Back to work today, the day after Thanksgiving.  Friday.  Black Friday.

Black Friday is traditionally the day when the Christmas shopping spree begins in earnest in America.  After a day of reflection and giving thanks, a spending lust descends on the nation and people get to the stores as early as they can to snap up amazing deals offered by the large chains.

Waiting in line throughout the night (in snow and ice here in Worcester), people tend to get fractious and the morning news shows are always filled with stories of fights, sometimes riots.  Injury and death is not uncommon.

On reading an email from Liz at home, I am horrified to discover that Britain has decided to ‘create’ Black Friday at home.  Why?  We have no Thanksgiving Day; the stores have been preparing us for Christmas since August. Why create a random day to feed the greed of the consumer, not to mention the retailer?

Inevitably there are the same stories of panic and violence emerging from the shopping malls of England.  I think it is a sad day.

One thing to reflect on:  Black Friday is spreading in America.  The third Thursday in November used to be sacrosanct, but now many of the stores are opening during the afternoon, and people are beginning to refer to Thanksgiving Day as ‘Grey Thursday.’

The strange thing is, in this modern cyber world, that almost all of the amazing deals can be found online, with free shipping.  There is no need to shiver through the night and fight with your neighbour: you can do it all from the comfort of your own home, or hotel.

Which brings the story right back to the elegant and delightful Beechwood Hotel, in Worcester.  The Beechwood is the best hotel I’ve stayed in so far on this trip.  I can tell that because it has a top of the line Keurig Coffee maker, which creates delicious rich morning coffee, as opposed to the watery substance offered up by most hotel coffee makers; and it has bath robes.

Morning luxury

Morning luxury

I sit in bed for a while writing the blog, before going to the restaurant where I have a very nice continental breakfast.

The day is bright and the snow sparkles beautifully against the blue sky.

I have a quiet day today, as my show is not until 7.30 this evening, which means I have plenty of time to relax and to catch up with some more admin.

Liz and I have a long exchange of emails, as we try and work out a way to see Garrison Keillor host one of his shows next year.  We are both fans of the Lake Wobegon monologues and to be at one of the recordings is most definitely on the bucket list.

I will be working in Minneapolis from February next year, so hopefully we can make it happen.

Apart from answering a few emails, I also have more sewing to do and I sit down at a wooden table, head bowed and re-attach the button that flew off in Missouri, and make some running repairs to my #2 frock coat.  I have to say that I am rather proud of the results.

Next up is to do some work on the two-act script of A Christmas Carol, which I am to perform in a few days’ time.  There are four main additions to my normal script, which are: much more from Jacob Marley; an extra scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past on the road towards Scrooge’s school; an extra scene in the school itself, and a more detailed introduction to the Ghost of Christmas Present.

I spend an hour or two pacing and repeating the extra lines.  I may try and insert one of the new sections into the show tonight, just to make sure that they are sticking.

My morning’s work done, I go to the restaurant where I have a salad for my lunch and then come back and rest for a while, watching TV.

As four o’clock nears I have a shower to re-awaken myself, and get all of the costumes and props ready for the show.  My hotel is about twenty minutes away from the venue, so I must make sure that I have everything with me, no popping back to pick up some forgotten piece of clothing.

With everything loaded into the car, I start to drive towards Sutton and the headquarters of Vaillancourt Folk Art.

Regular readers must forgive me for repetition here, but it is important to describe the Vaillancourts and their business.

Judi and Gary Vaillancourt are, in every sense of the word, an enterprising couple:  Judi is the artist and Gary the businessman. Thirty years ago Gary bought Judi some antique chocolate moulds and she soon had the idea of using them to create plaster figures.

With a true artist’s touch, Judi then brought the figures to life by painting each and every one.

Those original moulds were in the shape of Santa Clause and so a business was born.

Chalkware Santas

Chalkware Santas

Now the Vaillancourts have their headquarters in an old mill building where a staff of twenty or so still create all of the figures by hand.

I have been performing here for five years now and the Vaillancourt family have become dear friends.

As I arrive at the mill I am warmly greeted by Gary and the rest of the staff in the beautifully decorated store.

Almost as soon as I am through the door Gary says: ‘Gerald, come with me, I must take you to your dressing room’.  It seems a bit soon to be changing, but I follow.

Actually it is with a sense of pride that Gary shows me the room where I am to change.  Last year the area at the back of the mill was little more than a store room and I had very little room to hang my clothes in.  Judi had felt so guilty that this year she made sure to create a much more relaxing area.

There is a sofa, a table, some chairs a clothes rail and a full-length mirror.  No clutter, just a perfect green room space.  It is wonderful!  I make sure that all of my belongings are neatly hung up, as I don’t want to spoil the neatness.

Having settled into my dressing room, I go into the theatre itself.  Once again Judi’s hand has been at work and the stage is lavishly decorated with a fireplace, a clock, pictures on the wall, and furniture perfectly suited to the show.

It is a very intimate room, and the front row of the audience will almost have their knees touching the stage.  It is a superb room to perform in and always creates an amazing atmosphere.

Randy, the sound guy, is very thorough in his preparations and we do a comprehensive sound check with two separate lapel mics, and he has a third, hand held unit, as an extra back up. I have no fears about the sound – that is for sure.

With all of the preparations complete it is time for supper: soups, salads and sandwiches, which we eat in one of the offices.   Luke (Judy and Gary’s son) joins us, as does his wife Anna.  Luke looks after all of the marketing and online presence of the company and has had a record day today with internet sales.

Within the last year Luke and Anna have moved into their own house (designed and built to their own design) and are expecting their first child next January.

Dinner: l-r Anna, Gary, Judi, Luke

Dinner: l-r Anna, Gary, Judi, Luke

We all sit chatting for a while until the first, very keen, members of the audience start to arrive.  It is show time.

I go back to my dressing room and change into my costume, making sure to hang all of my modern clothes on the rail, rather than spreading them all over the place as I usually do.  I feel a great sense of responsibility to the tidy green room.

Uncharacteristic order

Uncharacteristic order

I can hear the first audience members being admitted and go to stand near the door to watch the room filling up.  Randy hands me the microphone and we do yet another quiet test to check all is working well.

Guests shake my hands and many welcome me back: ‘great to see you again’; ‘wouldn’t miss it’; ‘you start my holiday season’.

A wonderful musical duo, playing violin and harmonica, entertain the audience as they get seated and the atmosphere in the room is suitably festive.

Gary has decided to try something new in his introduction this year, and poses three trivia questions to the audience:

  1. How many ghosts does Ebenezer Scrooge see on Christmas Eve?
  2. What are the ‘names’ of the children revealed by The Ghost of Christmas Present
  3. Who is the flirtatious bachelor at nephew Fred’s party

Answers are called out and prizes awarded to the first correct ones.  It puts everyone in a good spirit.

Gary then makes some very generous remarks, before welcoming me to the stage.  I open up by pointing out that I’ve realised that for all these years performing in Massachusetts I have been getting the show wrong: I should not of been saying ‘Bah Humbug’ but ‘BAAA Humbug’, as is the sound of the New England dialect.  It is a silly remark, but one that gets a good laugh.

They are always a good crowd here and the show is always well received.  Perhaps this audience is a little quieter than some, but they are hanging onto every word.

Inhabiting Judi's magnificent set

Inhabiting Judi’s magnificent set

Because the room is  small and the stage is powerfully lit by four theatre lights, I get very hot as I get more dramatic, so I decide not to fling my coat into the audience at the end: it won’t be very nice for someone to have that landing on their head!

At the end of the show the standing ovation is instant and the applause lasts for a long time. When I leave the stage Gary gets back up and leads the audience in a chorus of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.

Luke is waiting for me outside the door with some paper towels and a bottle of ice-cold water, which I gulp as I head to my dressing room.

A quick towel down and change into my second costume, and I walk through the racks of half-painted Santas, past the life-sized figures of Mr and Mrs Fezziwig, through the brightly decorated store and meet Judy at the signing table.

Mr & Mrs F

Mr & Mrs F

The line is long and the comments generous.  I sign and pose and chat and reflect how fortunate I am.

Towards the end of the line is Robin McFee, a keen Dickensian and good friend of many years.  She always brings me a goody bag to take with me on the road and this year it contains good old English McVities chocolate biscuits.  They may not get as far as joining me on the road: they may be devoured before I even check out from the Beechwood.

The queue dwindles and I can go back to my room and change.  Back in the store Gary says that they will join me at the hotel for a wind-down drink, which has become a tradition.

I drive back and wait in the bar, where I am soon joined by Gary, Judi and Luke.  We order some drinks and a bite to eat before dissecting the day, which has been successful for all of us:  I have had a good show, the store has been busy and Luke has had his record day online.

Not such a Black Friday, after all.

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