Yesterday saw me once again waking at 2.30, which was slightly frustrating to say the least.  Having read for a while I got up, grabbed an orange juice and sat down at the table watching the full video coverage of the 2015 show, making notes in my script as I went.  Actually, and this will come across as rather arrogant I am sure, but I am rather impressed with the video!  Everything was very clear and nicely timed and the look of the show was superb – it was quite inspiring to watch and made me realise where I have to get to in the space of the next week or so.

The rehearsal was not called until 12, so I had a bit of time during the morning and thought that I would walk into the heart of Minneapolis to Macys and try to buy a new pair of trousers to replace my ink stained ones from the flight over.

But I was to be disappointed.

Macy’s is on a long thoroughfare through the entre of Minneapolis – Nicolett Avenue, but currently the whole street is a building site – the road is dug up and there are rusty pipes and iron stanchions littering the way where cars and busses used to run. 

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The consequence of this massacre is that businesses along Nicollet Mall are failing, including Macy’s.  When I pushed the revolving door it was as if I was entering another dimension, for there was nothing.  All of the shelves, at least those that remained, were empty, while tills and keyboards littered the floor.  A few desultory rails were being pored over by a few bargain hunters drawn in by the large ’80 or 90% off EVERYTHING!’ signs.

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When Liz and I were here two years ago Macy’s was an elegant and vibrant store, and now it is on its last legs, in the death throes.  The shop was originally a grand old independent department store, Daytons, and every city of note had such a store, but big bucks bought them up one by one – Filene’s in Boston and Strawbridge’s in Philadelphia suffered the same fate.  Who knows what business will move in when the construction is over, but the days of downtown shopping are gone – all out to the Mall of America these days.

It was with a sad and heavy heart that I walked back home (I did pop into Barnes and Noble too, only to find ‘Clearance Sale’ signs there too, although it was nice to see a display featuring A Christmas Carol and a compendium of Dickens’ novels carefully arranged a Bible – very apt).

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At 12 the team gathered once more, and Bob, the designer, had brought in plenty of bits of costume for me to use.  And so did Jeffrey.  And so did Dennis.  Plenty to go round, then.  We set the stage as well as we could, in the absence of the formal constructed set, and set forth to rehearse the complicated scene four, which we all still call ‘the second act’

To be honest, I wasn’t terribly pleased with the rehearsal, and the lines were not as accurate or slick as I would have liked.  I actually think that watching the video this morning was not helpful, in that I now want to be performing like that all the time – but this IS a rehearsal process, and we all learn by mistakes and problems.  My problem is that every time I stand on the stage I want to give a perfect performance, and then get frustrated when I don’t manage it.

We spent plenty of time on scene four, and fettled it so that the various costume pieces and props all end up in the right place at the right time.  

After a break, and Jeffrey’s notes, we moved onto scenes 1-3, which are less complicated from a movement point of view, although there is still the issue about how to move from one scene to another in full view of the audience.  Michael the composer was there and had prepared some lovely linking music, so that the audience will know what is happening, while Dickens changes his suit, and cravat in front of them.  It is interesting to see how the 2017 version of the show is now moving in a new direction – its own direction, and is finding its own identity.  Nothing remains the same, nothing CAN remain the same, and out of the old grows the new, in the same way that Dayton’s became Macy’s and Macys will become whatever it becomes.

We are not simply recreating an old version of To Begin With, we are mounting an all-new show, which naturally shares the DNA of the original.  Our new venue will become part of the fabric of the show, and we must embrace that.

From my point of view I don’t think I am completely immersed in Dickens himself yet, and during the afternoon run I took a decision – it is time to become my great great grandfather, so before the next rehearsal I shall take scissors and razor to my currently bushy beard (I have been letting it grow for months, so that it can be trimmed correctly), and leave just the straggling goatee that he favoured.

After a few more notes, and much more music/sound effect discussion, we wrapped things up at around 5pm.  Ben, Bob and Michael set to the task of clearing all of our equipment from the stage, so that the Church could be used for the regular Sunday services.

I made my now regular walk to Lund’s and bought all of the ingredients to make a spaghetti bolognaise – nothing pre-packaged here, I wanted to chop, slice, dice, season, fry, boil and simmer it all.

A simple dish of course, but one that brought me a great deal of pleasure to make.  While the sauce was gently cooking, I opened the balcony door and sat looking at the cityscape glowing golden in the setting sun as I sipped a glass of wine.  As I sat and relaxed I realised that I am being too hard on myself – yes, I must work harder and yes, I must concentrate more, but all in all the production is in good hands and it will be more than ready for the first previews in just over a weeks’ time.

I cooked the pasta, ladled the sauce onto it, sprinkled Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves and sat down to enjoy it with a clear head.

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