Today I have a longer drive, so I have to make sure that I am awake, showered, dressed and breakfasted by 8. I achieve the first goal and sit in bed writing the blog, which I post. Almost instantly I receive an email from WordPress congratulating me on my 200th post – That is quite an extraordinary thought, and I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of my regular readers.
I get up and makes sure that my two costumes are on their hangers, and ready to travel. I take them both downstairs to my car, before having a simple breakfast in the Speakers Corner restaurant.
Back in my room I get packed (not that there is much to pack), and haul my cases out of the room, ready to continue my day-by-day New England tour.
I start the engine bang on 8am, and pull out into the Nashua traffic. I have actually given myself plenty of time for the drive, and it is one of those curious situations whereby my journey would be quicker if I leave later, but I don’t want to risk it and prefer to be on the road.
David Tennant keeps me entertained with his reading of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as I make my way south towards Connecticut. It is a fine morning, and the low sun is dazzling as I drive.
My route takes me past some familiar names: Marlborough, Worcester and Providence from this tour, as well as a few from home: Glastonbury and Wallingford in particular. I am feeling very tired this morning, and I am struggling to keep my eyes open on some stretches of road; this isn’t helped by the passage in the novel in which Ernst Stavro Bloefeld hypnotises the ten girls in his allergy clinic. David Tennant does a superb job with the slow monotonous dialogue and I can feel myself going. I have to stop and drink coffee to wake me up again.
I am heading for the Black Rock Church in Fairfield, CT and when I pull up in front of it, it is an impressive sight indeed. A large glass front wall casts light into an impressive lobby, which was the main sanctuary until two years ago when the whole building was renovated.
Gary and Jennifer Bean from the Historical Christmas Barn are waiting for me to arrive and welcome me in the cavernous space. I have worked with Gary and Jennifer for five years, but this is our first time to perform in this venue. Gary gives me a quick tour, which includes the huge and truly amazing auditorium. The black seating is arranged almost in the round, with the centre being the semi-circular white stage. Viewed from the very back the whole room looks like a vinyl disk from my childhood.
I do not have much time to admire the view, as we are immediately heading off to the nearby town of Bridgeport, to read to some young students. Today’s event is entirely to benefit the Urban Impact organisation, which provides support and education for under privileged kids, who are housed in apartments run by the PT Barnum schools. Barnum came from Bridgeport, and I love the fact that these two great Victorian showmen are coming together today, to provide help in this way. Dickens cared passionately about the welfare of children, and indeed that issue was his inspiration to write A Christmas Carol. Barnum styled himself the Prince of Humbug, and Charles Dickens popularised that phrase through the lips of Mr Scrooge; and so is it apt that these two Princes of Humbug should unite today.
We are taken to one of the little schools by Chris, who heads up Urban Impact. I am in full Victorian garb, so attract plenty of attention as soon as I walk in. We are issued with bright green visitor stickers, and I attach mine to my top hat.
We are shown into a dining hall, where I will read a children’s version of A Christmas Carol to a group of 1st and 2nd grade children, each of whom will be given a copy of the book afterwards. Before the kids arrive, I sit at a low lunch table and sign all of the books, to save time later.
Although this is a children’s version, it is quite wordy, and I hope it won’t prove too long or difficult for them – Gary, Jennifer and Chris all have the same concerns, but we agree to play it by ear, and see what happens.
At 1.15 the students are shown in, and their various teachers offer various threats to keep them quiet. Chris introduces me, and it is time to read. ‘Marley was DEAD to begin with!’ That gets their attention! I read on, through the story and make the most of Scrooge snoring, which they like (as Gary pointed out, all bodily sounds are good for young kids!)
The reading goes by quickly, and the children are remarkably quiet and attentive. A few squirm and wriggle, but I am very pleased with the way it all goes. When the story is finished, we hand out the books and pose for a big group photograph, and the room is filled with sheer happiness.
Before we leave the Principal of the school asks f we could just say hi to the Kindergarten glass as well. I have no idea what to say to them, but end up letting each child wear my hat and scarf – that makes them happy!
We leave the school, and return to the Church where I change back into my regular clothes. I have a few hours now before the evening show, which gives me time to check into yet another hotel and get some much-needed rest. Before leaving I have a chat with the sound and lighting guy, who will be looking after the show. He can give me lots of different colours: chill, spooky blue for the churchyard scenes and rosy warm red for the Fezziwig party. Whey, there is even a fog machine to play with!
Gary leads me to the large Marriott Hotel, where I check in and go up to my room on the 3rd floor. I am delighted to find that the hotel has a guest laundry, and take the opportunity to bag up a load of costume shirts. I go to the lift and hit the down arrow, but as the doors close I am whisked up to the 5th floor, where nobody gets in. Oh, well. Back down to 1 again. I set the machine running and return to my room on the 3rd. Liz is online again, and we chat for a while, before I have to go and move the laundered shirts into the drier. Back at the lift, press down, and get taken to 5 again. Very curious.
Having set the drier, I go to the bar and order a crab cake sandwich, which is delicious and much needed.
I have to be back at the theatre by 5 for a sound check, so I get back to my room and have a shower to wake myself up (a good James Bond shower – hot first followed by very cold.)
I am now resigned to travelling to the lobby via the 5th floor, and the lift doesn’t disappoint, taking me to the heights, before dropping me down again.
Back at Black Rock I get fitted with the microphone and perform a few lines until the levels are set, and then retreat into my little dressing room (a family room off the main foyer space, where I can spread out and be alone). The time passes slowly, and I listen to Christmas music to get me in the mood. I am still feeling tired, and my throat feels tight: this week of constant travel is beginning to take its toll. As I am relaxing I hear the very sad news that the actor Andrew Sachs has died. Sachs created the brilliant character of Manuel in Fawlty Towers, and generations of British viewers delighted in his performances: Any laughs I may get tonight are in his honour.
7 o’ clock comes round, and I make my way back stage (this may be a Church, but it is laid out as a theatre, and a truly impressive one at that.) Firstly Chris welcomes the audience and says a little about Urban Impact, and then Jennifer comes to the stage to welcome me. The music plays and I make my way through a forest of Christmas trees, which mark the back of the set, and into the show.
Despite the circular embrace of the audience, it is actually quite difficult to gauge the feedback and I am rather worried that I am not connecting with them. I am very happy with my performance, which is highly committed and strong, but just somehow things don’t feel quite right. However, my fears are swept away with the ovation at the end which is amazing. I take my bows as cheers and whoops greet me.
There is a long signing line in the foyer and everybody is so enthusiastic and kind about the show, which is such a relief. Even after all these years, the fear of failure is paramount in my mind every time I step out to perform: we are a fragile and delicate breed, us actors.
When the guests have left, I get changed and pack all of my things into the car, before saying another goodbye to Gary, Jennifer, Chris and everyone who has helped to make the event so successful.
Back at the hotel I take the costumes to my room to air, before returning to the bar (via the 5th floor, of course), for some dessert.
Tomorrow morning I have another longish drive, so having finished a delicious apple cobbler with ice cream, I return to me room, get into bed, set the alarm and let sleep consume me.