Sunday November 16
Today is to be a repeat of yesterday, with two shows in the amphitheatre at Rogers Gardens. I wake fairly early (I am hoping that when I travel back east tomorrow, my body-clock will settle down a little and allow me to sleep to a time without a 3, 4, or even a 5 in it).
I write and drink coffee, before getting ready for breakfast. I have another load of white costume shirts waiting to be washed, so I go via reception to ask where the guest laundry is. Once again, as in Minnesota, it is in a separate building: this seems to be the way of it on this tour. I am going to get extra fit with my laundry treks!
Having set the machine running, I go to breakfast, where I enjoy a bowl of muesli and fresh fruit, accompanied by orange juice and coffee.
I am keeping an eye on the time, as the Brazilian Grand Prix is being run today and I have discovered that it is being shown live on NBC Sports. The lights go out at 8am, and I want to be back in my room to watch it. I finish breakfast and go back to my room, via the laundry where the wash cycle has finished. Having shrunk one of my casual shirts the other day, I separate my three others from the load of costume shirts, and take them back to my room to drip dry: I make it back just in time for the race’s start.
As with so many Grand Prix this year, it is a disappointing race, with very little action at the front of the field. The current regulations make passing difficult, and Lewis Hamilton just can’t mount a challenge to his teammate Nico Rosberg. It is almost as if Hamilton’s competitive intensity has dimmed slightly since he tied up the World Championship a few races ago.
Fortunately for the television audience young Max Verstappen (only 17 years old), hasn’t read the memo about not being able to overtake, and he enlivens the race with some amazing lunges around the outside of the first corner.
The race drifts to its inevitable conclusion and on the podium Rosberg looks smug and Hamilton looks, well, rather disinterested by the whole thing.
I take the trip down in the lift, walk to the other building, go up the lift and collect my dry shirts, and get ready for the day’s shows. The weather is a little more overcast and slightly cooler today, but in California that is all relative: it is still somewhere in the 70s.
Just before 11 I load up the car and make the short drive to Rogers, where Theresa is waiting for me. Apparently Hedda is worried, as the weather forecast is showing high winds and rain sweeping down the coast, from LA towards us. The plan is to perform the 1pm show outside, and while that is going on to prepare a marquee (which is usually used to store Christmas trees) so that we have an alternative should the bad weather threaten the 5 0’clock performance.
I make my way to the amphitheatre where Patrick, the sound and lighting man, is setting up his equipment. Hedda arrives and she is looking very stressed about the whole weather thing. The first threat is the wind, and we will not be able to have the large umbrellas that afforded me protection from the sun yesterday, as they will become large sails, and could wreak havoc among the guests.
Patrick and I do the briefest of sound checks, and I amble over to the marquee to take see what is going on there. It is empty, and the canvas sides are flapping noisily in the ever strengthening breeze. A member of staff is already hard at work decorating the wall where the stage will be, and a Christmas garland, made of fir and red Christmas ornaments is already being draped from the tent’s frame.
I can do nothing for now, but return to my dressing room and go through my normal preparations for the show. When I emerge, fully costumed, into the main office area I find Hedda, Theresa, Michael (operations manager) and Nava (marketing director), all gathered around a computer watching the latest radar predictions for the weather. It is going to be a tight call to even get the first show finished before the rain hits, and that is not even worrying about the effects of the strengthening winds.
With thirty minutes to go before show time the decision is made: we relocate. This means the set, the sound system, the lighting and, of course, the audience have to be moved.
At least I won’t be needing my sun block today.
At the moment the marquee is a dark space, with chairs being laid out, but the staff of Rogers Gardens sweep into action with a co-ordinated operation that is truly impressive.
Firstly the most vital parts of furniture from my set are brought down on carts, and set up. The girl who was decorating the tent earlier now starts work on set dressing and in no time it looks as if it had been there all week.
Patrick is re-wiring his sound equipment, and I stay close so we can test it as soon as he is plugged in.
There is a problem with the canvas sides of the marquee flapping noisily, which will distract the audience. A brief problem-solving conference is held, and a solution found: espaliered apple trees are transported and placed against the inside of the tent walls, and on the outside flat-bed shopping carts are loaded with sandbags to keep the canvas still. It is a brilliant solution, and one which helps to decorate the inside too.
Now Patrick has got the sound rigged, he turns his attention to the lights, and tripods complete with the LED stage lanterns attached are carried into the tent.
Meanwhile Hedda has addressed the audience and told them what the plan is, and they applaud her. Everyone is involved in the adventure! As the work continues in the marquee, the carol singers are busy entertaining the very patient audience.
At 1 o’clock Hedda and Nava announce to the crowd that they can make their way to the tent, and lead them, Pied Piper-like, through the pot plants, shrubs and trees to the new venue, where the transformation is complete. We actually start the show only ten minutes late, which is a quite remarkable achievement from everyone involved.
And now it is my turn.
Many years ago, when I first adapted A Christmas Carol as a one man show, I decided to stage it very simply, with just a chair and a hat-stand; this meant that I could perform it anywhere. Never has that decision paid off more completely than today. As I get into the show, I start testing out the boundaries of the light, and the space
The audience are very close, in fact I am almost on top of the front row and they get the full Dickens experience. They are fantastic, and seem to be wrapped up in what we in Britain refer to as ‘The Blitz Spirit’: when a group of people are brought closer by adversity. OK, I grant you being asked to walk from an amphitheatre to a marquee, to watch a show is not really on a par with huddling in the London Underground stations as bombs fall, but the sense of camaraderie is the same.
Does it rain? Of course it doesn’t, and I am able to adlib when Scrooge looks out of his window on Christmas morning: ‘No fog, no mist….’ and I add, ‘and no rain either.’ It raises a huge laugh and a round of applause.
The show finishes to a fabulous ovation and Hedda looks like the cares of the world have lifted from her shoulders. We have pulled it off spectacularly. The staff at Rogers has been simply amazing.
Having changed into a fresh costume I go to greet the patient people in the signing line, where the congratulations continue. Everyone has thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.
At the very end of the signing session a gentleman waits, who was sat in the front row for the show. His name is David and he is a journalist who has come to interview me between the shows. David is a freelance writer, originally from England but now living in Orange County.
He is currently involved in launching a new project, which sounds absolutely fascinating, and which has close connections to the works of Charles Dickens, hence the interview. The idea is to serialise some of the novels, and release them weekly via an app, to encourage people to read the classics once more. Of course, this is exactly how Dickens published his books in the first place, so it is a great way to show the works in their original form. The app is called NoteStream and I encourage anyone with an interest in Dickens to support the project.
We chat for the best part of an hour, and it is a fun conversation. But now I must get back to work. I sign a couple of books for David, we shake hands and he leaves, while I start to prepare for the evening show.
It is another full house, but there isn’t the same excitement and buzz to the evening audience. In fact the show is quite hard work. They are one of those ‘intense’ audiences: fully focused and concentrating hard, but not quite so willing to open up. Quite British, in fact.
All I can do in such situations is to just perform the show as well as I can. The biggest mistake is to try and force a reaction – that never works, and always results in a sub-standard performance.
When I get to the end the applause is loud, long and accompanied by lots of shouts and cheers. A job well done, I think.
The signing line is one of the longest of the week, which none of us expected. One constant comment throughout all of the signing sessions has been: ‘are you coming back next year?’ All I can say to that is ‘I hope so!’
At 8pm Rogers Gardens falls quiet again. The lights in the trees are blowing in the gentle wind, and the forecast rain has never fallen, but with the information available at the time, the decision to move under canvas was definitely the correct one.
I change and pack up all of my bits and pieces from the board room. Hedda has booked a table for herself, me, Theresa and another staff member, Susan, to have a wind-down dinner. Theresa gives me the address and having set the sat nav, I follow the instructions and arrive at R+D Kitchen, in a nearby mall.
The four of us are very tired, after a challenging day (for them, much more than me: I just did the two shows that I was expecting to do). We eat appetisers, and talk. We order Entrees and talk.
It turns out that Hedda, whose family come from Henley-on-Thames, almost went to St Helen’s school in Abingdon, where Liz is now head of keyboards in the music department. It’s a small world.
We finish our meals (I have Greek-style chicken with tabouleh, which is delicious ) and say our goodbyes for another year. I am sure we will all meet again in twelve months, and who knows what the California weather will have in store for us then?
I return to the Ayres Hotel, and set my alarm for 4.45am: tomorrow is a day of travel.