I wake this morning feeling a lot more positive about last night’s show and also feeling fresher generally.
I go down to breakfast and after I have collected an orange juice, coffee and cereal, I suddenly remember that there is a telephone interview coming in at 8am. As it is 7.55 I double back to the room quickly.
The interview is for the very last show on this year’s trip, in Portsmouth New Hampshire. It goes well and the journalist asks some good questions.
I head back downstairs for the second leg of my breakfast: a big thick waffle. As I’m smearing butter and pouring syrup onto it, a gentleman from last night’s audience comes up to me. It turns out that he is the manager of the hotel and shakes me warmly by the hand, saying how much he enjoyed the show and what an honour it had been to have me perform. That makes me feel better still.
Today is another 1 show only day so once more I have plenty of time to mooch. I spend a bit of time online designing a business card with details of this blog on it, so that I can have them on my signing tables at every event. Hopefully they will be delivered to Byers Choice before I get there next weekend.
My mood is improved even further by a very kind message from Dennis reassuring me how much everyone had enjoyed the show in the Meeting House last night.
Before leaving I make sure that all of my costumes are ready for this evening, which means ironing 2 shirts. Here, in the Hampton Inn, West Springfield, it is obvious that the designer has spent time on the road himself: on the side of a cupboard, by an empty piece of floor, there is an electrical socket perfectly placed for ironing! I award this hotel a Gerald Dickens gold star.
At 11 I check out and get on the road towards New Jersey. Once again this means travelling down my favourite road of the week: I 91. For the third time in three days I drive along the George Ross Dingwall Highway, past Hartford and New Haven, and today on towards New York City.
The perfect Christmas song
I have found a local radio station that is playing nothing but Christmas music and have plenty of time to ponder the perfect Christmas song. It seems to me that there are certain phrases and sounds that have to be included. Ringing sleigh bells feature heavily of course. Good Cheer (or cup of cheer), reappears a lot. Children’s faces (often aglow), are good. If you can invent a new verb, such as mistletoeing, jinglebelling or goodbyeing, you are well on your way to a classic. Then there is the quest across generations, across millennia, to make the 12 Days of Christmas interesting.
With all of this knowledge I think that I shall start to work on ‘The Christmas Carol Christmas Carol’
The commercials are spectacularly local too. One car dealership has based their Christmas campaign on the basis that this is the time of year when you will look at your old wreck of an automobile and decide to treat yourself to a new one. The voiceover describes a rusting, ancient car sitting in the driveway and what does the poor owner say as he looks at it? ‘Car, Humbug!’ Oh Charles, if only you knew.
New York City
As the miles go by I begin to realise that the traffic is getting heavier and the roads narrower. The trees and countryside give way to industrial units and high rises and I am being sucked into the gravitational orbit of New York City. I pass a sign announcing that I am in Bronx County, the scene of the awful train wreck at the weekend.
The road surfaces here are so bad here: my little Jeep is bouncing all over the place which is a little frightening in the narrow lanes with huge trucks thundering along on both sides.
Now I am being filtered off towards the George Washington Bridge, a twin level, steel structure spanning the Hudson and taking me to New Jersey. I also get me my first glimpse of the most famous skyline in the world. I am always astounded anew when I come to New York, It just doesn’t seem real, it looks like a giant theme park and yet when you are in it, part of it, it is alive, exciting, frightening and joyful.
My hotel is in the New Jersey city of Teaneck. I find it easily and get checked in.
Having had such an untroubled journey on the road I have plenty of time for some lunch in my room and a quick shower before driving to the Fairleigh Dickinson University in Hackensack (was there ever a better City name?), 15 minutes away.
I have been performing at Fairleigh Dickinson for 3 years and the team here are a good one. My contact is Katherine Desinger, who used to be on the road, touring as an opera singer, so knows what my life is like and looks after me well.
After lots of hugs and hellos we make our way to the theatre where Chuck is waiting to meet me. Chuck is the technical guy that the University uses and he has overseen all of my performances here. he, like Lou in Wilton, is a pro.
Lisa Porter, from Byers Choice is also here and it is lovely to see her for the first time this year. During the tour we are in constant email contact about interviews and logistics but very rarely actually get to see each other, apart from my visit to the Byers Choice headquarters for my performances there.
I decide to use our own headset as my main microphone and Chuck gives me a lapel mic as back up. As I am doing the 2 act version of the show here, I go through the complicated lighting plot with him, which requires the lights to be on at the beginning, off at the end of the first act, off for the first lines of the 2nd act, on after that and off at the end. OK, it’s not going to win any awards but it works.
The next job is an interview and photo shoot with a local newspaper, which is fun. I get into costume for the photographer and he takes posed pictures on the stage but also a plenty of me chatting with the reporter in the auditorium which I think will be the better shots.
After the interview is over I get changed back into civvies and Lisa drives me to a local Italian restaurant where the FDU team have booked a table for dinner. Katherine is not joining us as she is busy at the university but her boss, Deborah Fredericks and her husband Ron are there. This dinner has become a bit of a tradition and is great fun. Also at the table is local journalist James Rana, who interviewed me by phone earlier in the trip and various other members of the University staff.
I order a simple pasta dish which takes an age to arrive but the conversation is good and it would be easy to forget that there is a show to be done. Our main courses arrive and Lisa and I wolf ours down so that we can get back to the University in good time.
Unfortunately when we do get there my dressing room has been locked and we can’t find a security guard to reopen it so I pace the corridors for a while rehearsing some of the ‘new’ lines, getting some odd looks from students along the way.
Door unlocked, I change, wire myself up with the 2 microphones and get ready for the off. Katherine has, as she always does, filled my dressing room with water, fruit and all sorts of goodies for me to munch on, which is so thoughtful and so welcome.
Deborah does my introduction and the show starts. Again the new sections slot in easily and well, although I miss the description of Marley’s chain: ‘The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.’, which is rather annoying.
At the interval I retreat to my dressing room, making sure to turn my microphones off, although I am sure Chuck will have muted them.
I don’t want to relax too much, I don’t want to come down, so I spend the next 15 minutes pacing up and down the dressing room like a caged lion, waiting for the audience to get back to their seats so I can start again.
There was a slight concern about getting over 200 people in and out of 2 small rest rooms, but actually the interval runs to time. I power up my microphones again and walk on, in the blackout, after about 15 minutes.
The second half goes very well, although I lose another waistcoat button towards the end and, as at The Mechanics Hall, have to be very careful not to tread on it. It was not the same button as before, so my sewing skills are not too bad.
The show ends and the audience give me a fantastic ovation.
I peel off my shirt (back in my dressing room, I should say, not during the ovation) and change into my backup costume, before going out to my little signing table, where there is a long line waiting for me.
Lots of very nice comments (‘better than Patrick Stewart’ is one that I like a lot). One student asks if I’ve heard of ‘The Invisible Woman’. I have a complete blank and don’t even think about Charles Dickens. I assume she is referring to a new Marvel Comic movie.
‘No, I don’t think that I have’.
‘They’ve made a movie of it now’
‘Oh, really? I will watch out for that’. I’m wondering why on earth she is telling me about this.
‘Starring Ralph Finnes’
The penny begins to drop. Claire Tomalin’s brilliant book about Dickens’s relationship with Ellen Ternan, now made into a film……I feel like the biggest prize idiot on the planet!
The signing session finishes and I go and get changed. Lisa has departed back to Pennsylvania and Katherine is clearing up. I make sure that I have all of my belongings and hoik my suit carrier, the microphone box, my cane, hat and camera bag to the car.
I get back to the hotel hang the costumes up to air, have a nice piece of apple pie in the hotel lounge and then go back to my room.
For the first time on the trip my throat is feeling a little scratchy, after the long signing session, so it is a good thing that tomorrow I have a day off to rest it.
I must just make sure that I don’t sing Christmas songs too loudly in the car on my way to Pensylvania.