show my Britishness: I take a bowl of cereal to my table, with orange juice and then return to the buffet and have a waffle (warmed in the toaster which keeps short circuiting) and eggs; then return to the buffet and have some toast and jam. The American way is to take everything at once. People must think I’m a complete glutton as I return to the buffet again and again and again.
The Holiday Inn Express has a guest laundry, so I take the opportunity of doing some washing while I can. This is a perennial problem on tour and it is vital to get clothes cleaned whenever the opportunity arises. While my smalls are spinning I turn my thoughts to today’s performances of A Christmas Carol. This will be the first time I’ve actually performed it since signing off from last year’s tour, just before Christmas so it is bound to be a little rusty.
I’ve lived with the story and my adaptation of it for 20 years but of course it continually needs work and tweaking so I run through the script in my room: finding passages that aren’t flowing as naturally as I’d like; going over them, trying different timing and phrasing. I continue to rehearse in this manner as I walk to the laundry to see how the washing is doing and get some very strange looks from other guests as I mutter something in the character of Scrooge. Not only a glutton, but a complete madman too!
Washing done and folded it is time to climb up into the Chevvy and set my course for Marlborough, Mass. which is a drive of about an hour or so.
I make good time and get to my next motel with an hour to spare before my ‘sound check’ which gives me time to do a little more rehearsing.
I am due to Stephen Anthony’s Restaurant at the Wayside Country Store at 1 o’clock and as I pull up the audience are already gathering and I seriously worry that I’ve got my timings wrong and I’m actually very late but, no, it is just a very keen audience!
The Wayside Country Store was originally built in 1790 and served as a post office in the nearby village of Sudbury. In 1928 the building was purchased by Henry Ford and moved by Oxen to its current site on the Boston Post Road. It is now sells bakery goods, candy, souvenirs as well as Christmas decorations.
The Store is run by Debbie Eager and next door nestles the restaurant run by Debbie’s brother Anthony. I have been coming here for 5 years now and there is always a fantastic welcome from them both and their very loyal staff.
The format here is unique on tour. The shows take place in the function room, throughout lunch and dinner. The usual format for a dinner production is for each course to be served, eaten and cleared and then I do 1 chapter of the show, before the next course is served. However, at Wayside, time is short between the shows (lunch starts at 3, dinner at 7), so the arrangement is a little more random. I can never remember year on year how we do it, so the first job is to get a running order sorted.
The guests will be allowed in to the restaurant at 2. At 3 I start the show and perform Chapters 1 & 2 together before breaking for the main course to be served. While the audience are eating I will perform chapter 3. The main course is cleared and I will do 4. Desert will be served and as it is being devoured I will finish off with 5. Phew!
The function room is laid out with round tables, leaving a small performance space in the centre of the room. The numbers look good and it promises to be a fun show.
The guests start taking their seats and there are many familiar faces which is always nice. The period before we actually start gives people time to chat and have things signed, which will take the pressure off after the show a little.
Shortly before I start my bit Debbie and one of the staff, Jonie, get up and do a few Christmas Carol Trivia questions: a sort of warm up session. One of the questions is ‘What was unusual about the Ghost of Christmas Present?’ being a ghost I’d imagine!
So, the show starts. Because it is not a traditional stage area, it is important to move around the room, between the tables a bit and engage all areas of the restaurant which makes it challenging in a very good way. The concentration needed to think about the practicalities of moving about the room: ‘which tables have I fussed over, who needs a bit more attention: I need to be at the chair in the middle for such and such a scene so can’t be stuck at the other end of the room’ etc, is a very good technical exercise in thinking on 2 different levels. One level is the actual physical act of acting: delivering the lines and getting the correct emotions, whilst the other is looking at the show sort of from above.
The audience are great and really join in with the spirit of the story. It is those moments that make this tour such fun. I’m very pleased with the first Carol of the year.
The down time between shows is only about an hour, during which I can slip into the restaurant proper and have a bite to eat: Maine crab cakes and rice. Accompanied by tea with honey (must protect the voice).
Show 2 is slightly different; Anthony wants to tweak the order, so I am going to do 1&2 together, 3&4 together and 5 on its own at the end, which will be less bitty.
There are slightly fewer guests in the evening, and Anthony makes sure that I have more space in the centre to work, and the tables do not stretch to the extremities of the room. This layout changes the show slightly and it becomes more of a theatre show which is also good for me as I can use a lot of the business that I would on stage.
Again, a successful performance much enjoyed by everyone there. Of course there is the signing session afterwards. At all of the venues people want thing signed. Some sponsors will sell their own product, as is the case here. In other venues it may just be programmes or books that people have brought from home.
After a long hot show, it is tiring to sit and sign and talk but I love doing it! Let’s be honest who wouldn’t want to be asked for their autograph? When I was young I used to collect autographs and there is nothing more special than someone taking a bit of time, having a chat, making a connection.
I’ll talk more about signing later in the trip but it was quite a while after the show when the last visitor left by which time Anthony was proffering a large glass of white wine!
We sit and chat about the day, winding slowly down until it is time to leave. I have a very early start in the morning, so I get back to the motel, get my bags packed ready for tomorrow’s shows (fresh shirts etc), set the alarm for 5am and drift to sleep instantly.