Monday morning and it is back to work: goodness it’s almost like having a proper job.
My room is on the ground floor, so breakfast is just a few paces away. I was reading my previous blog entries relating to my time here and one subject surfaces again and again: waffles.
I think I can safely say, and I am in a very good position to judge, that of all the hotels I stay in, The Hampton Inn, Liberty produces the finest waffles in the land: there, the challenge has been set.
Having completed breakfast I come back to the room, where I am waiting for a telephone interview to come through from Pennsylvania. I shower and am dressed just in Pyjama bottoms when the call comes in.
The journalist is slightly star struck and at one point says: ‘Mr Dickens, this is such an honour, like talking to Royalty! I am imagining you sat in robes on a grand throne.’
I look at my morning self in the mirror, in my pj bottoms, and reply: ‘If only you knew!’
The interview done I have plenty of time to answer emails and get my costumes ready for the day ahead.
At 11.30 I go to the lobby, in costume, to meet Kimberly Howard. Kimberly works with the programming department of the Mid Continent Library Service and is responsible for bringing me back to the Kansas City area each year. She is a colleague but also a very good friend.
Our first venue this year is the Blue Springs North branch. On the drive I tell Kimberly about my case of mistaken restaurant identify last night, which she thinks is very funny.
We arrive in Blue Springs with plenty of time to spare so decide to have a light lunch at Olive Garden: just a salad for me, as I’m not good at eating before a show. We get seated in a booth and peruse the menus.
There is some sort of deal that if you have a salad, you can have a very small bowl of pasta and sauce, which sounds very good. The waiter comes back and I ask for an antipasti salad (no cheese), and a mini bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce. ‘What soup would you like?’ ‘I don’t want any soup.’ ‘The offer includes soup.’ ‘Just leave the soup in the kitchen.’ ‘I have to take an order for soup.’ ‘OK, I don’t want minestrone.’ ‘Great, I’ll have that all out for you in a minute!’
The soup duly arrives.
As I tackle my bowl of spaghetti bolognaise I am very glad that the my waistcoat is the same colour as the sauce, although I think I manage to complete the meal without any disasters.
After lunch is finished, soup and all, we drive a short distance to the library.
In one corner of the huge space (in the children’s corner, judging by the mural on the wall), the shelves have been cleared and a very small stage erected.
One of the lovely things about the Mid Continent shows is that each library’s staff is responsible for making the set look good and here they have not held back.
A back ‘wall’ has been constructed and decorated as if it were a Victorian parlour. There is a window, with curtains; there are candles; there is even the WP Frith portrait of Charles Dickens overlooking the stage: that is going to be rather daunting.
There is an hour to go and many of the audience are already in their places, waiting for the show. They get the bonus entertainment of watching us trying to get the wireless microphone system to work.
Two years ago Kimberly brought a portable mic system which can be used for all of the programmes that she arranges, and it is a superb system. Unfortunately today we cannot make the receiver recognise the microphone.
One of Kimberley’s assistants, Sarah, is on hand and between the three of us, we twiddle every dial, press every switch, change every battery, but without success.
The audience is continuing to build and they watch with interest as the process continues. Eventually I suggest that we try that method of procedure beloved by millions of frustrated computer users: ‘Let’s unplug it and switch it on again’
‘Sound check’ finished, I make a quick trip to the rest room (where I am VERY careful about keeping the temperamental microphone unit in the ‘mute’ position) before getting ready for the show.
The seats are completely filled now, including a large group from a local school, and I start the show with Charles Dickens looking over my shoulder: ‘Now, my boy, I’m watching you…..’
It is good to be back at work and the show is a great deal of fun. I am rather restricted in my movement by the small stage space but the energy is definitely there again.
There is a strange moment when Scrooge looks toward the Ghost of Christmas Present to ask ‘if Tiny Tim will live?’ and I find myself looking straight into the eyes of a giant scarecrow, who is part of the mural on the wall.
For the rest of the show I am aware not only of CD watching me but now also the scarecrow. I think I need to see a psychiatrist: ‘They’re all watching me! The faces are watching me!’
After the show is finished I have a brief meet and greet session, before packing up my things, getting back into Kimberley’s car and returning to my hotel.
I have two hours downtime before the next show and hang my damp costume up to air. In unpacking it all, I see that one pair of costume trousers has almost given up the ghost (an apt phrase for this show), the metal catch at the waist band has pulled out of the fabric.
I think it will, be OK, certainly as a ‘signing’ costume, but I need to look online to see if I can get a new pair shipped to me at one of the forthcoming venue, just to be on the safe side.
Six o clock comes around quickly and I am back in costume and in the lobby as Kimberley pulls up once more.
This evening’s show is at the Woodneath branch, which is only a matter of five minutes away. It is a magnificent modern facility, and I performed there in September, as well as last Christmas.
The room is packed with seats and the pre registrations promise an absolute capacity audience. The same stage has been erected at one end of the long room, but there is plenty of space to each side and in front, for me to move.
Sadly the Woodneath staff is not allowed to stick anything to the walls, so the background to the stage is a bit plain, but every shelf and table in the room has been adorned with toys and gift boxes whilst a magnificent Christmas Tree stands proudly next to the stage.
The sound check is much more straightforward this evening, as the room has a built in system and in no time we are ready to greet the audience, who once again start to arrive incredibly early.
As the start time approaches the room is full, mainly with people who come to see my shows year after year. Melissa, the branch librarian makes the introductory remarks and I take to the stage.
It is a very physical and energetic performance, during which I try a few new things out. Nothing major but it is fun to ring a few changes every now and then.
One aspect of the show I’ve really been trying to concentrate on this season is not repeating lines for dramatic effect. For instance, during the aforementioned moment when Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present if Tiny Tim will live, I have fallen into the habit of saying: ‘Spirit……’ long pause: ‘Spirit, tell me if Tiny Tim will live?’
When Scrooge first sees the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come I say: ‘Spirit……’ pause: ‘Spirit, I fear you more than any spectre….’
It is an annoying verbal ‘tic’ and I want to stop it. It is going to take time, but tonight I do pretty well.
The final line is greeted by loud applause and a gentleman crying out ‘Bravo!’ repeatedly, which is rather nice to hear. The standing ovation goes on for a long time, and when Melissa calls me back to the stage it is repeated.
Unfortunately in the library setting I have no time to change out of my costume, so I sign and pose for photographs in the clothes that I have performed in, which is not perfect. But the line passes quickly and the audience leaves, so that I am able to get into a spare set of normal clothes that I have brought along for that purpose.
I say good bye to all of the staff and Kimberly drives me to….Applebee’s, yes, really this time, for supper.
I have a delicious chicken dish and we chat about an idea Kimberley has had for a couple of years, of taking a tour group to retrace Dickens’s American tours. I have promised to get some details down on paper for her, and have been terribly remiss in not doing so. I must get to work on that for her.
When we have finished eating, Kimberley drops me back to the hotel, where I go through the usual routine of unpacking and hanging up my costume, before bed and sleep.