I wake this morning feeling very tired. It has been a busy few days and it doesn’t stop today, as I have another two shows to perform.
However I do have a little time to catch up, as the venue is only ten minutes away, and the sound check is not scheduled until one o’clock, so I spend a very lazy morning in the hotel watching TV, surfing, reading etc.
As noon ticks round I prepare my bags for the show, have an energising cold shower, and carry my suits (with a pang of guilt, as I am using the hotel hangers and am convinced I will be spotted as I leave the premises) to the car.
The drive is easy and I turn off the main freeway into the leafy neighbourhood of Langhorne, where the impressive Methodist Church stands proudly a little back from the road.
The Langhorne Methodist Church is a new event for me, and that always brings its own challenges. The simple routine of a day at somewhere like Burlington are well founded: I know where to park, who does what, where to change, how the audience will be and any number of other little details. But, at a new venue all of that is unknown.
I follow the signs to the car park at the rear of the building, unload the car, and seeing a large sign which says ENTER HERE, follow the path towards a door.
Before I get to my goal I realise that I still have my glasses on, so turn round and return to the car so that I can leave them there; this is not a question of vanity, but a respect to people’s sensitivities. When I chose the frames for my first glasses a year or so ago, I liked a set made by French Connection UK. The UK arm of the French Connection fashion house began marketing as FCUK many years ago, and at time we all thought it terribly risqué and daring. As the years have passed, however, the brand has just become lost in the corporate morass, and everyone in Britain (maybe with the exception of a few sniggering, giggling teens), has forgotten that there was ever anything remotely crude about it.
In America, however and especially in a Church community, the simple text could definitely offend, so it is better to keep the glasses tucked away.
I re-follow the path with the ENTER HERE sign and find that the door is locked, so go around to the front of the building where I meet Linda Rutlidge who has booked me today. Last year Linda watched my show in Burlington, and decided that it would be an excellent event for her own Church. My main credentials being that her husband, who had one fallen asleep during a performance of 42nd Street, remained awake for the whole of A Christmas Carol!
Linda is busy. Goodness she is busy as she has put together an incredibly ambitious programme for the day. Between the two shows there is to be a Turkey supper served, which will feed both audiences – probably numbering about 350 guests. Then there are the pre-ordered books, which need signing, and distributing to those with a particular coloured, ticket. Then there is the distribution of show tickets previously ordered. Then there is finding me a dressing room, and making sure that I have everything I need. Poor Linda is everywhere.
She introduces me to Tim, who is to look after the technical side of things and he in turn introduces me to John Lutz, who is the Pastor here. John and Tim run through the various lighting options open to us, and then we do a sound check. The microphone is very boomey and echoey in the room, but Tim and John convince me that it will become more muted when the people are sat there.
With all of the checks done John shows me to the room where I will change, which is actually the church’s photocopying room. It is slightly awkward, in that the large window looks straight out on to the ramp leading guests to the front door, and there is no curtain. The internal door to the corridor also has a window in it, and although it is covered with a cloth, people could easily see in. I must time my changing carefully!
With all of the pre-ordered books, Linda had asked me if I wouldn’t mind signing a few before the show, so I sit at a large table in a large room and start to work through the pile next to me. As I sign, a friendly face comes down the corridor and Pam Byers enters the room. Byers Choice is not far from Langhorne, so this is Pam’s first chance to come and visit me at a venue. We chat about various things that have arisen from the completed events, and plans for the forthcoming ones; and all the time I am scrawling GeraldCharlesDickens 2015.
As the word that I am signing spreads around the Church, volunteers start appearing and ask if I would just inscribe a book to a daughter, or grandson, or husband. Soon the volunteers are joined in line by audience members, and that is the time to stop!
I return to my dressing room, and by keeping a careful eye on the windows to front and back, manage to get into costume with no embarrassment.
The audience is a good size and as they file into the church I stand at the back, next to Tim’s sound box, watching them take their seats. It is a large room, and I try to imagine what people will be seeing when I am at the front. Shortly before the show Pastor John lights candles on the stage, and everything is ready.
Linda makes a welcoming announcement, and everyone settles down. Tim sets the music playing and I begin my long walk down the aisle.
It is a curious space to perform in, not unlike Burlington, but with more spaces and levels to use. In my mind I have to work out what each level represents, so that the Cratchit’s house is always on one step and the streets of London on another. Can the top level, which has Scrooge’s furniture on it, also be Nephew Fred’s house?
The sound is still rather too loud for my liking, and I try to restrict my projection as much as I can, so as to keep the echoes to a minimum. Acoustics that are perfect for choirs, do not always suit the spoken word.
I am not entirely sure how the show is going, actually. The stage area is quite a long way from the front row of seats, being a ‘new’ audience many are not sure if they are allowed to respond and react. The whole thing is a learning process from both sides of the fourth wall.
The response at the show’s conclusion tell me that it has been a success however, and as the only exit from the stage is straight back down the aisle, I leave the room through an applauding guard of honour.
I change as quickly as I can, as the line for book signing forms outside the photocopying room (I undress unseen by keeping close to the wall next to the door, like an FBI agent about to storm a room).
The signing lasts for quite a long time, and people have plenty to say. Books signed by my Uncle Cedric are in plentiful supply, as he spent many years travelling to the Philadelphia area.
Whereas I sign Gerald Charles Dickens, 2015 and add a dedication if requested, Cedric used to write long quotes from the book, as well as the inevitable ‘Keep Smiling!’
When I have finished signing books, Linda asks if I would like a cup of tea, and she brings a lovely teapot, cup and saucer, milk jug, and sugar basin to my room. I sit alone, just resting and sipping the black tea, whilst the first audience go into the dining hall for their lunch.
After twenty minutes or so I go into the hall too and am soon eating roast turkey, mashed potatoes, carrots and apple sauce. In the background a group of singers entertain us all: The Men of Harmony sound wonderful, and lend a real Christmassy feeling to the proceedings.
Pastor John is helping to serve the food, Linda is running everywhere, serving, clearing, talking. The feeling throughout the room is one of inclusion and friendship and caring – it is what a church community should be all about.
I chat to lots of audience members, who tell me how much they enjoyed the show, which is good to hear. I ask Linda about the sound and she says everybody thought it was fine, and could hear perfectly. I may suggest to Tim that we turn it down a little for the second show.
The lunch continues, and the second audience fill the seats vacated by the departing first crowd. I go back to my little room, turn all of the lights out and lay down on the floor to get an hour’s sleep, before going through the whole process again.
At 6.15 I get up, splash some cold water on my face, and start putting my costume back together again.
It is a much larger, and noisier audience, and I again take my station next to the tech desk, exchanging a few words with people as they arrive.
With ten minutes to go John takes to the stage to light the candles once more and as I watch him, I realise that this is just what an audience watching Charles Dickens would have seen. Shortly before Dickens took to the stage a gas-man would light the lamps ready to illuminate the author as he read A Christmas Carol.
The microphone is definitely better this evening, and I use the space more effectively too. But I get so hot, goodness it is bad; I don’t know why, particularly because the lighting isn’t materially different from anywhere else, but the perspiration is flowing uncontrolled tonight.
‘God Bless Us, Every One’ and I am finished and once more walk through a lovely, loud standing ovation and go back to my copy room.
The signing line is much longer tonight, and at one point I have to grab another ink cartridge for my pen, but everyone is in good spirits and has lovely things to say. One lady leans on my table, and points at me: ‘I am going to say to you, what my mother used to say. That was bloody splendid!’ What a good review!
Eventually the audience leaves and the volunteers bring their books up for signing, and to pose with me for photographs. I thank Tim for his help and Linda gives me a great big hug (as well as a bottle of wine and some chocolates).
I go back to my room and wearily, very wearily, pack up. By the time I emerge almost everyone has left the building. I am let out through a back door (actually the one I couldn’t get in at this morning) and drive back towards the Holiday Inn.
I am obviously tired and struggling to concentrate, because I miss the turn to Street Road on three different occasions, sending my sat nav unit into paroxysms of ‘recalculating route’. I accidentally get onto the Turnpike and have to go through the automated toll booths twice, even though I have no EZ-Pass in the car. Usually in the tolls there is a little traffic light that says ‘Payment Accepted’ or ‘No Payment’, and those do not light up, so I’m hoping that at this time of the night I may be OK.
Finally I get back to the hotel, where for the first time in two weeks I treat myself to a desert of apple pie.
It will be a short night with the alarm set for 4.30 in the morning, and soon the rigours of the past week creep up on me and take me to the land of sleep.