Friday, November 28
I wake fairly early and spend an hour or so writing up my Thanksgiving Day adventures, before taking to the exercise mat. As the rooms here are temples to fitness I really can’t shy away from my morning routine, and I pump my way through a routine of sit-ups before showering.
Opening the blind I see that for once the day looks to be ever so slightly wintery, with a thick heavy fog shrouding Norwalk. I make a coffee and ponder my next move.
It is Black Friday, which is when traditionally the stores offer huge discounts to early shoppers. Over the years news reports have shown pictures of near-riot conditions as desperate people chase the bargains. The situation has got so bad that it even merits an aside in my production!
My dilemma is over the broken suitcase: do I brave the dangers of shopping on Black Friday to try and find a replacement now, or do I struggle on and wait until the retail frenzy dies down and buy a case in a few days time?
As I have never experienced Black Friday at first hand, I decide to go for it. After a little research I discover that there is a branch of Macy’s about fifteen minutes away, which is offering some reasonable looking deals. Black Friday here I come.
First I need to have some breakfast, and I discover another way in which the Even Hotel chain differs from the norm. In the breakfast area there are iPads, on which you make a series of selections (all very healthy, of course), before swiping your room key card.
Moments later a platter arrives from the kitchen. Fresh juice is produced by fabulous machine, which takes oranges from a hopper and, through a series of revolving scoops, slowly pushes them down between whirring blades to create the delicious, pithy juice.
The coffee is similarly created: from bean to cup before my very eyes.
I have a bowl of granola, yoghurt and honey, as well as some toast. It is a simple breakfast and leaves me feeling very good about myself!
From breakfast I go to the car and start the short drive to the City of Stamford. The fog really is bad and when I join the I95 I can hardly see anything. I am amazed how many people are driving without lights, but the traffic is lighter than I had imagined.
As I approach the mall in Stamford I am ready for long queues of traffic, being controlled by armed police officers, but there is nothing of the sort. I drive straight into an underground parking garage and easily find a space.
Although the mall itself is busy, it is no more so than on any other weekend during the Christmas season. I’m actually rather disappointed: I thought that my blog post would win a Pulitzer Prize for the gritty realism of being in the heart of a Macy’s war zone. The nearest I get to conflict is when I politely refuse to talk to a girl about moisturising products.
Macy’s proves to have a good selection of cases and I spend a good thirty minutes comparing sizes and prices. I end up choosing a Revo Pipeline 30” spinner, for which I pay $130 (£89), marked down from an original retail price of $320 (£211). Welcome to the team, Revo!
The fog has cleared a little when I start back for the hotel, although there are still a few lingering patches hanging dangerously around, ready to catch the unaware.
Back at the hotel I ceremonially empty my old case and pack the new one: the changing of the guard is complete.
I have a little while to pass before I need to go out again, so I do some rehearsing of Doctor Marigold before renting the film Holiday Inn and watching it on my bed. After an hour and forty minutes of crooning and tapping the film arrives at its inevitably happy conclusion and I begin to make preparations for the afternoon.
I trim my beard and shave, before showering and getting my costumes ready. My first commitment is a signing session at Gary and Jennifer’s business The Historical Christmas Barn, which is only a five minute drive away. It is easier to drive in costume, and I get some quizzical looks and complimentary comments as I stride through the lobby to my car.
Main Street Norwalk has many small businesses and one name I particularly like for its creativity: It is a lingerie shop (I don’t know at which end of the market it aims) and it is called ‘Lace Affaire’.
The car park at the barn is full and, unsurprisingly, so is the store. As soon as I walk in the door I am collared by eager fans who want their books signed and photographs taken. When the first flurry is over I take the opportunity to look around the store, which is packed with Christmas decorations of every kind. There is a room dedicated to Byers Choice, there are trees, and villages and Christmas clothing. It amazes me how Gary and Jenn squeeze so much into here, and still have room for customers, of whom there are many.
I stay at the store for two hours, and there is a constant stream of people stopping for a chat. In the few down times Gary brings me boxes of books that can be sold after I’ve left.
Many people are coming to this evening’s show, and others are being encouraged to do so by a wonderful poster featuring me in full Fezziwig pose.
At four O’clock it is time to re-locate to the Clune auditorium in Wilton, where I will be performing tonight. I follow Gary for two miles until we turn into the car park of the Wilton High School. This is my fourth year here and it has always been a wonderful venue in which to perform. Christian, the techie, is there and we do a sound check straight away. I arrange the furniture on the huge, wide stage, and it all looks a little bit lost to be honest. The answer is close at hand, for the school has recently finished performing something or other, and the remnants of the set are scattered around the back stage area. The Egyptian sarcophagus is not a lot of use to me, but the elegant glass-fronted book case, standing atop a table, carefully and theatrically painted to resemble an antique, will do the job nicely.
Christian helps me to lift it into place, commenting that to his set designer’s eye it needs to be filled. More rummaging backstage and I come up with some old books, and picture frames, while Gary calls Jennifer to ask her to bring some candlesticks from the store.
I retreat to the dressing room, where I consume a cup of delicious chicken noodle soup, that Gary has kindly brought in for me.
The time passes slowly, and I pace around a lot. There is a notice board with newspaper clippings from various school shows. When I first performed here the school had just performed Drood (the musical based on Dickens’s final novel), and the article was white and fresh. Now that same newspaper fragment is curling and yellowing. I wonder where those students are now and what the next stage of their life held for them.
As the audience arrives they are entertained by a string ensemble from a local school playing carols. The strains of the violins sound lovely from my dressing room, so I go and stand in the wings to listen for a while.
At last seven o’clock comes around and Jennifer stands on the stage in front of around two hundred people to introduce the show. Christian is doing a great job with the lighting, winging it without a script, and as Jennifer leaves the stage the lights dim to a sombre pool centre stage. Sarajevo starts and I walk slowly on.
The show goes well, and Christian provides me with some wonderful lighting effects, including a bright harsh white spot coming in at head level from stage left, for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which is presumably casting some effective and eerie shadows. Tiny Tim’s death is particularly heartbreaking tonight (maybe the memory of that happy family feast just twenty four hours ago is in my thoughts) and not only do I find it difficult to continue the narrative, but there are distinct snuffles from the audience too.
The reaction at the end is astounding! I can’t believe the noise that comes from the auditorium and I bow gratefully to all sides, before leaving this magnificent stage for another year.
In the dressing room I change as quickly as I can, without getting hotter still, and walk the long corridor to the lobby, where a long signing line breaks into yet more applause.
Everyone has nice things to say and many ask: ‘aren’t you exhausted?’ Well, yes, but in a very positive and energetic way. It takes a while to come down from a major show like this.
At the end of the line are Jim and Judi, my Thanksgiving hosts from last night, and we exchange more hugs and handshakes. Judi says that she thought this was the best performance yet, and Jennifer confirms that many of the audience members have said the same, which is good to hear (although the insecure actor’s voice asks: ‘so, what was wrong with the others?’)
I need to change, so I go back to the stage where the book case is standing forlornly on its own, as the rest of the props have been removed. My scarf is draped over it.
I change and pack as quickly as I can, before rejoining Gary and Jenn. I make sure that I thank Christian for his spectacular, yet subtle lighting, and then pack up the car. Having said my goodbyes, I drive back to the hotel, where I punch at the iPad and am rewarded with a board of meats and cheeses, as well as a warm-chicken and quinoa salad: so healthy (if I don’t mention the wine and key lime pie….)
Back in room 460 I hang my costume shirt to air, shower, and slide between the sheets. Tomorrow I move on again, to another old favourite haunt, and more good friends. The tour has definitely moved into a new phase now and I am in my New England swing.
The Historic Christmas Barn: http://www.historicalchristmasbarn.com/Default.asp