Today I have the luxury of a long, lazy morning in the luxury of the Hotel Hershey. As yesterday, I have a tea at three forty-five and a dinner at seven thirty.
I have decided to take the opportunity of an almost free day to have one of my frock coats and one of my waistcoats freshened up. The costumes take quite a battering during the trip and it is rare to spend more than a single day at a venue. I bundle them up in the laundry bag and take them down to the lobby.
And now to breakfast. Regular readers will know how much I enjoy my breakfasts, and the offering at Hershey is always remarkable. The Circular Dining Room is a beautiful restaurant and it is laid out with an amazing buffet. I could order from the menu, but there is so much choice spread out before me, that I decide to dive straight in.
Porridge, scrambled eggs, thick country ham, croissant and jam all serve their purpose well, and I feel very replete as I leave.
I work away for an hour, or so, on the blog and have the finished article posted by nine forty-five, which suits my plans perfectly. When I had been in the lobby earlier I happened to notice a little printed sign saying: ‘Guided Tour of the Hotel. 10.00 in the lobby.’ Why not? I have the morning free and I’m sure that it will be interesting.
The group is made up of a father, his two young sons, and me. We are under the stewardship of Alfred, who has worked at the hotel in one guise or another since he was fifteen. He started out as a bus boy, then left for a career in teaching, before coming back to the hotel after his retirement.
We all sit in the lobby as he tells us about the Milton Hershey story, and how the hotel was built entirely from local labour during the great depression. The employment that the project brought was vital to the area.
We go to the Fountain Lobby (my tea venue) and I am amazed that it has not changed in its appearance since it was originally built in 1934. Hershey had travelled extensively in Europe and North Africa and wanted to reflect the Moorish architecture within his hotel.
We see the Milton Hershey Suite ($2,000 per night), where there is a cheque from Hershey written to the White Star Line for a ticket to return to America on board the Titanic. Fortunately Hershey had to change his plans at the very last minute and never boarded the ill-fated liner.
At this point the father and the young boys have to depart, so the rest of the tour is a private one.
In the Circular Dining Room Alfred points out a mural on the ceiling: It shows a wrought iron structure with a plant’s stem wrapped around it. The artist was responsible for similar displays throughout the hotel and he left his own peculiar signature in each piece. Somewhere in every scene is Bigfoot, lumbering forward.
The tour lasts for an hour and thirty minutes and is fascinating. I’m very glad that I got to see it all and to learn so much more about the man who made his dream a reality.
Back in my room I devote the rest of the morning to admin work. Ticket requests are coming in thick and fast for my performance back home in Abingdon, and I trawl through emails and telephone requests to make sure that I am fully on top of the situation.
Despite this lazy morning, I am feeling rather tired, as I usually do on my second Hershey day, I don’t know if it is the air conditioning here, or purely where the events lay in the tour, but it is always an effort to get going on day two.
As the start-time for the tea show nears, I get into costume, and go to the Fountain Lobby. There is a different team on today and I am working with a new sound engineer. I warn him that I tend to project quite loudly, so to start with the level low and build up. ‘Yes, that’s good,’ he says, presumably wondering why I’m telling him how to do his job.
The crowd is very large, and moving between the closely-packed tables is going to be difficult, but I walk around the mezzanine level looking down upon the diners, and chart our possible routes.
I am delighted to see that one of my biggest fans is here: Derek is six and has been coming to my shows at Hershey with his grandparents for the last few years. He loves the show and gets completely wrapped up in it.
As I am waiting to start Derek and his grandmother come to say hello. She is carrying a very heavy looking bag. ‘Oh my,’ she says, ‘this bag is very heavy.’ Aha, I‘d been correct.
I assume that it is a large amount of books to be signed, until she says: ‘We wanted to give you something to say thank you for all that you do for us and for being so generous with your time’: she opens the bag to reveal eighteen bottles of beer (six lager, six porter and six ale).
How wonderful of them and how generous and thoughtful. Equally thoughtfully she says: ‘if you can’t travel with them then I hope that you take joy from giving them to someone else as a gift’ I do not have to fly for another three days, so nobody else is going to benefit from my generosity quite yet!
I am given the nod to begin and walk out into the centre of the lobby. ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentleman. The sound is set too high and my voice booms and distorts around the lobby. Quickly my techie adjusts it and the levels settle down.
The show starts and the audience is very good. I fuss over Derek’s family, making his grandmother the Ghost of Christmas Present (who of course presides over the visit to Fezziwig’s where there is ‘plenty of beer’).
I also make Derek himself the young boy on Christmas Morning, which he adores, as do the rest of the audience.
The response to the show is wonderful and there is another standing ovation in the lobby.
After a great meet and greet session, I return to my room and flop onto the bed. I have just over an hour between shows and I am feeling very drained.
I watch TV and rehearse Scrooge’s snoring scenes (so much so that I keep waking myself up), before showering, dressing and taking myself to the Castilian Room to prepare for tonight’s dinner.
It is a much smaller audience tonight, which will be good for my voice but not good for the atmosphere in the room. The stage and tables seem to be rather remote and lonely.
I do a sound check (‘I’m sorry about this afternoon’s sound. I know you told me that you would project, but I hadn’t realised how much!’), and then wait for the audience to gather.
Tonight I am seated with my dear friends David Keltz and his wife Teresa. David is an actor who portrays Poe and we always have a great time together. Each year Teresa and David try to visit me somewhere on the tour and it is usually here at Hershey. I spy them waiting outside the room and go to greet them. Big hugs all round.
At seven o’clock the audience is seated, orders are taken and the evening begins. I’m not really on good form at all tonight. For the first time on this year’s tour I am straining for the performance, and can feel the pain of tension around my temples.
Usually I am able to calm everything down but for some reason tonight everything seems to be an effort. The small amount of people spread through the room doesn’t help with the atmosphere, but it is me that is not doing well and I can’t blame anything else
The evening moves on and the service by the staff is superb. At table eight the conversation is wonderful We talk about theatre mainly and about the joys of performing one man shows.
Once dessert has been laid I get up to do the final two chapters of the book and it is here that things start to come back together. The emotion of Bob Cratchit is good and the despair of Scrooge pleading with the Ghost of Christmas yet to Come is powerful.
I bring the evening to a close with the customary toast to the season.
Almost everyone in the audience comes up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Many who have seen me before say it is the best they’ve seen. That is very kind! I was not happy with the show, but maybe my standards are higher than they used to be.
As last night we have made good time and I make a point of thanking the banquet staff for their amazing service over the two nights.
I go back to my room to change before meeting David and Teresa in the main hotel bar, where we sit for a further hour, chatting about re-incarnation, the probability of life elsewhere in the cosmos and the life and death of Tommy Cooper (an English comedian who died in the middle of his act on live television. As he collapsed, everyone in the audience thought it was part of the act and roared with laughter – the last sound he heard. What a way to go)
Soon it is time to part, as I have a fairly early start tomorrow. I say goodbye to my friends and we all promise to meet up again soon.
In my room I set the alarm for six o’clock and let myself drift off to sleep.