As soon as I wake, I can tell that today is going to be a struggle. I could do with what I call at home ‘a floppy day’, when I just sit and do absolutely nothing.
I feel very tired and all of my limbs are aching. The performances of the last few days are catching up with me a bit.
I have a coffee, and trim my beard, which has begun to get a bit bushy again, before showering and giving housekeeping the nightmare job of trying to clean up all the little clippings.
Outside, the weather has changed: the clear bright icy conditions of the last two days have been replaced by a low, wet mist which obscures the view. Overnight rain has melted the snow and ice.
After breakfast I come back to my room and start to get things together for the day. My first commitment is a repeat of yesterday’s signing at The Regency Mall, followed almost immediately by A Christmas Carol at the Field Club.
I pack a spare costume to change into after the performance itself and then go to the lobby to meet Frank Aultz, Kathy’s husband. No Lee? Lee is a football fan and a keen follower of Nebraska, who are playing in Lincoln today. This morning Lee will become part of the third most populated community in Nebraska, as he joins 89,999 other fans in the huge stadium that I saw just a few days ago.
Frank is waiting for me and we get into his truck and head out to the mall. Our first stop is the Paradise Café, where the same guy who served me yesterday is on duty once more. As soon as he sees me he says: ‘hey, I didn’t realise who you were yesterday. I’m an actor too, and am playing young Scrooge in the Omaha Playhouse production of A Christmas Carol. This is so cool!’ We chat for a while before I take my coffee and head for the signing table.
The mall is a little busier today and there is already a little girl, with her mother, waiting patiently. She is clearly so excited and as I sign asks me what influenced Charles Dickens to write the story: clearly a very bright child.
There is a steadier flow of people, but it never gets furiously busy, which is a relief. I chat with Kathy and Susie about this and that and when I mention the premier of ‘To Begin With’ in Minneapolis next February, they start planning a trip to see it.
The hour passes quickly and soon it is time to start packing up. Susie manages to procure all of the posters advertising my presence in the mall and I sign them for various members of the Historical Society’s staff.
Back in Frank’s truck, we drive to the Field Club and start preparing for A Christmas Carol, which is due to start at one o’clock.
As soon as I arrive there is an issue about a fireplace. In the past here the set has featured an electric fireplace, adding a little extra to the centre of the stage. This year the fire that has been provided is: a) propane fuelled; b) needing to be constructed; c) huge.
Issue ‘a’ causes great concern to the managers at the field club who are not too keen on having a propane burner in their ballroom. Issue ‘b’ means calling for Barney (my hangman from yesterday and the Society’s resident handyman), to build the thing. But it is issue ‘c’ that makes up my mind to ditch the fireplace altogether. The stage is quite narrow and if the fireplace were on it I would only have a very thin corridor to perform on.
The fire is duly re-packed in its box, loaded onto a trolley and unceremoniously dumped in a store room.
I complete a sound check, and then wait for the audience to arrive. I try to keep moving, pacing, walking, to keep the energy up. If I were to sit down I think I’d probably just sleep, which wouldn’t be good preparation for a theatrical performance.
I chat to lots of people as they arrive, including a quartet of Brits, who are from the British army and are currently stationed in Omaha.
With ten minutes to go, two interpreters arrive, once again from UNO, and we discuss where the best place for them to stand is. They tell me how much Stephanie and the students had enjoyed yesterday’s show.
The audience settle down into their seats and Kathy makes her introductory remarks.
‘I have endeavoured in this ghostly little book, to raise the ghost of an idea…..’ The show has begun.
As is so often the way with A Christmas Carol, the story creates its own energy. I start a little flat but soon I am right back into the zone and giving a very powerful and passionate performance.
I am aware of the interpreters at the edge of the stage, and an idea comes into my head. When I get to Nephew Fred’s party, the wonderfully flirtatious Topper sidles up to the interpreter and seduces her. It is a fun moment and everyone enjoys it
The audience’s response is wonderful and I am very pumped up by the time I get to the end. The question session is fun and everyone is very happy as they leave.
I make my way to the golf club’s locker room, where I peel of the very damp costume and towel down. A goodly shake of talcum powder to try and freshen up briefly and then start to get into my ‘signing’ costume.
As I‘m changing there is a voice from the bar, which adjoins the locker room: ‘Mr Dickens, there is a glass of wine waiting here for you when you’re ready!’ I take a breath ready to reply and manage to inhale the cloud of talc, which completely dries my throat out
Instantly I am spluttering, I can’t get any air, I can’t speak, my eyes are watering. I manage to wheeze a request for water, but it doesn’t do a great deal of good.
When I go to the signing table I still can’t talk, which is rather embarrassing. I ask Abby if she can get me some tea and honey, and gradually my throat comes back to me.
There is a definite end of term feel, as we all start to pack up. Of course this is my final show at the Field Club this year and there are lots of pictures to be taken, which will keep us all going until next year.
I go to the bar where my glass of wine is waiting for me. As I sip Lee arrives, back from the football match, which Nebraska lost. The weather forecast is not bad for tomorrow so our golf game may yet happen.
Lee suggests that he resumes his transportation duties, so that Frank can get to the Crook House early to set up the bar, over which he has control.
Lee drives me back to the hotel, where I buy a salad from the lobby which I eat while laying on the bed.
When I’ve finished my lunch, I set the alarm for 5.15 and manage to get a short nap in, which is very welcome.
When I wake I have a ‘James Bond’ shower (hot first followed by an icy blast to really get the blood flowing), and then get changed into my Marigold costume.
Lee and Susie are waiting for me outside the hotel and we drive back to The General Crook House for the last time this year. Doctor Marigold is a very simple show and doesn’t require any complicated nooses, or fireplaces, so I have nothing to prepare tonight.
The guests arrive and the cocktail/buffet hour begins. In the room where the merchandise is sold Abby is surreptitiously making sure that I sign plenty of stock to be sold after I leave. Kathy is chatting to guests and board members, Susie and Lee are circulating, the carol singers are on the stairs and there is a lovely atmosphere throughout the house.
Me? I am really feeling as if this is one show too many!
At seven everyone is corralled into the parlour and Doctor Marigold is ready to tell his story once more. The show isn’t as good as yesterday afternoon’s performance, but the intimacy of the room means that there is a very close connection with the audience who are hanging on every word.
The trials and tribulations of Marigold run their course and as he is reunited with his daughter, the handkerchiefs are in evidence. After a few questions and another generous toast from Susie, the final wind-down begins.
Although my time with The Douglas County Historical Society is always very hectic and tiring, I love working with them. I regard all of the main players as close friends and it is always sad to leave them. There are lots of photographs and lots of hugs.
Abby, meanwhile, continues to keep me supplied with books and tree ornaments to sign.
Eventually it is time to leave, Lee has the car outside and after saying my final goodbyes I drive away from the General Crook House for the final time.
Back at the hotel I agree to meet Lee at the Field Club tomorrow morning and we will see what the weather is doing. If it is rainy, then we will simply have breakfast together and I will head towards Kanas City. If, however, it is dry I will step in the footsteps of Perry Como, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra and play the Field Club.
Right now though, all I want to do is sleep. Which I do.