Today is an early start, although it doesn’t make much difference, as I am still generally waking at around 4 each morning. For the next two days, I will be working with the Mid Continent Public Library Service, who are based in Independence, Missouri, and have branches across the Metro area.
In 1994 I made my very first trip to America, and Kansas City was one of the venues. I performed in some of the library branches back then, and have done so on every year that I have toured, making this my longest continuous booking in the world.
I finish off my blog, having written most of it last night, and post it, before showering and getting ready to meet Kimberly Howard in the hotel lobby at 6.30. The hotel is surprisingly busy at this hour, as there is a bus tour leaving soon and all of the passengers’ cases are being loaded up, while their owners all grab coffee and pastries from the little buffet.
In no time the automatic doors swish open and Kimberly arrives. We have worked together for most of my visits here and are old friends. We get into her car and drive the very short distance to the Woodneath Library, which is a modern facility built onto an historic farmhouse.
We are greeted at the door by members of library staff, including Kimberly’s colleagues Dylan, Emily and Mary: the latter two from the public relations department. I sip my coffee and chat as we wait for the film crew from KMBC 9 to arrive, which they do before 7am.
The news reporter is Mike Augustine and we are to do four live spots over the next hour or so, as well as a few recorded pieces that he can insert into a feature that will be played through the day. We chat informally and Mike is constantly searching for topics which may work during the broadcast. As we talk Mike is getting instructions through his earpiece and punctuates our conversation with ’15 minutes out’; ‘in 5’; ‘Ok, ready to go….in 30. Up in 15’
And then we are on TV, being beamed into thousands of Missouri homes. In no time our slot is wrapped up and we all relax until the whole thing is repeated.
The morning drifts by until our last segment is completed and I can concentrate on preparing for the performance at 10. More members of the library staff have arrived, and are preparing to meet the guests who generally turn up early. There are boxes of souvenir programmes to be sold, and they are the only merchandise here, so it will be interesting to see how they go.
All of the events that Mid Continent put on are free, but people have to register online, so that there is some degree of control over numbers. The first three shows will all be in library branches, and they are fully subscribed – I have some loyal fans here!
Having checked the microphone system, and rigged a large CD player up, we open the doors and let the public in. I am delighted to see that most of them are holding programmes. A school party arrive and are ushered into seats on the left-hand side of the room, whilst most of the audience sit on the right. With five minutes to go there is still a large block of seats unfilled, and then the news comes through that another school group are not after all attending. This is frustrating for everyone, as it leaves 75 seats unfilled – and there has been a long waiting list for tickets.
I start the show, walking through the audience from the back and reaching the stage as the bells toll long and low. I turn to face the audience and begin. Right from the start it is clear that this is a very lopsided audience: all of my loyal fans in one bank of seats, and a rather bored school party in the other. I have to be very careful not to perform only to the good side, even though my best efforts are met with blank stares and large yawns from the students!
It is not a great performance, but everyone applauds generously when it is finished.
I change and when I emerge there is quite a line waiting at my table, the large majority of whom have the souvenir programme open at the autograph page: this is what Ian and I imagined back in the summer, when we first started planning.
Among the guests are two very loyal fans, Don (who has been to pretty well every performance that I have given in Missouri), and Doug, who is equally committed. I talk to both at length, and Doug very kindly presents me with some Banana loaf, baked by his wife.
The library clears until it is only the staff left, and I get changed into regular clothes for the first time today and pack up all of my costumes into Kimberly’s car. There is a Panera Bread restaurant nearby, so we grab some lunch (I am famished having had no breakfast this morning) and tuck into a bowl of soup and a delicious salad.
After we have finished, Kimberly drops me back to the hotel where I have a few hours down time.
My first commitment is to call Erin, the journalist whomwell I forgot yesterday morning. I make my sincere apologies, and we talk for twenty minutes or so, so that she can compile her piece, which is related to my appearance in Bethlehem PA: it is a lovely thought that by the time I am there Liz will be with me.
I have a coffee and eat some of Mrs Doug’s Banana bread as I relax, when a message comes in from Kimberly – there is a local radio station that wants to record an interview, can we meet in the hotel lobby at 4?
Down I go again, where Kimberly, Emily and the reporter Sarah are waiting. We all sit around a little square table, as if we are settling down to a game of Bridge. Sarah places a little digital microphone in the middle of the table and we chat for a few minutes, before it is all wrapped up.
There is still an hour before we have to leave, so I go back to my room for some more down time, and as I turn on the TV it is tuned to KMBC channel 9, who are still showing the clips that Mike Augustine filmed this morning. His feature starts with a long shot of him walking down the main corridor at Woodneath holding the programme in his hand. Now we can truly say: ‘The new souvenir programme, as featured on TV!’
Time is pushing on, so I have a shower to wake myself up a little, and get ready for the evening show, which is in the Smithville branch some twenty minutes away. Kimberly is in the lobby and we set off among the rush-hour traffic. Actually, we arrive in good time and the 150 or so seats are still empty. It is a small space but there is still a microphone system, because libraries are designed to soak up noise, and can be very hard work. Unfortunately, the only microphone available is a small headset, which I have never got on well with: I must have strangely-shaped ears as such headsets always fall off with my leaping around the stage.
In the end, I hit upon the idea of sewing the headset inside my waistcoat, allowing the microphone to sit on the surface of the fabric, in the position where a normal lapel mic would be. I sit in a little closet, on a chair made for a 5 year-old, knees high up round my shoulders, and carefully start to sew. When it is finished, I am rather proud of my handiwork!
The audience is arriving by this time, and there is no time to check the sound for levels, but I am reassured that when we switch the system on there at least is a signal (I was worried that I may have put a needle straight through a vital wire).
I stand at the door and chat with the crowd as they arrive, some old friends (Doug is here again, with his wife and two sons), as well as some people who are seeing the show for the first time.
It is full crowd this time and at 7pm I start. Immediately I know that the sound level is too high, and I have to be careful not to project too much (difficult for me to do), and there are occasional whistles of feedback when I stray too close to the speakers. However, I modify my movements and delivery as the show goes on and settle down into a good rhythm. It is hot in the room, and I am putting a great deal of energy into this performance.
At the end the audience stands and applauds as I gratefully take my rather damp bows.
Changing is more difficult this evening, as I am still attached to the microphone; so carefully have to unplug the leads, before taking my waistcoat off and hanging it up. My sewing has proved up to the task, although I notice another button hanging loose, so that is a job for tomorrow.
There is a long line waiting for me, and I sign and pose for quite a while. Doug and his family wait patiently until the end and then we take a picture for their official Christmas Card shot.
Finally, I change and pack up all my things, and say good bye to the librarians, who have been so welcoming here.
Kimberly drives me back towards my hotel and we have dinner in The Country Café, a good old fashioned country-style restaurant, where I have fried chicken and slaw, surrounded by old enamel advertising signs, and a wonderful vintage Indian motorcycle.
5am seems a long time ago and we are both very tired, so we drain the last of our sodas and Kimberly drops me back to the hotel where I have just enough time to air my costumes before falling asleep.
Your shows in the Kansas City metro were as usual, fantastic. Seeing you perform puts me not only in the Christmas spirit, but just a fantastic mood all around. The more I see your show, the more I appreciate the effort you put into it and the nuances associated with it. Last year I asked you what your favorite version of the Christmas Carol is and I mentioned that mine was the 1951 version. That has now changed. By far my favorite version, is your version. You transport me back to the 1800s and London. I truly feel as if I am experiencing the story taking place around me. Your great-great Grandfather would be/is very proud of you. I wish you and your family a Very Merry Christmas.