At 3.15 am the lyrics of Paul Simon’s 1972 hit ‘Duncan’, are running through my mind:
Couple in the next room bound to win a prize, They been goin’ at it all night long. Well I’m tryin’ to get some sleep, But these motel walls are cheap……..
Whilst I have to admire their stamina, this is not a good way to start my final performing day.
I get some coffee and write the blog, whilst I munch on my Rich Tea biscuits.
Eventually things fall silent next door, but I am now wide awake. Thanks, guys.
At seven o’clock I get up, shower and go to the lobby for a very frugal breakfast. There is a waffle machine, but little else. The Quality Inn and Suites does not rank highly on my breakfast league table.
I go back to my room and pack my bags for the day ahead. The chances are that I won’t be able to check in early to my hotel in Bethlehem, so I need all of my costumes ready to take to the theatre.
I am on the road by nine and the sky is once again blue and clear, making for a lovely drive. As I push on into Pennsylvania once more I realise that I am going to pass through Gwynned, very close to the Joseph Ambler Inn and Byers’ Choice.
Ahead the sky is cloudy and heavy: it looks like a snow sky, which would be festive, even though I no longer have an SUV to cope with bad conditions. As I drive on there is some snow laying at the edges of the road: not much, but enough to remind me that it is winter.
After ninety minutes of driving I leave the freeway and make my way into the centre of Bethlehem: ‘The Christmas City’. I pull into the parking garage of The Hotel Bethlehem and go into the lobby and straight away know that I won’t be getting an early check-in. The hotel is so busy: there are major functions in all of the main ballrooms, as well as in the restaurant. Even parts of the lobby are being cordoned off for ‘private events’.
I go to the desk and suspicions are proved correct: No room at the Inn, until later.
I have just under an hour to kill before my morning sound-check, so I buy a coffee and a pastry before finding a seat from where I can watch the world go by.
It is not just the hotel that is busy; the main street is filled with people bustling here and there, all wrapped up in scarves and hats. There are horse-drawn carriages giving rides and a German-style Christmas market is just opening up.
At eleven I leave the hotel and walk to the Moravian College, where I will be performing in The Foy Auditorium. As I walk I meet up with Blair, who works in the music department of the college, and who has looked after my technical needs for the last six years.
In the auditorium my set is already in place and this year has been dressed with a crust of bread on a pewter plate, a small tankard and a quill. It looks very good.
To get ready for my sound check, Blair throws all of the necessary switches (The Blair Switch Project?), and the stage is bathed in light.
I do a few lines from the show until all of the levels are correctly set, and then we can relax. I sit in the auditorium thinking about the tour and all of the people I have met along the way.
I mustn’t get too carried away with nostalgia, though: there are two shows to perform today and the audience members deserve just as much from me as any of the others have had.
As I sit, Lisa Girard arrives and gives me a big hello-hug. Lisa works at the Moravian Book Store, which sponsors my time in Bethlehem. We catch up on our respective news for a little while, until it is time for me to go to my dressing room and get ready for the one o’clock show.
The audience is arriving very early, and everyone is keen to get to the front of the auditorium, which will be good for me.
The buzz in the hall is a good one, and I stand in the wings listening to the growing excitement.
As the start time gets closer Lisa and I are enjoyed by Kristy, also from the book store, who is dressed in a magnificent Victorian dress ready to introduce me.
On the stroke of one, Kristy heads onto the stage and starts to read the introduction: as she reads, she suddenly realizes that the script dates from 2012, and talks about the two hundredth anniversary celebrations: she quickly improvises and the audience is informed that we are lucky to be here for this very special performance, celebrating the two hundred…and second anniversary.
I am welcomed to the stage by a very long and loud ovation and have to wait for a while until I can begin the show.
It goes very well and I do indeed give the audience as much as I can; which actually may be too much. I am aware that I am using up large amounts of energy, not to mention making great demands on my voice, which I will probably pay for later.
However, the afternoon audience gets a very good performance and they respond with a loud, long standing ovation. I take my bows and leave the stage, ready to change.
The signing session is not held at the auditorium, but back in the bookstore. After I am changed I walk with Lisa through the festive crowds, who do not bat an eyelid at the sight of a Victorian gent in their midst.
The line has already formed in the shop and as soon as I am in my seat the fun begins. Lisa rules the queue with a rod of iron, ushering people to the table, making sure that the books are opened to the correct page for my signature. Small talk is limited as she constantly moves the line on. Kristy is on photographic duty, dealing with the alarming array of smart phones and cameras with great aplomb.
By three fifteen the queue has diminished and I am released, so that I can finally check into the hotel.
The Hotel Bethlehem is part of the Historic Hotel of America chain (in good company with Hershey and Williamsburg), and has a lovely stately, old feel to it. The lifts have those semi-circular floor indicators above the doors, so beloved by film makers.
In my room I run a hot bath and soak for a while, before putting on the white robe and being generally lazy on the bed.
I am expecting a call from radio WKNY, which is for a re-scheduled interview, after I missed the original call in Williamsburg. At precisely four thirty my phone rings and I spend fifteen minutes chatting about A Christmas Carol and its enduring legacy.
With the interview over I order a salad from room service and try to get some rest. The early start to my day is beginning to tell now, and I’m sure that my body somehow knows that the punishment is almost at an end.
At five thirty it is time to get going again and I have a shower before dressing in costume.
My schedule today is a bit upside down, as I now have another signing session: before the evening show.
There is a musical event in the Foy Auditorium, so my show can’t start until eight, which would make for a very late signing session. Lisa has therefore decided to have me in the store for an hour prior to the show, rather than after it.
I know that I am supposed to be there, and so does Lisa. Kritsy knows and the other staff know. Unfortunately, the audience doesn’t and we all spend a very quiet time chatting about this and that.
At one point I grab a couple of fluffy animal glove puppets from a nearby display and give an impromptu puppetry rendition of Scrooge berating Bob Cratchit. It works, as a small crowd gathers to watch. Maybe I should change the show for next year….
At seven the non-existent signing session ends and I leave the shop to return to the theatre.
My walk from the book shop takes me past the Central Moravian Church, where queues of people are waiting in the cold to listen to the annual Vespers concert.
The crowd is being entertained by a trombone ensemble, which is playing in the bell tower, high above the hustle and bustle. The atmosphere in Bethlehem tonight is so, well, Christmassy, which is very apt.
In the auditorium I do another sound check and start to focus on the upcoming performance. I would love tonight’s show to be a magical celebration of all that has gone before, encompassing all of the lessons that I have learned over six weeks. I would love my ultimate show to be the ultimate performance, but I fear that will not happen.
I am drinking lots of water and sucking Fishermen’s Friends to ease my strained throat, but I know it is going to be struggle tonight.
At eight Kristy makes her updated introduction and I make my way to centre stage.
The show goes pretty well, and the audience enjoys it, but it is not an easy performance from my point of view: everything feels a bit of an effort. My voice isn’t great and is a bit crackly. I ignore my own advice and try a bit too hard, and strain a bit too much.
However as I say ‘God Bless Us, Every One!’ for the last time on USA soil, the standing ovation is instant, noisy and robust. There are cheers and cries of ‘BRAVO!’ I even get a ‘HUZZAH!’
I take my usual three bows (one central, one right, one left), and then take an extra one, which is a bit cheeky!
In the dressing room I peel off my costume and take a few deep breaths. There is no rush, as there is no signing session to get to, which feels a bit strange.
I get into civvies, and take the microphone back to Blair and find a few patient audience members who have waited behind to try and catch an autograph and picture. One family has a copy of A Christmas Carol, previously signed by Cedric and it is lovely to see his cheerful ‘keep smiling!’ written above his name. Cedric could never just sign something; he always had to add a quote or a comment.
I pack up my case, and get ready to leave. I say thank you to Blair and then walk back to the hotel. The lobby and bar is busy and noisy and it is a struggle to get through to the lifts, which take a long time to arrive: Bah! Humbug!
I drop my cases off in my room and then go back to the bar, where Lisa joins me. We find a couple of chairs in a corner and sip our white wines. We are both exhausted. All around us parties are in full swing and people are celebrating the season with their family, friends and colleagues.
I am fading fast and need to get to bed, so I say goodbye to Lisa for another year and head up to the sixth floor. I hang up all of my costumes to air, so I am not travelling with damp clothes tomorrow, before getting into bed. I turn the TV on and set the timer, so that it will switch off after I’ve fallen asleep: which I do very quickly.