This morning will be dedicated to administration. I have no performances until 2, so the first part of the day is mine. As regular followers of my adventures will know, that means one thing: laundry.
The hotel has a coin operated laundry, and I have two loads ready to go into the machines. The cost of this operation is $6, compared with the $43.40 that the hotel in Omaha charged me for a similar amount of washing.
At breakfast this morning everyone seats themselves around the televisions, watching the unfolding horrors in Ferguson, Missouri. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the particular case, violent demonstration and destruction can never be the correct way to act. It seems, in the case of Ferguson, as if the issue has been taken up by professional demonstrators, who have no interest in the real story, but just want to incite violence. The parties at the centre of the case, on both sides, are acting with dignity and calm. It is a sad day.
Back in my room I start a morning of office work. I have emails to write concerning events in the UK next year; I have to update my website and I have to order a new pair of tuxedo trousers to replace the ones that shuffled off this mortal coil yesterday.
Trousers/pants: the journalist who interviewed me yesterday morning asked about words that have different meanings in our two countries. The example I gave him was ‘pavement and sidewalk’. In America ‘pavement’ refers to the surface of the road, whereas in England it means the safe walking area alongside (or the sidewalk). If an American travelling in Britain took the advice to ‘walk on the pavement’, he would go for a stroll into the path of traffic. If he did it in his pants, he would be arrested!
Anyway, back to my morning: It is time for another trip to Wal-Mart to restock some of the basics: toothpaste, mouthwash, Fisherman’s Friends throat lozenges and a sewing kit. I also buy a salad for my lunch.
When I return from my retail adventures, I thread the needle and re-sew a button that is coming loose on one of my waistcoats, as well as replacing one that fell off my black frock coat. It is not only the performer that gets worn out on the road.
The morning is rushing on and I realise that Kimberley will be arriving soon to pick me up for the first show. I get into costume and sure enough, punctual to our noon-day agreement, she is there.
Seeing that I have no other bags with me, she points out that we probably won’t have time to return to the hotel between shows today, so I will need to bring my normal clothes to change into. I run back to the room and throw together a second costume, two extra formal shirts and my casual stuff before rejoining her in the car.
My first venue today is a new one for me: The Midwest Genealogy Center. We are a little early and Kimberley wants to fetch some marketing materials from the headquarters of the library system, so we stop off there and I am able to have a brief chat with the CEO, Steve Potter, who I have known for many years, dating back to when he was a branch manager.
During our conversation he says: ‘I heard great things yesterday about the Woodneath performance yesterday.’ Now, you may think that would fill my heart with joy, but actors are by nature an insecure breed and all I can think of is: ‘so, what was wrong with the Blue Springs performance?’ We really are a hopeless bunch.
From HQ we drive to the MGC, which is an impressive building, with a sweeping staircase that leads to the room in which I am to perform.
The same stage as I used yesterday has been set up at one end of the room, and there is a decorated panel behind it, but the room itself is a bit sparse and harshly lit with overhead fluorescent lights. Sara has been busy all morning making sure that the microphone system is fully functioning, and a brief sound check proves that her labours have not been in vain.
There is still an hour before the show starts so Kimberley takes me down to the staff lunch room, where I munch my salad, eat some crisps (chips) and peel a banana.
Upstairs the room it is filling up rapidly. I stand at the back with Kimberley, Sara and some of the branch librarians. Along each wall are those crowd control tapes that pull out of posts and hook into each other.
Years ago the centre had hosted a collection of priceless George Washington memorabilia and a security system had to be installed to protect it. Even now, if you approach the wall, a shrieking alarm will sound throughout the building and the staff are very worried that the afternoon may be interrupted if someone breaches the tape.
Soon the room is full and it is time to start. It is very warm and the audience are tightly packed in. There are quite a few ‘nodders’ (those who are trying not to doze: their heads fall forward and then snap up again as they try to concentrate.), from very early on in the show.
I am also aware of one mother trying to keep her young son occupied. He is growing restless, so she stands up and takes him to the side of the room, where she lets him crawl on the floor. The mother is watching me, but I am watching her son as he crawls ever closer to the security barriers, and the alarmed wall. Fortunately he doesn’t trigger the sensors and the show continues uninterrupted.
I am slightly fighting against the room, but try to keep calm and not overdo things. At one point when I bend down I feel another button ‘ping’ from my waistcoat. I ascertain that a) it wasn’t the one I sewed on; b) the button itself is not broken and c) it is lying right in the middle of the stage.
At moments like this the artistic performance looks after itself, as the practical thought process takes over. I mustn’t tread on the button, and if possible I must get it to safety. In one sweeping move across the stage I manage to side-foot it beneath the table, which is representing Bob Cratchitt’s desk. Well done me.
So, what do I do next? For some reason, and don’t ask me why (I’ve never done it before), I have the brilliant idea of picking up the table and moving it to another part of the stage. The result being that the vulnerable button is once again laying in the open, prey to my size 9 feet.
I manage to get the button to safety once more, this time off the stage altogether, and continue with the show. The second half engages the audience very well and by the end they are clapping, standing and cheering. It has been a very thorough work out in the heat, and I am dripping under my costume.
As at all of the Mid Continent shows, lots of people line up even though there is nothing to purchase. Some have brought their own well-thumbed copies of A Christmas Carol for me to sign; others just proffer the library’s advertising brochure. Some just want to shake hands and talk about the show, whilst others want pictures.
One family huddle around me and as we are all grinning towards the camera I feel something on my head. A babyis being held by her mother and is reaching out for whatever she can find. ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ says the mother, ‘she is fascinated with your hair’. The baby obviously has good eyesight, if she has found hair to play with!
When everyone has gone I return to the staff area to change before we load everything into Kimberley’s car and drive off towards Lee’s Summit, and my evening performance.
The traffic is not as bad as it can be and we arrive early, so we decide to stop to have a coffee and some cookies at a branch of Panera Bread. I chose an apple and caramel pastry and a banana, not to mention a reviving coffee.
I feel very tired after this afternoon’s show; not drained and exhausted as I was on the last Omaha day, just tired.
We arrive at the John Knox Pavilion, where I am performing for the fourth time. It is a huge space, inside a pyramid, but is a fine theatrical venue, with good acoustics. I great Kent, the technician, and we get on with a sound check. He gives me the kind of mic that slips over your ear, and I instantly dread the evening ahead. As I discovered in California, these things never stay in place. This one does feel firm, so maybe it will be different here.
When the technical preparations are complete I go to my little dressing room behind the stage, arrange the chairs to create a makeshift bed and grab forty winks.
I wake with thirty minutes to go before the show and splash some cold water on my face to wake me up a little, before getting into my costume.
Once I am fully dressed I walk out to the edge of the hall, from where I can watch the audience coming in. Kimberley had wanted an audience of three hundred, but as I watch they keep pouring in and soon more chairs are having to be laid out, meaning a late start.
I stand in the wings with Dylan, from the Lee’s Summit branch of the library, who will be making my introduction this evening. He asks if seeing an audience this big is intimidating, or nerve-wracking; does it put me under more pressure?
I think for a moment: ‘No, because this is what I dream of. There is nothing better’.
By the time I start the audience is close to four hundred and they are all hanging on my every word. They laugh, they cry, they join in when they are supposed they all play along perfectly.
I have plenty of room on the stage to move and can give the full theatrical performance of the show with no restrictions. The microphone earpiece does jump around a bit but never comes off; even my buttons all stay attached. I would say that qualifies as a successful evening.
As I come off stage Kimberley is waiting: ‘We are really tight for time, the staff have to leave at 9!’ It is 8.40 now. There is no way I can sit at a signing table in the costume I’ve just used, so I throw a dry shirt and waistcoat on, before running to where the queue is forming.
There is the same parade of old books, brochures and scraps of paper. I try to work through the line as quickly as I can, without being rude or dismissive to any of the people who have given up their Tuesday night to come and see me and who have decided to stand in line and wait to talk to me. Without them I would have no job.
The final family pose for photographs and ask about changes that I have made to the show this year, before leaving the pyramid.
I get changed as quickly as I can, say thank you to everyone who has been part of this magnificent evening, and walk with Kimberley to her car.
We are both famished, so decide to have a steak at the nearby Longhorn Steakhouse. The staff there don’t seem desperately keen to see us and are a pretty morose lot. As we eat, they are cleaning the carpet, cashing up and generally suggesting that they would be happier if we left. When the muzak is cut off mid-track, we take the hint and leave.
Kimberley drives me back to the Hampton Inn and we say our goodbyes for another year. Once in my room I hang my costumes up, set an alarm for 5.45, to allow time to pack before making an early start for the airport and finally, after a very tiring and intense afternoon’s performing, get into my bed and fall asleep on the instant.