At last, I wake up at a reasonable time, and as soon as I get out of bed I can feel that my limbs are aching and stiff – the show last night must have been an energetic one.
I go down to breakfast and have the strange experience of dining ‘in my office’ as the stage is fully set up with tables all around it. A little girl is sitting in Scrooge’s big leather wing-backed chair swinging her feet happily.
I exchange a few greetings with people who had been in the audience, but people here are very good at respecting privacy, and mainly they leave me to my granola and fruit.
When I have finished, and return to my room I can start preparing for the very first laundry session of the tour. Regular readers will be delighted and reassured that my routine is intact. I bag up a large load of white costume shirts and start the machine in the little laundry room, before coming back to write the blog.
After half an hour or so I return to switch my shirts to the drier and find Stephanie (the tea-etiquette, Jane Austen lady), her mother Rose and 10-year-old daughter Claire all gathered as their washes tumble and cascade in the machine. Suddenly it was like being back on a cruise ship again, where if you wanted any gossip it was the laundry room you headed to.
Actually, the whole experience of being at The Inn at Christmas Place is akin to being on board a cruise ship. As a performer, I have the privacy of my room/cabin, but the hotel/ship is filled with the audiences that I am performing for, and walks along corridors, not to mention the lines at the breakfast buffet, are punctuated with cheerful greetings which develop into conversations. There is a very special bond that forms with an audience in this way, completely different to a regular theatre where your respective lives touch only for the briefest of moments.
Anyway, back to the laundry: myself, Stephanie, Rose, Claire and latterly Anthony spend 40 minutes chatting about Dickens, Austen, movies and all sorts of other things. We all share an appreciation of The Muppets Christmas Carol, and Stephanie admits to always crying when Kermit (Bob) returns home from visiting Robin’s (Tiny Tim’s) grave. They are coming to tonight’s performance, so that is a challenge laid down!
When my load of drying is complete I pack it all up and head back to the room, leaving them with a mountain of laundry to work through.
It is 11.30 now, and I need to get an early lunch, as this afternoon will be filled with shows and appearances. I get into my Jeep and drive a little way up the strip to a local independent Deli that I discovered last year. I place my order at the counter and am asked ‘are you local?’ I am about as not local as you could imagine – I don’t think that I sound local – but maybe I am slowly being integrated into the Pigeon Forge community. McAllister’s serves soups and salads, and I tuck into a grilled chicken salad with a vinaigrette dressing, all washed down by a huge mug of lemonade.
As I drive back to the hotel, I am overtaken by Santa and his elves waving to all and sundry. Just imagine how traumatic it would have been if HE had the run in with the deer that I did.
The first show of the day, at 1, has been booked by a High School. For the past few years groups of students have attended my performances, but the school wanted to bring a much larger group and so ‘bought’ one of my shows for themselves. At 12.30 Kristy, Dwight, Debbie and Janet (‘Team Pigeon’) gather and we prepare for the onslaught. A few members of the public have tickets as well and take their seats but the main bulk of the audience arrive en masse after a 3-hour coach journey.
The cookie table is well stocked, and well used – sugar and noise levels rise in parallel. 1 o’clock and everyone is in their places: Kristy at the CD player, Debbie at the door ready to signal Kristy, me at the edge of the hall to signal Debbie (although this link in the chain is not really necessary as she can clearly see what is going on) and Dwight on stage.
Everything works smoothly today, the sound queue comes at the perfect moment and Dwight leaves the stool in the perfect place: the show is underway.
I am always looking for new ways of telling the story: maybe a different inflection to my voice will change the meaning of a scene; or I will find a new way of moving on the stage. Already this year I have discovered a line that I can bring slightly more importance to.
When Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present he says ‘Spirit, I went forth last night, on compulsion, and learned a lesson that is working for me now. Tonight, if you have ought to teach me, let me profit by it.’ When I was delivering this line in Ohio I realised that as he says ‘…and learned a lesson that is working for me now’, the true realisation comes over him about how this whole process is working and he so he places himself completely in the hands of the spirits. The original illustration of this scene shows him in a very submissive pose (one that I strike a few times during the show), which seems to back up my supposition.
I have a slight dilemma as the show goes on: what do I do with Topper? Usually I sidle up to a lady in the front row and flirt outrageously and it is a nice moment in the performance; but with an audience of High School students it could be a risky move. The girls sat in the relevant seats seem to be fully involved with the show and I make up my mind to keep the scene in. Fortunately, the girl in question doesn’t react badly, and the performance continues.
The response is excellent and I am very pleased with my efforts – the show is full of power and energy. There are audible sobs during the ‘Tiny Tim scene’ and plenty of laughter as Scrooge calls to the boy on Christmas morning. The applause is loud and generous.
In the foyer, it is a different kind of signing line as the students don’t purchase much, but all want pictures taken and their tickets signed. The girl who was Topper’s victim comes up gushing: ‘I couldn’t believe it! I have performed in A Christmas Carol twice and I was cast as the girl at the party that Topper flirts with!’ What are the chances of that?
This afternoon is quite a busy one, and I only have a little over an hour before my next appearance.
Back in my room housekeeping have done their best to tidy up for me. Each day I have been left a collection of Hershey Kisses (not just one for the pillow, but handfuls), and I have not got round to enjoying them yet. So instead of leaving them scattered across the counter top, Sharon (who is looking after me), has arranged them in the shape of a Christmas tree!
The teatime gig is a meet and greet session back in the theatre. The event is being held as a benefit for a local charity which provides children from poor backgrounds with food. It is a national scheme, which recognises that at the end of the school week many children will not be fed over the course of the weekend, and so food-filled backpacks are provided for them. It is a sad fact that these backpacks become currency and many of the children hide them away, so that adults or other kids do not steal them. It is the sort of charity that Dickens himself would have supported, and an issue that he would have written about, laying open the inadequacies of society for all to see.
The audience It is a small group made primarily up of very dear friends from years past. I begin by talking about child poverty in Dickens’ works, and how his campaigning on the issue led to the publication of A Christmas Carol. From there I start taking questions, and the rest of the session is an anecdote-filled conversation. I take the opportunity to shamelessly publicise the souvenir programme: quoting from every article – always prefacing the answer by saying something like ‘Oh, if only there were somewhere that you could read about……well, in my new souvenir programme….!’ It becomes a running joke and everybody joins in.
We chat for longer than the publicised hour, but it is a very nice session in the company of good friends (most of whom buy souvenir programmes I am glad to say).
One more show to go and that is another performance of A Christmas Carol , and I just have time for a relaxing bath and a lie down before getting ready again.
A large audience is gathered outside the theatre waiting to be let in and there is a loud buzz of anticipation. All of the friends from the afternoon are there, as are Stephanie, Rose, Claire and Anthony, who shakes me firmly by the hand and says ‘break a leg!’
It is another good show – more dramatic, less slapstick than the afternoon one. As Bob Cratchit mourns Tiny Tim I can hear loud sobs coming from where Stephanie is sitting: Ha! Anything Kermit can do, I can match.
One feature of performing at Pigeon Forge is just outside the room is a three-story high glockenspiel clock that chimes the hours. The chimes cam be disruptive if they come at the wrong part of the plot, but this evening as I say: ‘And as they stood together in the empty space, the clock struck twelve’, so the glockenspiel began to chime. It was an amazing bit of timing, and we couldn’t have arranged it better if we had a sound effect prepared.
I am feeling tired by the time I get changed and go to sign but it is a cheerful session with lovely comments. I pose for pictures and sign programmes, books and ornaments before the crowd gently disperse back to their cabins, sorry: rooms.
The short walk to the Mellow Mushroom is beneath a cloudless sky, in which the half moon has the deep orange hue of a pumpkin. Supper tonight, in a deserted restaurant, is a trio of meatballs, but the order took a while to arrive so I was upgraded to a quartet instead.
I finish up and stroll back to the brightly lit and decorated hotel where sleep envelops me quickly.