After yesterday’s hectic day of travelling it is very nice to know that I will be based in the same hotel for the next three nights. Even if the schedule is busy, there is a sense or relaxation in having a firm base.
I write the blog in bed, with a coffee before getting up and doing a few ‘chores’. Firstly I empty a bag of laundered white shirts, and notice to my dismay that the tomato stains from my Norfolk ravioli disaster have not come out. Following on from the shirt that shrunk in the wash, I am rapidly running out of casual shirts to wear. Maybe a trip to the shops is called for soon.
I have also promised myself to start a small exercise regime of sit-ups each morning, so I lay a towel on the floor and set myself a target of fifty, managing to reach thirty before subsiding into a crumpled heap on the floor. Plenty of work to be done there, then.
I shower and dress before having breakfast. I am still trying to be very careful with my diet, so I painfully forego the waffle maker this morning. I may not remain so disciplined for the remainder of my stay, however.
Although my first show isn’t until 1.15, I do have an early start as Kimberly and the team at Mid Continent have set up two live TV interviews, which means being in costume and ready at 8pm. Kimberly is waiting in the lobby and we head for downtown Kansas City on yet another bright, blue morning.
We are busy talking about life at the Mid Continent Public Library Service and life on the road, when I notice the offices for Fox4 TV, which is our first destination, on the right. I tell Kimberly but it is too late to make the turn. It is fine, as we have plenty of time, so we will just make a left turn further up the road and double back.
At the next street there is a no left turn arrow; and at the next, and the next, and at the next; and again. It seems that the people in power in Kansas City do not want us to enter the area behind the modest condominium frontages. What could they be hiding? is it a Missouri area 51?
We are driving further away from the TV studio, so Kimberly decides to make a right turn instead. The traffic is heavy this morning and very fast. As we approach a junction she manages to ease the car over to the right, only to be greeted by a ‘No Entry’ sign. To add insult to injury the fact that this street is one way, means that we could have turned left anyway.
On we go, now stuck in the right lane, until we reach the suburb of Westport where finally we can double back on ourselves and head towards the television station once more. We are now travelling back down the road with the TV station to our left. We reach the relevant intersection: ‘No Left Turn’ and we sail on past once more.
Eventually we find a road that winds its way through a park and brings us back to Fox 4. What an adventure, and it isn’t even 8.45 yet!
We meet Mary who is in the marketing department at the Library service, and who is waiting patiently in the car park. Obviously her journey hasn’t been quite as hectic as ours.
I am here to appear on the Fox4 morning show, and we are shown into a tiny green room to await our slot. Of course the programme is being broadcast into the green room and at one point a list of stores who will be opening on Thanksgiving Day is shown. Presumably the managers of the stores in question are delighted at the publicity, whereas others will see this as a blacklist of corporations sullying a special holiday with greed.
We watch the various news items being played out, until we are ushered into a studio that is stifling in its heat. The air conditioning has broken and the studio lights are creating sauna-like conditions.
My first job is to wave cheerily at the camera for a ‘coming up after the break’ tease. That done, we all relax in the studio and get chatting. One of the floor managers says that he has a second edition of A Christmas Carol, inherited from his mother, who inherited it from her mother. I casually ask, where he lives, and if his house is easy to break into?
‘Don’t worry; it is locked in a vault!’ That is a wise precaution, but I hope he takes it out to read sometimes, for it deserves to be read.
Nick, the presenter who is to interview me, comes in from the adjoining news studio, and immediately complains about the heat. We stand together in front of the camera, and soon the autocue rolls and Nick introduces me to the coffee-drinking, school-run-preparing citizens of the Kansas City Metro area.
As is the way in morning TV, the interview is short and I finish by performing a few lines from the show which take the station to a commercial break.
Nick and the crew all say thank you and good bye; but time and tide wait for no man and the studio is being prepared for the next segment.
We make our way back to the front door, get into our cars and head for the next studio: KSHB and an appearance on the popular morning magazine show: KC Live.
The green room here is very busy: we meet Scrooge and Tiny Tim, from the KC Rep’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, an archery champion and a young man organising a charity pub crawl.
We are all ushered into the studio which is large and comfy, with a sofa, bookcases and the obligatory kitchen.
The presenters are Michelle Davidson, who is the stereotypical perky, bright morning tv personality, and Joel Nichols a distinguished gent of more mature years.
The hour show is packed with features, and is carefully co-ordinated. As each new feature approaches, the floor manager gives warnings at two minutes, ninety seconds, one minute, thirty seconds and then the final five, four, three, two and one. Michelle perkily talks until the final second, before turning her face to the camera. She is exhausting in her positivity, and the bright smile never leaves her carefully made-up face. Joel by contrast is more morose and quiet; he reminds me of the Harrison Ford character in Morning Glory: the film about daytime TV magazine programmes.
I am called to the set, where Noel will conduct the interview. As we wait for our cue, he asks if a relative of mine came through Kansas City doing much the same thing over twenty years ago. Dad!
My father came to the city in 1993 and 1994 to help create the spectacular, but short-lived, Dickens Holiday Fair and Joel had interviewed him way back then. What a lovely connection.
Despite a malfunctioning microphone (what do I DO to them?), the interview goes well and the events of the next three days are promoted successfully. Joel shakes me warmly by the hand and suggests that perhaps he will interview my son in another 20 years: Cameron, it is over to you!
The interviews have run for much longer than any of us had expected, and the day is pushing on. I need to pick up a few things from the hotel before we drive to the Smithville High School, where I am performing A Christmas Carol to students.
The journey takes about half an hour, and shortly before we arrive at the huge educational complex we pass an old wooden house, with a sign proclaiming it to be ‘The American Angus Hall of Fame. The largest and most complete compilation of Angus Bulls, Cows and History Ever!’
At the school Kimberly and I sign in at the main office, where we are joined by library employees Robert and Rebecca. We are shown to the truly impressive theatre and are greeted by grey-bearded Davd in his Kansas City Chiefs cap. David is helping us with technical issues, and we carefully check the microphone and the lights, until everyone is satisfied with the results.
We are joined by the splendidly named Taylor St John, the head of theatre, and then by Dr Mike Bartig who is the school’s principal.
Mr St John and Dr Bartig and very welcoming and we play the usual game of polite host/guest conversation, until Dr Bartig drops into the conversation that he drives in the NASCAR series! Wait! Scroll back? NASCAR? Wow! How cool is that! Dr Bartig is no longer Dr Bartig, he is now Mike Bartig, pilot of car #27.
Theatre is forgotten as I chat to a real livin’ breathin’ stock car racer.
At 1 o’clcok the students file in to the theatre and I go to my dressing room. Shortly before the show Mike comes by and gives me a signed picture of one of his major shunts: ‘folk only notice you when you hit things!’
The time to perform is approaching and, being a school, I have to be careful to run to time. In fact I have to make sure that the show lasts for an hour, rather than its usual eighty minutes. I spend time pacing backstage not trying to remember the lines I have to say, but the lines I have to forget.
The hour passes quickly and the show seems so empty in its pared back state. There is no charity collector and there is no carol singer at Scrooge’s door. Passages of lovely narration remain unsaid, and swathes of dialogue unspoken. Despite that the students seem to enjoy it and give me an incredibly generous standing ovation at the end.
When the bulk of the audience have left, Dr Bartig (Principal, once more) asks me if I wouldn’t mind speaking to the acting class. I am greeted by another round of applause from these young actors, and we spend fifteen minutes chatting, as I answer their questions. It is like my time with the students in Norfolk: there is so much ambition within this group and they live in an amazing world of idealistic dreams. Some will make it, some will fall by the wayside and some will find other outlets for their artistry, but here and now they are a positive, exciting and generous group of people.
We all pose for photographs, before it is time to leave. Kimberly drives me back to the hotel, and we talk about the show and how sparse it felt. It is strange to think that the hour long version was what I first performed on tour and this afternoon is vivid proof of how far it has come in the last twenty years.
We stop to buy a salad which I can take back to my hotel room, and I lie on my bed watching television and resting for two hours.
My evening performance is at the Woodneath Library Center, which is only five minutes away. I have performed at Woodneath on many occasions, and know the staff and space very well. Kimberly picks me up at 6.15 and tells me that the audience have been gathering since about 4.30. I have quite a following at Woodneath!
The chief Librarian Melissa greets me and we go into the room where I will be performing. She has decorated it beautifully, with amazing flowers crafted from the pages of books.
We do a sound-check, and then the doors are opened to let the crowds flood in.
My dressing space is in a small store room at the back of the hall and I stay inside it, wanting to preserve my energy and voice for as long as possible. With five minutes to go I emerge and find Kimberly standing guard, making sure that I am not disturbed. The room is packed.
Melissa, a trained opera singer, makes the introductions and I make my entrance from the back of the room. The music and the bells see me to the stage and the audience is silent as I begin.
The crowd here are committed supporters, and many have been coming to see me for many years. Every development in the script, every new nuance will be noticed and most likely commented on later. It is nice to have the full cast of characters back with me this evening.
All goes without a hitch and I have great fun on stage.
As the applause and cheers die down I return to my store room, where I change costume and then go to the library’s coffee shop to sign some autographs. There are many old friends in line, and one lady presents me with a beautiful Christmas Carol tray, whilst another gives me a print of her own artwork. I shake the hand of Doug, (who is an avid follower of the blog) and his son Collin. Another lady always has a sketchbook with her and shows me the pencil drawings of me in performance – this has become a tradition and it is fascinating to see how I appear to her.
And lastly, there is Don. Dear Don, who always comes to my shows in Kansas City, and who has a signature from every one, and who always politely waits until everyone else has gone, before stepping forward to ask his questions. A KC show wouldn’t be complete without Don.
It has been a long but exciting day and I change wearily into my normal clothes. I say goodbye to Melissa and then Kimberly drives me back to the hotel, stopping on the way for dinner at Longhorn, where I have a burger and fries.
Back in my room I hang my costume and then go to bed.
What a lot has happened sine I last lay here: TV personalities, a NASCAR driver, ambitious students, artists and my good friends at the Mid Continent Public Library Service. It has definitely been a good day!
Mid Continent Public Library Service: http://www.mymcpl.org/
Smithville High School: http://smithvilleschooldistrict.net/site/default.aspx?PageID=1