Yet another 4am, this is getting VERY annoying now. As usual I sit up in bed and write the blog before getting ready for the day, and having breakfast.
As I get costumes and things together I have the TV on, and am once more amazed at US advertisements – most especially those that feature disasters in the home that require urgent work (burst pipes, electrical fires and domestic appliance failures). The advertisers always film the poor people who do not have the correct insurance coverage in grey hues, and they have furrowed brows and look very upset. The contractors, who are taking handfuls of cash for doing emergency work, have stained overalls, thinning hair and look somewhat seedy; but those homeowners who have taken out the wonder-coverage are filmed in startling colour, and beam bright large white-toothed smiles, as the young fit, chiselled-jawed workmen wave away any offer of payment.
Do advertisers really think that we are affected by such cheap ruses?
Kimberly arrives at the door at 8, and we set off for a longer drive today, heading south to the Colbern Road library branch. We arrive in good time, and as we arrive the microphone system is being set up. I am anxious to avoid the feedback problems of last night and want to get a sound check done as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Sarah, who set up the system yesterday, is not here and none of us can work out how to get any sound from it. We all prod and push and tweak to no effect, and Sarah cannot be tracked down. The audience is arriving and things are not looking good. At the last-minute Sarah is located and via phone she talks the library staff through the whole process and eventually we are able to get a sound check completed.
I retire to the office which has been set aside as a dressing room and busy myself re-sewing the loose button that I noticed last night: I am becoming quite adept with the needle and thread.
When I am dressed, I go out to watch the audience arrive and as I stand chatting to Kimberly a young boy comes up and hands me a picture. His mother says ‘tell him what it is of, Wesley dear’, but I don’t need him to tell me: it is Jacob Marley wrapped in chains, coloured blue, as a transparent ghost would be. He is watched by Scrooge in a top hat and holding a cane (drawn in black). He has been reading A Christmas Carol in preparation for seeing my show and has drawn the picture especially for me: I adore it!
It is another big crowd, around 140 or so, and they are a pleasure to perform for, although I am beginning to get a little frustrated by the 8×8 stage on which I perform in the libraries (the set is transported from venue to venue). Here at Colbern Road the audience are sat very close to the stage, so I can’t even get down to floor level to increase my acting space.
Despite the lack of movement, it is a good show – probably the best of the bunch here so far – and I am pleased with my efforts as I take my bows.
My dressing room is right at the back of the room, and I am skirting through the bookshelves to get there, when I am accosted by a lady, who seems familiar: ‘Hello Gerald, I knew your parents well. I’m Colette’.
Suddenly the years fall away and I am back in 1992. Back then my father made a few appearances in America, one of which was here in Kansas City. He had been engaged to assist in creating a giant Dickens Christmas Fair, which would take place within a convention centre of downtown. In 1992 he was in the City to promote the inaugural fair, which would take place the following year over which, of course, he would preside. Colette was mum and dad’s contact and she looked after them during their two visits.
She says ‘let’s chat when you are finished here’, and then sits patiently waiting for me. I change, and spend a long time with the signing line, the inhabitants of which have programmes to be personalised, and want lots of photos. Eventually however I have finished, and go to sit on a small sofa chatting to Colette, and now the memories really begin to flow. She has brought a folder of correspondence, which she would like the family to have back: letter’s carefully and accurately typewritten, with dad’s spidery signature at the bottom. As I look at them it is if I am back in his little office at home, smelling of cigarette smoke (the office, not me), dad sat at his desk peering over his half-moon glasses, thinking hard about how to address a certain point or how to phrase a sentence in the most effective way.
And then there is Colette’s scrap book, with wonderful pre-digital pictures showing mum and dad in costume, integrating themselves into the festivities. They were extremely popular in Kansas City and is so, so moving to see them: real, genuine Ghosts of Christmas Past.
I could chat to Colette for hours but unfortunately I have to get on. We pose for pictures, and hug. What a wonderful morning, and I feel intensely moved and proud of how cherished mum and dad were here, and what they achieved.
Dad would say: ‘don’t be so silly Gerry, you have a job to do, and you must do it well. Now, get on with it!’ and so, my day falls back into its routine.
Kimberly drives me back towards the hotel, and as we ride we are in a nostalgic mood, unsurprisingly. As we head towards Liberty the conversation comes around to Kimberly’s car, a rather wonderful burnt-orange Pontiac Grand Prix, which she has had for many years and which has ferried me to many events. Kimberly says that recently little things have started going wrong, and she fears that it will soon be time to get a new car, and that she will so miss this one when it finally goes.
Alost on cue steam starts billowing from the bonnet, and the temperature gauge begins to creep towards the red. There is a smell of hot engine coolant, rather worryingly mixed with burnt oil. As we get closer to the hotel the engine starts to die, and we are just able to make it into a parking lot, before it gives up for good. We open the bonnet (hood), and peer at the steaming, wet, oily engine beneath. It doesn’t look hopeful.
Kimberly calls for the roadside recovery service, and also a friend who is a mechanic, to come and rescue her. We are only a few hundred yards from the hotel, so I unload all of my costumes and walk the rest of the way.
The afternoon passes, and I get bulletins from Kimberly: the car has been towed to the friends; the alternator needs replacing; they don’t know if the engine received any irreparable damage yet. The upshot of it all: can I drive to the event this evening? Her friend will bring her to the hotel. Poor Pontiac. Poor Kimberly.
At 4.30 I get my things together and meet her in the lobby. She has brought the various things that she needs for the evening performance (including boxes of programmes) and they are loaded on a luggage cart. We pack everything into my Camry, and head off to The John Knox Pavilion in Lee’s Summit. It is strange driving on these roads, with Kimberly watching; I feel rather nervous
It is about a forty-five minute drive through rush-hour traffic, but we reach our destination without any incident.
The John Knox Pavillion is a huge pyramid venue, which can hold well over a thousand people if it is being used as a rock concert. Tonight, they are expecting almost 600 people to attend. That is an awful lot of chairs!
My technical needs are looked after by the resident crew headed up by Kent (I’d remembered his name as Clark…but he is definitely a Superman when it comes to AV). We greet each other like old friends, and he shows me to the dressing room behind the stage. I put on a costume shirt and waistcoat before returning to the stage for a sound check. My words boom and echo trough the space, over 600 empty chairs.
With over an hour to go before the show, the audience start to arrive, so I retire to my dressing room to relax. As I sit, I decide to check something in the original text of a Christmas Carol: this year I have inserted a new line into the show, which ties two scenes together: when Scrooge is shown the grave by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, I have been saying: ‘Here, then, Scrooge was to learn the identity of the man who had lain upon the bed’. But I know it is not correct. I go online and search for the genuine quote which is: ‘Here, then, the wretched man whose name he had now to learn, lay underneath the ground.’ It’s OK, but it doesn’t quite work in the context of the performance. Ah! How about Scrooge’s later line to the spirit when he actually sees his name on the grave: ‘
‘Am I that man who lay upon the bed?’ Yes, that works, I will use that.
Time is passing and I get into costume ready for one of the biggest shows of the tour. I stand at the edge of the stage as Dylan makes my introduction and then walk into the lit space to the strains of Manheim Steamroller.
It is so nice to be back on a large stage with so much room to move, and all of the audience’s attention focused on me, thanks to the dark auditorium, and bright stage lighting. It is a wonderful feeling and I really feel as if I belong here. The movements are crisp, and the lines flow. I can hear giggles and sobs as the story progresses.
And now I am in the Churchyard, and Scrooge falls to his knees: ‘Am I the man who lay upon the bed?’ And now I pay the price for poor and incomplete preparation. Yes, I say the line correctly, but confuse myself as to where I am in the scene, and have no idea what comes next. I fumble around and keep the speech going, but end up repeating a line. It is a messy end to what has been an impressive show, and I am so angry with myself for not delaying the new piece without rehearsing it properly. DAMN!
I get back on track, and bring the show to a close and the audience stand and applaud. It has been a good evening’s work, but tinged with frustration. I must make amends next time.
The signing line is waiting for me as I emerge from my dressing room, and I spend half an hour or so signing programmes, and chatting to audience, all the time feeling the energy and adrenaline deserting me steadily. It has been an intense evening and I am definitely ready to relax.
I finish up, and return to the dressing room to get everything packed, not forgetting my scarf which is still on the stage. The hall is almost empty when I re-emerge and I say good bye and thank you to Kent, before loading my things into the Camry.
Kimberly and her boss Dylan are coming to dinner with me and we chose a nearby Olive Garden restaurant. I have a bowl of minestrone soup, followed by grilled salmon.
The restaurant is on the point of closing and the staff rather unsubtly let us know that we are not welcome anymore (much to the embarrassment, it must be said, of our young server). We dutifully finish our meals and leave, and in the cold parking lot I say my goodbyes to Dylan and Kimberly, before driving the 45 minutes’ home to the hotel.
Another Mid Continent adventure has ended, and when I return next year it will be similar, but with a few changes, and some new faces (not least a new car for Kimberly). One thing that will always remain however are the ghosts of Christmases Past, in the form of my parents.