Morning and Rehearsal

After my lovely free day in the mountains, today marks the start of my working tour, with two shows at The Inn at Christmas Place.

I haven’t performed A Christmas Carol since I signed off in Portsmouth, New Hampshire last December, so I will need to spend the morning going through the script a few times.

I have been performing A Christmas Carol for over twenty years now, so the line learning process isn’t as intense as for some of my more recent shows, but a few run throughs will definitely be necessary before I place my head above the parapet.

I wake at a decent time and after a coffee and shower I go down to breakfast. The breakfast room is bustling with people, many of whom I’ve already spoken to around the hotel and who are coming to the shows. There are lots of waves, nods and ‘hellos’ as I collect my orange juice, coffee, cereal and waffle.

Thet room where the buffet itself is situated is quite small and crowded, but across the corridor there is an overflow room, which will change later in the day the Enchanted Forest Ballroom, the venue for my shows.

I sit at a table near to the end and look at the scene, trying to imagine it later.  As breakfast is finished the maintenance guys will swarm in and erect the stage which will then be beautifully decorated by Kritsy, who does all of the displays in the hotel.

Waffle finished (I mean breakfast, not the previous paragraph, although you may disagree), I go back to the room to start rehearsing for an hour or so.

I want to make a few, very minor changes to the performance this year and need to try a few things out. The first item on my list is to slightly extend the scene in which the businessmen are talking about Scrooge’s death.  In the past the scene has been played out between two characters but when I lengthened the script last year to create a two act play, I introduced a third man talking about attending the funeral only if lunch is provided.  The inspiration for this change?  The Muppets version.

It is a very small piece of script and I run through it a few times until I’m fully confident that it is stuck in place.

Another change is to lose the bit of business where Scrooge is unable to throw a coin to the small boy on Christmas morning. It has been a funny part of the show over the years but it does spoil the rhythm of the scene and it is time to move on!  I know that Liz will be delighted to read these words.

Live at 5 at 4….at 10.30

The time is approaching 10.00 and I have my first professional duty of the trip in half an hour. A local TV show is coming to the hotel to film a very short piece for their afternoon news show. In a quirky Tennessee way the show is called ‘Live at 5 at 4’.  We are recording a piece at 10.30 which will be ‘live’ at 4, although it says 5.

I have bought some new costume shirts for this year’s trip and now I start to unpack one of them. Goodness!  The packaging that goes into a shirt is never ending.  The shirt is of course neatly folded.  There is a large card stiffener down the back, there is a card stiffening the back of the collar, there is a plastic stiffener at the front of the collar mischievously hooked over the top button.  There are then numerous little plastic ‘paperclip’ devices holding a sleeve in place here or a cuff there.  By the time I have liberated the shirt, my bed is covered with the packaging waste.

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Eventually in costume I meet up with Kristy and the television crew (news reporter and cameraman). Emily, the presenter, is going to film a brief introduction and then would like me to perform a 2 minute segment from the story, which has a few different voices in it.  No interview, no chat, just a teaser for the show.

While Emily is doing her bit I go back to my room and try a few passages out and select Scrooge being visited by his Nephew on Christmas Eve. It comes in at 2 minutes 12, so I think will fill the slot nicely.

Kristy has arranged that we will film in an empty guest room, which of course is wonderfully decorated.   Having selected and rehearsed the passage I go to room 222, which I see has a large Jacuzzi bath tub and a fireplace.  I tease Kristy a bit about my room (which I must say is very large and comfortable), not having these amenities.

The cameraman sets up his lights and I record the section twice, so that he can use different angles. Everyone seems happy with the result and we are done and dusted within the hour.

Setting up the lights in Room 222:  note the fireplace

Setting up the lights in Room 222: note the fireplace

Back in my own room I spend another hour or so going over the lines. Frustratingly I seem to have picked up a bit of a chest infection (that’s rather too strong a term – a tickle would be a better description, but not nearly so dramatic), and it is making delivering the lines awkward.  The problem is breathing (now, that definitely sounds dramatic).  If I take a deep breath it causes me to cough.  Not a heartfelt wracking monster of a ‘COUGHHHHHHHH’, just a little, rather sad ‘Cghh’.

When I going about my normal day it is not an issue but as soon as I try to get enough air into my lungs to deliver a line, there is the ‘Cghh’ sitting there. Sometimes it is a ‘Cghh. Cghh’ but usually just a ‘Cghh’.

I actually need a few provisions for the tour, so I make a shopping list including cough sweets and maybe a syrup of some kind.

Then I drive to Wal-Mart.

The Hunting of the Nail Clippers

I have five items on my list but still take a huge shopping cart and head to the pharmacy section. After much deliberation I choose a packet of menthol sweets and some cough mixture.  I also want some nail clippers and assume they will be close at hand, but I cannot find them anywhere.  I spread my search wider throughout the store still without success.

Perhaps they are regarded as a dangerous item and I find myself searching the hunting department among the terrifying-looking knives, but still there are no clippers.

Along the way I find some iron-on hem webbing to slightly shorten my new costume trousers, some bottled water and some lunch.

Eventually I end back in the pharmacy section and find someone to ask about the nail clippers.

‘Three aisles down, just there where it sticks out further than the others’. That is the eyebrow section.  Of course.

The Shows

At the hotel again I have a brief meeting with Kristy to check that the set is OK. I have been coming to Pigeon Forge for five years now and she is quite anxious to come up with some new suggestions for the packages that they offer the guests.

We talk for a while mulling over some ideas for what merchandise she could sell and any little extras we can offer.  Kristy is always thinking, always planning, never standing still.

In my room I have my salad, water, grapes and bananas (so healthy), before getting back into my costume and going down in the lift to the Enchanted Forest Ballroom.

The audience is already in place, and there is a happy murmur in the room. Kristy and hotel manager Dwight are on stage chatting to the crowd, making them feel welcome and I am engaged to hand out gifts to those audience members who have booked accommodation packages for the show.

As the great 3 story high Glockenspiel clock in the lower lobby strikes 3, Dwight (sporting a very fetching top hat this year) welcomes me to the stage and the tour is on.

The show runs very smoothly, with all of the moves and the timing working well. I am slightly worried all the way through about the chest issue but the room is small so I keep reminding myself that I don’t need great gulps of air in my lungs, I am not trying to project to a thousand people.

The need for ‘Cghh’s is constantly there though and I start trying to work out where I can insert them without it being too obvious. As Scrooge sleeps I can insert one between snores.  As the Ghost of Christmas Present is aging rapidly there is plenty of opportunity.

One of the three businessmen chatting about Scrooge’s death develops a cough as he speaks (well, it is a cold Christmas day, he probably would have one, wouldn’t he?)

I get to the end: ‘God Bless Us, Every One!’ and the audience stand and clap and cheer.

I am able to take a few minutes to cool down and recover, as Kristy keeps the audience in to hand out door prizes, and then the signing session begins.

I am sat at a table in the ‘glockenspiel lobby’ and there is a very friendly procession of people coming to the desk, congratulating me, thanking me and having their pictures taken. I know that later in the tour these signing sessions will become more intense and difficult but here in Pigeon Forge everyone is very friendly and relaxed about everything.

One couple bring me a book and ask it to be inscribed ‘In memory of our loving son’  It is a moment when I remember that I have a great responsibility to my audiences.  I never know who may be there and what memories or emotions are effecting them.

When the last photo has been taken and the last autograph scrawled, I can go back to my room, where I set an alarm, lay on the bed and sleep for an hour or so.

At 7pm I have a shower, another banana, some grapes and more cough remedies before getting into costume and returning to the ballroom.

The audience is larger tonight and seem a little quieter than this afternoon. Kristy, Dwight and I go through the gift handing out process and before I know it I am starting again.

It is a few minutes before 8 when I begin, but everyone is there so we may as well go for it.

My chest gives me more difficulty tonight and I am struggling to keep the ‘Cghhs’ at bay, meaning I can’t breathe so deeply. ‘Don’t panic’, I tell myself.  ‘Don’t try too hard for that is when things go wrong.  Just relax, just do the show’.

A few extra ‘Cghh’s creep in, disrupting the rhythm a little, which is frustrating.

Our slightly early start raises an interesting situation. In the afternoon as Bob Cratchit mourned the death of Tiny Tim he did it in deep, solemn silence.  This evening his grief is accompanied by the glockenspiel playing ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ in the lobby.

The Glockenspiel Clock

The Glockenspiel Clock

I am glad that the couple who had the book signed to the memory of their son were at the afternoon show and not this evening’s.

On the whole the show works well, and the audience enjoy it again. I just hope that I can get my chest sorted out quickly and can really give the performance I want to.

The signing lasts longer tonight, as the audience is bigger and people seem to want to chat more, including a detailed conversation over who was the best Doctor Who.

By 10.30 this mighty debate remains unsettled settled, but it is time for us all to depart.  I change out of my costume and walk to my ‘local’ for a bite to eat.

The Mellow Mushroom serves up delicious Trio of Meatballs and a ridiculously rich Choc Chip Cookie Sundae.  I gently let the first performance day drift away before returning to the hotel and going straight to bed and sleep.

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