After last night’s show I can feel that my throat is tender and tired, so I dose up with various medicinal products, before getting ready to face the day.
My first priority is to get a load of laundry done, as I am running short of white costume shirts, so I bag them all up and head downstairs to the lobby. But – BUT – they have no guest laundry!! A Hampton Inn, with no laundry? I am astounded! I take my bulging bag back to the third floor. Fortunately I have two clean shirts, which will do for today, and then I will send a few to the laundry service at Hershey on my day off on Monday.
So, for now it is time to have breakfast. I get my costumes consolidated onto their hangers and take them down to put in the car. It is a gorgeous morning, and I am greeted with a spectacular sunrise; the fresh air feels good, and I take deep breaths. to fill my lungs. I don’t know if it is doing my throat any good, but it feels as if it is, and that is half the battle. Once again, the restaurant is full of the women’s basketball team. It appears that there is a match today, and everyone is checking out – most of the players are carrying bags in the shape of long ice-hockey sticks: call me a brilliant detective if you like, but I am beginning to think that perhaps they are not a basketball team after all…..
I don’t have to leave too early this morning: Hershey is just over an hour away, and there is no sound check until 1.30, so I have plenty of time to relax. I watch some TV, and lay on the bed, trying to do as little as possible, so as to let the faded batteries re-charge for today’s events.
At 11am I check out of the hotel and drive towards the Sweetest Place on Earth – Hershey, PA. I am on familiar roads, as I am not far from Chalfont, and I pass a sign to the Byers’ Choice headquarters, which gives me a warm glow of happiness: next time I am here, next weekend, Liz will be joining me.
The journey to Hershey is through beautiful pastoral landscape. If I were blindfolded and dropped into this scenery I would know instantly that I was in Pennsylvania, with the scattered dairy farms and their tall silos. Gently rolling hills give definition to the scene and it is a gorgeous drive.
Soon I see the Hershey Park, with its contorted rollercoasters, and take the turn up onto the hilltop where the twin-towered Hotel Hershey sits. As ever the lobby is very busy, with people checking out. Bellmen steer fully-laden tall brass carts to waiting cars and families say their farewells, slipping a tip as they do so. I am working against the tide, but am welcomed back to the hotel with real affection: ‘Oh, I don’t think we need to see any ID!’ My room is ready, and soon I am safely installed on the 4th floor.
At 1.30 I go to the Fountain Lobby, where I will be performing for afternoon tea. The microphone is there, but nobody from the AV department. That’s OK, they do a good job here and I know that someone will be monitoring the show itself. I turn the mic on, and do a few lines, as well as ‘One. Two. One. Two. Check check.’ I don’t know why I do that: I never do that!
Having turned the volume down a touch, I replace the mic, and go to buy a sandwich for my lunch, which I take back to my room to eat while I watch some golf from the Bahamas. I have plenty of time, as there is a full tea service before my actual show starts. The guests will arrive at around 2.45. and my performance will begin an hour after that. I usually am in costume early to greet the audience, but today I don’t want to talk, so that I can protect my voice for as long as possible: golf it is.
Finally, I get into costume, and go to the lobby at 3.30, and sure enough people want to talk and have pictures taken: the most important of these is young Derek, ten years old now, who comes to the show every year. He is very smart in a jacket, and respectfully shakes me by the hand. His grandparents bring him to the show, and it has become a tradition that they present me with a dozen bottles of beer (in honour of the line describing Fezziwig’s party). This year there is another gift too: after reading my blog and my musings about my favourite film version of A Christmas Carol, Derek and his grandparents have presented me with their favourite – Mr Magoo!
It is time to start. I get the nod from Kristy, who is running the tea service, and all of the servers leave the scene. It is a strange thing at Hershey that nobody is ever on hand to introduce me, so I am in the strange position of welcoming myself to the Hotel. What this does mean, however, is that I get to promote the souvenir programme. I have a copy in my hand and lay it on thick: ‘your chance to own a Dickens first edition’, ‘The first in a highly collectable series’ and the like. With the promo done I lay the programme on a table and start the show.
The Fountain Lobby is an odd venue, in that there is no stage, or focal point, and I have to weave a constant path among tea tables to make sure that everyone feels included in the show. As I get to the line ‘Scrooge took his usual melancholy dinner, in his usual melancholy tavern’ I find myself right by the table where I left the brochure. It is too good an opportunity to miss, so as I say ‘he read all of the newspapers’ I pick the programme up and study it intently, muttering ‘this is VERY interesting’ and them, as an aside to the audience: ‘we call it product placement!’ Everyone laughs and the existence of the programme is sealed in all of their minds.
Usually I find the Fountain Lobby a difficult show to do, but today it is exactly what I need after last night’s disappointing performance. A complete change is good, and I can just concentrate in the vocal performance, without worrying about staging or blocking. As I suspected the microphone levels are good, and I don’t have to project. Occasionally I feel myself losing self-control and starting to overdo it, but unlike last night I am able to rein myself in and regain control.
The audience listen intently, appreciating that the words, rather than the movements, are the most important thing. I get to the end and everyone stands as I bow to all four corners of the room.
There is a signing table set up and I go and sit there, as people bring their books and things up: books, tickets, fliers but hardly any programmes. Oh, here is one, and another, and this group have five. The gift shop which is selling the programme is downstairs in the main hotel lobby, so everyone who wanted one has had to run downstairs, and then come back up to have it signed. My shameless self-promotion worked well, as I sign plenty of them.
There is not a great deal of time between the afternoon tea and the dinner show, so I get back to my room and run a nice deep, hot bath, which feels luxurious and very comforting. When I get out I pad around the room in a fluffy dressing gown, and feel as if I could just lay on the bed and go to sleep for the night, but there is more work to be done.
I get robed up and go to the Castilian Room to do another sound check before the guests arrive, although some are already hovering outside the room, waiting for it to be opened. My voice is still raspy and croaky (the 8th and 9th of Snow White’s dwarfs), and I am a little worried about the show. Should I say something to the audience at the outset, make my excuses early? I will see how I feel when the time comes.
With the sound check completed the doors are opened and the guests begin to take their seats. I recognise almost everyone there, but most especially my dear friends David and Teresa (David is the actor who performs as Edgar Allan Poe, and they always come to see me at Hershey).
I have brought along a copy of my programme so I can promote it again, and one lady tells me that she had tried to buy one downstairs but the shop had sold out. I do have a stock of spare copies in my room, but am not sure what the contractual ramifications of cash sales in the hotel will be. Fortunately, the answer to that question is sitting two seats from me: I am at a large table, and have the Hotel’s general manager, Brian O’Day for company. Brian assures me that selling the programmes will be fine and he is just sorry that the hotel didn’t order more.
When all of the drinks orders have been taken and everyone is settled in, it is time to begin. As with afternoon tea, the dinner at Hershey isn’t a theatre performance in the conventional sense, although I do have a stage which is in the middle of the room. I perform each chapter of A Christmas Carol between the courses, ringing a bell at the end of each one to bring forth the next stage of the meal.
After Brian has said a few words of welcome I take to the stage and begin the show. The voice, although tender, feels ok, so I don’t mention anything in my introductory remarks. I do, however promote the programme again and say ‘unfortunately there are no more left in the store, so if you want one you want be able to buy one.’ A satisfying groan of disappointment rises from the audience, before I add, ‘although I have plenty in my room, so you can purchase one of those instead!’ and that gets a relieved round of applause.
The dinner and the performances run smoothly, although the final two chapters, which are run together, begin to take a toll on my voice. It has been a fun evening, with everyone joining in and laughing along the way.
I take my bows and return to my table, where a line quickly forms, with people desperate to get their hands on the programmes. $20 bills flutter onto the table in a somewhat unseemly, but very decadent way, creating quite a pile. By the end of the night I have sold an extra 15 copies, over and above those originally ordered by the hotel, making Hershey by far the best sales-to-audience ratio of the trip.
I pose for a few final photos and chat to a few final people, but my voice has really given up the ghost now and I can hardly speak. I should just retire to my room and rest, but I very much want to meet up with David and Teresa in the bar, as I haven’t had time to chat properly with them this evening.
I change quickly and go back to the bar where they are waiting for me, and so we settle into to chat about our respective careers, life on the road and things in general. David and Teresa are such easy company and as is always the way we are the last people in the bar when the lights are flashed on to encourage us out. I croak my goodbyes and return to my room.
Today was all about starting again, and rebuilding the show, in which I succeeded I think. Tomorrow I have a day off in which to fully relax and recuperate, before starting the final leg which will take me to the end of this years’ trip.