Today will be one the most taxing days of the tour so far, in that it is the first time that I am to perform A Christmas Carol twice in a single day.
I wake and write the blog, before moving on to another writing commitment. My brother Ian reads to children at a local school, and they have asked him to talk about Charles Dickens: ‘Any help gratefully received!’ he asked. So, I am committing to ‘paper’ the programme that I use for school kids (the one I used for my 600 5th graders back in Ohio). Of course, Ian will find his own style and develop his own script, but there may be a few ideas within mine that he can use.
At around 7.30 I go to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It is a lovely warm morning so I sit in the little courtyard near to the fountain and enjoy al fresco dining: all very chic and continental.
I return to my room in time to watch coverage of Formula 1 qualifying from Brazil. The race may determine this years’ World Championship and I am fortunate that the hotel has NBC Sports, and that the time difference allows me to watch the coverage. It will be the same for race day tomorrow.
I have to be at my venue, Rogers Gardens, at 11.30 for a sound check, but I have a few things that I need to buy before I go, so I load up the car with costumes and props, before heading to a CVS pharmacy that I found last year. My shows here are in the open air, and as the Californian sun is beating down, even at this early hour, I need some effective sun black to protect the vast tracts of my forehead. I choose a sports brand that remains effective even when sweating, which seems to be a good idea.
Having made my purchases in CVS I drive to a nearby camera store to buy a new lens cap, having misplaced my old one earlier in the Summer. The store is an Aladdin’s cave of photography equipment; I particularly am drawn to a drone-cam, and think how fun it would be to have it buzzing over the top of one of my shows, getting some footage from a very different perspective.
From Sammy’s Camera I drive towards the Rogers Gardens, a large and impressively laid out garden centre, where this will be my third year to perform. The car park is a slow-moving serpent of cars searching for spaces, but I know a little area at the back. Even that is full, but part of it has been coned off for a valet parking service, and I talk myself into parking there. As I pull up and another car draws into the next space and Karen gets out and gives me a big hug of welcome. Karen will be looking after me all day, ushering me around and making sure that I have everything that I need.
The first big change at Rogers is the construction of a lavish restaurant and bar area. Last year this was just a muddly hole in the ground, but The Farmhouse Restaurant has opened to great acclaim, and is becoming popular in its own right, hence the difficulties in parking. Karen gives me a quick tour of the site, and then to the office of Hedda, who runs the show here. We hug like old friends, and start talking through the itinerary for the shows. Hedda, and her colleague Susan, love the souvenir programmes, and I encourage them to offer them for sale as people arrive, rather than letting them get lost on a merchandise table. They agree that this is the way to go and it will be interesting to see how the numbers stack up.
From the offices, I stroll around the centre for a while, until it is time to meet Patrick for a sound check. As I clip the microphone one and start reciting lines from the show, I realise that this is the first time I have had to be amplified since Ohio.
The stage is on ground level, overlooked by a little amphitheatre, and as usual there is an impressive set laid out, featuring some plaster figurines of Dickens characters – I am watched by Uriah Heep and Mr Pickwick, among others.
The audience is already arriving, so I return to the office building, that is my base, and start to get ready. I apply the sun gel to all visible surfaces and rub it in well, then get into costume, making sure that I have everything in the right place – Victorian penny and watch in my waistcoat pocket. Hat, woollen scarf (in temperatures nudging the 80s) and the cane.
As start time approaches Karen comes back to report that we are delaying slightly, as there are real issues in the car park. The Farmhouse restaurant is hosting a large birthday party, so their guests are competing with our audience for the few remaining spaces ‘The people were so eager and so hurried that sometimes there were angry words spoken between them…..’ I hope that the Ghost of Christmas Present is sprinkling water on them to calm frayed tempers.
At about 1.15 we are ready to go. Hedda makes her introductory remarks, and I stand at the top of the amphitheatre ready to make my entrance through the audience. Patrick plays the introductory sound effect and I start my walk to the stage. As soon as I turn to face the audience I realise that I am in trouble. The blazing sun is right in my eye line, and I cant look up at the audience without squinting. But worse is to come, as almost straight away sweat starts to trickle into my eyes, taking with it the anti-sweat sun cream. For the bulk of the show I am in absolute agony and unable to open my eyes, except for the briefest of moments: it can’t be a very impressive thing to watch. I plough on, however, letting the words weave their magic and rescue me.
Within the performance itself I realise that I have forgotten to button my frock coat for the first scene, which is a new feature this year, and give myself a mental note to do it this evening. Later on I mix up the voices of the three business men in the Future scene, but actually the mistake makes the scene better, and I decide to keep it in. Over the years much of the business in the show has been created through happy accidents, and this is another on the list.
It seems like an eternity before I finally squint my to the end, and the audience stand and applaud and shout. I bow, but then bolt for the dressing room, where I can bathe my eyes at last, emerging from the restroom somewhat blood-shot and blurry.
I change from the sodden costume (I should develop a shorts and Hawaiian shirt version of the show for California), and go to the signing table, where a long queue has formed. I am delighted to see that a great many are holding the souvenir programmes, along with their other products, and the more theatrical-style of selling has obviously paid off.
Everyone is very kind to me, and says how much they enjoyed the show, which is kind, but we must address the issues of shade for tomorrow’s afternoon performance.
When I have signed the last item, I can return to the offices and relax for two hours. Karen has stocked the refrigerator with sandwiches, fruit, salad and drinks, so I sit at the boardroom table and have a delicious lunch.
To pass the time I read a little, play some backgammon against my phone, and for the first time this year listen to my Christmas playlist: ah, old friends such as Bing, Perry, Kirtsy, Elvis and Dominic the Donkey come back to me!
Twilight falls and all of the trees throughout Rogers are lit up with thousands of white lights. The Farmhouse is doing good evening business and the noise of happy revellers floats throughout the trees, shrubs and plants.
With thirty minutes to go I get into costume (remembering to button the coat this time), and make my way back to the theatre for an on-time 5pm start. The bright sun that so tormented me this afternoon has sunk beneath the horizon and the sky is flecked with pink clouds. Behind the stage a three-quarter moon beams beneficently down on me. This is better…..
Within two minutes of starting I feel something drop beneath the waistcoat. At first I think it is my braces that have become unclipped, which is not that unusual, and not a problem, but soon I realise that the microphone has popped out of its holder, and has nestled itself deep within my costume. I make a few attempts to locate it, but it seems to be out of reach. I up my volume a bit, and I think that Patrick at the sound desk raises the levels too. Keep ploughing on.
I come to unbutton my frock coat for the arrival of Fred, and the button comes off in my hand. I surreptitiously slide it into my pocket to repair tomorrow. Plough on. When I (Scrooge) fall into a deep and heavy sleep, I unbutton waistcoat, find the microphone and re-clip it, and I am back in the correct furrow to continue ploughing on – except that in no time the microphone pops off again, and is dangling down the front of my waistcoat, popping and banging. Again I re-clip it. Plough on, but without making any overly-energetic movements from now on.
In the middle of all of these adventures the show itself is going very well. The night-time setting is beautiful and adds so much atmosphere to the story. The audience are enthusiastic and respond well to everything. On I go, until towards the end of the show I produce my pocket watch and it falls off its chain – really? I must have done something very bad lately, for I think I am being tested at every turn! Plough on toward the end.
Despite all of the little issues, it has been a really fun show and the audience show their appreciation vocally, as well as by their applause.
The routine of changing and signing is repeated, and again there is a long line waiting, with plenty of programmes to be signed. Hedda, Susan and Karen hover round and when we are finished we have a brief discussion about tomorrow and what we can do to solve the various problems that arose today, before I go to change.
As I am able to leave all of my costume in the board room it is not long before I get into my car and return to the hotel, where I have a delicious grilled salmon and jasmine rice dish for supper, and then return to my room and get ready for sleep.