OK, boring now. Wake early, blah blah blah.
Today is the last performing day of the tour and one that I have been working towards ever since I finished my performance of The Complete Works of Dickens is Salem (although I still had Nickleby to perform, I started work on The Signalman that morning).
I have two performances scheduled but the first isn’t until 2 o’clock, which gives me plenty of time to rehearse this morning.
Breakfast at the Hampton Inn is a small buffet, including cereals, fruit, pastries, scrambled egg, sausages and waffles. Oh! Waffles! They have two of those do-it-yourself waffle machines that make huge, thick, round, fluffy, delicious waffles. I am in heaven. Whenever my son Cameron wants a special breakfast he always asks for waffles. That’s my boy.
I sit reading through the script of The Signalman, as the news about Ebola outbreaks in Texas and the resignation of the head of the Security Service in DC, plays out in the background. My waffle dominates my plate. But not for long.
Back to my room and it is time to start work, so I launch straight into my first run of the day: ‘Halloa! Below there!’ As I am progressing through the script the world outside becomes darker and darker and then the heavens open as the parking lot is lashed with stair-rods of rain, completely obscuring the stores on the far side of the mall.
Still the skies get darker until suddenly the low clouds are ripped open with a slash of electricity and the windows in the hotel shake with the crack of thunder that follows. The storm sits squarely over Liberty, MO and rages for an hour or so.
I dutifully finish my first run of the show and then go out and take a few photographs of the tempest (I’m loving this, so many splendid clichés to be written about storms. I just need to get ‘lowering’ in now).
The heavy clouds are still lowering over the hotel (there, I did it!).
As exciting as the storm is, it actually gets in the way of my plans slightly. I have been carrying a little packet of books with me for the whole trip that I am donating to a charity auction in Pennsylvania. Kimberly has kindly said that if I packed them up, she would ship them for me.
Across the car park is a branch of Office Depot, where I will be able to buy a packing box. At the moment, however, there is no prospect of getting there so I have another coffee and get stuck in to another run through of The Signalman.
The dark clouds and loud thunder add extra atmosphere to the rehearsal and I find myself hoping that the same weather will rage over the library branch later today.
As I finish the second run through, so the rain has abated and there is a semblance of daylight once more. I take the opportunity to walk over the lot to Office Depot and buy the box.
Once back I have time to do another run before getting into costume and waiting for Kimberly to pick me up at 1.
The Woodneath branch of the Mid Continent Library Service is very close by and is a remarkable place. It is built in the grounds of an old homestead and incorporates the original, beautiful house in its modern design. The plan is to make the mansion itself a national centre for storytelling, so it is a perfect venue for my performances.
It is also a perfect place for me specifically to perform The Signalman, as it was here that Kimberly and I were chatting last November and she suggested that the idea of a ghost story performance would be a great one, and I mentioned to her that there was this little story, which would work…..
I am greeted by the enthusiastic library staff before checking the microphone system out and pacing around the room going over the lines again. As you can tell, the Signalman is not sitting comfortably in my mind yet.
The audience starts to arrive gratifyingly early. Most of them are long time fans, who have been coming to see my performances in the area for many years and are bubbling with excitement about a new show.
A group has come from The Douglas County Historical Society in Omaha, another of my venues, and it is great to see them and amazing that they have driven through the rain to be here.
The audience fills up as the clock ticks towards 2.
I start, like any good Brit, by talking about the weather and then launch into the story of the terrible Staplehurst rail disaster of 1865, from which Charles Dickens was fortunate to escape with his life; and which must have influenced him in the writing of The Signaman a year later.
And now it is time to see if all that rehearsal has paid off: The Signalman.
‘Halloa! Below there!’
The atmosphere builds up and I can see audience members leaning forward on their seats as the tension mounts. I do get tongue- tied at one point (frustratingly, not in one of the places where I have been struggling during rehearsal), but get myself out of trouble and back to where I should be.
I wrap the story up and then close the show with the remarkable coincidence that when Charles Dickens did die it was five years to the very day after he had survived Staplehurst.
Good. Not perfect, but I very pleased with the way things went.
I spend some time chatting with audience members, all of whom seem to have enjoyed it, despite being so different to A Christmas Carol. One lady makes the point that The Signalman is very much in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, which is correct. There are no long, florid descriptive passages in The Signalman, it is tight, well structured and dark.
The audience drifts away and Kimberly takes me back to the hotel. I have another healthy BK lunch, before laying on the bed for an hour or so until the phone rings and Kimberly is here once more to pick me up again.
The evening’s performance is in The John Knox Pavillion a huge performance space in the heart of a retirement and care community. The pavilion itself seats 750 gazillion people and is used for rock concerts, shows, presentations, weddings and much more.
I have been performing A Christmas Carol here for the past two years and know it well. There is a superb lighting and sound team that can make even the smallest of shows look good. Which is just as well.
The registrations for the evening event have not been high and the bad weather may well put people off. All of the library programmes are free, which is a good thing, but it also means that people do not have the same commitment to putting on their coat and travelling as they would if they’d paid.
The other issue tonight is The Royals game. Kansas City’s baseball team have reached the play-offs and after winning their first match are tonight playing the Angels in California (I almost sound as if I understand). Usually I would suggest that the demographic of my audience would not match that of a major league ball team, but the Royals haven’t achieved such success since 1985, so there is a great deal of interest throughout the city and its surroundings
I am resigned to a small crowd in a big hall.
After a sound check, and finding an appropriate stool for the stage, I retire to the dressing room and perform yet another run through of the script. There is a large clock on the wall, showing 6.35. Excellent, plenty of time before the start.
Half an hour later I glance at the clock again. Ah: 6.35. Clock purely ornamental. My watch tells me that I have 3 minutes before kick off. I stroll into the hall and take a look at the audience, it is small but there is a nice buzz of conversation.
I know that I am going to be alright when I am announced: ‘Please welcome Gerald Dickens’ and I get a standing ovation from the front row!
I run through the same preamble about Staplehurst and into the story. It is a better performance tonight and the stage gives me plenty of space to work with. When I make my closing remarks about Dickens dying on the same day as the train crash there is a gasp from the front row as if someone is on the point of joining him.
Of course with the audience being small, there is not much signing etc to be done but I do get into conversation with a family who have moved to Missouri from California and who are fascinated with the whole story. Through the wonder of the iphone, they have already looked up the Staplehurst crash, studied the pictures, read the history. I’m glad that I didn’t take too many liberties with the facts.
Eventually, the Knox Pavillion is deserted except for the lighting guys, Kimberly, the venue manager and myself. We say our goodbyes and hit the road to drive the hour back to Liberty, where we divert to a Longhorn Steakhouse where I have a delicious Ribeye.
The meal has a very end-of-term feel about it. I have no shows now until the 12 October. Nothing to learn. Off duty.
Kimberly and I talk about future possibilities, maybe bringing the double bill of The Signalman and Doctor Marigold to town next year but for now I am ready to turn in.
It has been a good day and a good tour.
Dates and details of my forthcoming tour can be found at: http://www.byerschoice.com/our-company/events/gerald-dickens
For details for Doctor Marigold DVD or other recordings email via: http://www.geralddickens.com