The routine is well set now, and I sit in bed composing my blog until it is light outside. I go through my sit-up routine, before showering and dressing.
In the breakfast room I notice that the TV is tuned to Fox 4, and I feel slightly jealous that somebody else is in ‘my’ studio, being interviewed by ‘my’ presenter, (not that I have any particular affiliation with Fox News, I should point out.) I have a delicious bowl of porridge, with dried fruit sprinkled on to it, before returning to my room.
I have a little time this morning, as Kimberly is not coming to pick me up until 11 o’clock, so I settle down to some admin. The most important job is to book our car in at the Heathrow long-term car park, for when Liz comes to join me for the last week of the tour. This year’s tour is longer than usual, and we have been missing each other a great deal, so we can’t wait for December 10.
Recently we have taken to using the valet parking service at Heathrow, so that the car is waiting for us as soon as we emerge from the terminal; but things are slightly complicated this year by the fact that our return Delta flight is actually a Virgin Atlantic flight and I have to do some research to find the VA flight number. After a great deal of hopping between the Delta, Virgin and Heathrow websites I determine that Liz will be dropping the car off at terminal 4, and we will pick it up again at terminal 3.
With all the information to hand I complete the booking and send the confirmation to Liz. Unfortunately things are not going well in Abingdon, and Liz is experiencing a ‘when it rains, it pours’ kind of a day: the heating system isn’t working, the car needs repair (apparently it is very dangerous to drive at the moment, even though it passed its MOT safety test just a few weeks ago), the lock on the front door has seized, and Ruby, our cat, has a penchant for bringing mice in at night.
I love what I do, but at moments like this I so want to be at home with Liz. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day for her.
11 is approaching, and I need to have everything with me, as I won’t be coming back to the hotel for the rest of the day. I check and recheck my bags and costume and when I am sure that all is in order, I go down to wait for Kimberly.
She is picking me up slightly earlier than is necessary, as I’ve asked her if we can stop at a bookstore, so that I can buy a copy of A Christmas Carol which will be a gift to my hosts on Thanksgiving Day. We drive to a huge Barnes and Noble in Independence, and eventually I find a nice little edition, that features the original John Leech illustrations.
From Barnes and Noble it is a short drive to the Raytown branch of the Mid Continent Library, where I am to perform at 2 o’clock. The library is built on two levels, and my stage has been set up on the mezzanine level. By the looks of it they are expecting quite a crowd.
Kimberly introduces me to Denise, the librarian here, and I am taken into the office, where I can hang my costumes. We all go to the stage to try the microphone system, which proves recalcitrant at first, before finally bursting into life. I stand on the stage and try different voices and volumes: everything seems all right, so I go back to the office again, where I need to change prior to a brief newspaper interview with a freelance journalist.
Denise has suggested that the interview takes place in the basement, where we can chat uninterrupted. It is a fun conversation, and as promised he wraps things up so that I have plenty of time to get back to the office and ready for the show.
Kimberly, as ever, is waiting to escort me and as we stand, a police officer comes in. We chat for a while and discuss his belt, which is so packed with the various paraphernalia of his job that it must weigh a ton: there is an extending night-stick or truncheon (which he uses mainly to unblock drains), mace spray, a taser gun, torches , radio packs, various pouches whose contents are not immediately apparent, and of course the gun which is still a strange thing for an Englishman to see. He promises to keep the audience under control for me. They don’t look like a rowdy lot, but you can never be too careful.
At 2 o’clock I go to the stage, where Denise makes the introduction. There is no way of playing the music effect here, so I begin the show in the old fashioned way with the book’s preface.
This year the Mid Continent’s marketing team have a done a fabulous job and there has been a great deal of media interest during my stay. At this show there is a journalist from a local newspaper, as well as a video cameraman from the Kansas City Star (which is slightly confusing, as the Star is a print newspaper).
From the stage I can see the KC Star cameraman discreetly positioned behind a pillar, making sure that he does not disrupt the performance, or get in the audience’s way.
The local journalist quickly becomes apparent too, for he is sitting in the front row, and taking a whole series of flash photographs which are completely distracting to me and presumably to everyone around him. I can see Kimberly at the side of the audience considering whether to move in and tell him to stop, but it becomes academic, as he gets up and leaves after twenty minutes. It is not a sensitive display on his part.
For now I have other problems, which needless to say involve the microphone system. When I did the sound check I didn’t move around the stage as much as I am now, and I am getting terrible feedback from the two speakers positioned on either side of the stage. The stage left one isn’t too much of a problem, as I can avoid that, but the stage right speaker howls in protest every time I sit in the chair, which doubles as Scrooge’s bed. If I could just move that speaker….
Fortunately Kimberly and Denise have come to the same conclusion, and as I step off the stage as the Ghost of Christmas Past conducting Scrooge along the country road covered with snow, they move in behind the set and pull the speaker back.
It works perfectly, and the rest of the show is relatively howl free. As is the way with all Mid Continent Library audiences this group are enthusiastic in their reaction to the show, and join in with all the relevant parts, whilst quietly sobbing as Bob mourns Tiny Tim.
The final line is greeted with a loud, prolonged standing ovation.
I make my way back to the office, where the staff congratulates me on the performance, and I change into a dry costume, ready to sign. There is a long line waiting for me there. Some people have brought their own books to be signed, others are using the slips of paper featuring my photograph and the event details, that Mid Continent have produced for the autograph sessions this year.
One lady says ‘please, may I hug you?’ so she does, and that starts a new trend: ‘well, if you’re giving out hugs, I need one too!’ It is just as well that I change costumes after the show these days.
Standing very patiently to one side is the Kansas City Star journalist who wants to record a brief interview to accompany the footage that he took during the show. I make sure to thank him for being so discreet and respectful during the show. ‘That’s the job’ he replies. Hmm, I wish that all journalists realised that.
And there is Don: his question for this afternoon’s show being if I ever had a nickname at home? Well, yes: within the family I am always called Gerry. If anybody else calls me Gerry it sounds wrong but within the family that is who I am.
Don leaves happy.
The office is full when I return, and I change while everyone talks about the show, emerging from the restroom as the 21st century Gerald. There follows a long discussion as to where Kimberly will take me to eat. I just want a salad, but the opinion around the room is that I should be taken to a Kansas City BBQ joint. There is much teasing and banter back and forth, until it is time to leave.
We load my costume, hat, cane and bag into the car and Kimberly asks what I actually would like to eat, I repeat my request of a salad, and she says that there is a good deli near to our next venue, if I don’t mind driving for a while. That is fine, and I watch the world go by.
As we leave Raytown there is the most wonderful old drug store, with décor from the 50s. I don’t mean it is retro-styled to look as if it is from the 50s – no, this is genuine. Fox’s Drug Store has obviously been a part of Raytown’s history for many years. There is a crude notice in the window to confirm my thoughts: ‘The Foxs thank you for 75 years’.
We drive towards the town of Lee’s Summit and pull into a parking space outside Jason’s Deli, where we both order the salad bar and a cup of soup (chicken noodle in my case). My plate looks remarkably healthy, and it is the perfect meal to keep me going between shows. I am beginning to feel quite tired now and hope that I can get a little down time before performing again.
It is dark when we return to the car and in the clear night sky the moon is almost full. I think back to my performances in California when there was the slimmest new moon looking down on me: the tour is moving on apace.
The venue tonight is the Pavilion at John Knox Village. It is a venue that I have played a few times before, and initially is terrifying in its vastness. The performing space is beneath a towering pyramid, and there are about five hundred chairs laid out. The space is cavernous and as I look from the back of the hall I can hardly see the stage in the distance.
Even though it is only 5.30, there are already audience members milling around. John Knox Village is an assisted living community, and the show is of course open to residents, as well as to the general public. Due to various staff changes at the Pavilion, and communication errors, the residents have been told that the show starts at 6, instead of 7, which is a trifle awkward.
I am greeted by the technical manager, Kent, who has looked after me for all of my performances here, and who is great fun to work with. The show is actually being run by another AV guy, Charles, and he fits me up with the microphone and we do a detailed sound check. I make sure that I move everywhere this evening, so as not to repeat the feedback problems of Raytown. The few straggling audience members watch on curiously as I leap from character to character until all of the voices and volumes have been tested.
There is an hour to go and I retreat to my little dressing room behind the stage to get a little bit of rest before starting to prepare. I am feeling very weary and tired tonight, and my limbs feel heavy and stiff. Deep breathing exercises. Concentrate. Focus.
At 6.55 I open the door, and walk to the stage. Lee’s Summit library staffer Mike is making my introductions and he is completely terrified at the prospect. He has nothing to worry about as he greets the audience clearly and confidently; his remarks are simple and to the point. It is a job well done.
The strains of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen fill the pyramid and I walk into the garish light.
It is always a huge pleasure to perform on this stage, as there is so much space to play with. The lighting and sound are good and the audience’s attention is fully focussed.
There seem to be a lot of very young children and babies in the hall tonight, and I find it very difficult to maintain my concentration with the constant soundtrack of crying, but I keep re-focussing and trying to block the extraneous noises out. A mobile phone going off in the front row doesn’t help, either.
The show, however, is exhilarating and enjoyable: to be on a stage this large and holding the attention of an audience this size is one of the most satisfying things that an actor can do and I soak up every wonderful moment of the evening.
I am exhausted by the time I finish, and fortunately there is only a short signing line, as nobody had told the audience that I would be there after the show. Usually I love meeting people after the show, but tonight I am grateful for the lack of fans. Those that do wait are mostly old friends and long-time supporters, and it is lovely to see familiar faces and pose for photographs with them.
After I’ve changed I make a point of thanking Kent and Charles for the technical assistance and leave the Pavilion at 9pm.
Kimberly drives us to a nearby Applebee’s where we have dinner. We are both weary and on the drive back to the hotel I fall asleep in the passenger seat.
Tomorrow I have a quieter day and a real opportunity to get some rest, which I am sorely in need of!
Kansas City Star Vide0