From Monday to Wednesday I had three days to myself, in which to relax, recharge and play – this is what I got up to:
After a run of seventeen straight days of either rehearsing or performing I was completely shattered by Sunday night. After the show I met with my good friends David Keltz and his wife Teresa who had flown in from Baltimore just to see the show, which was incredibly supportive and generous of them. We naturally made our way to Brits Pub and coincidentally sat at the same table where my interview had been filmed two days before.
We talked about the show and ate a hearty dinner, but I was fading slowly and returned to the apartment a little before 9, where I went straight to bed and into the soundest sleep.
A Floppy Day
On Monday I had said that I would join David and Teresa for a bit of sightseeing, so I got out of bed, went to the gym to run, came back, had breakfast, and then could do nothing! I was having what Liz and I call ‘a floppy day’, when body and mind cry ‘ENOUGH!’
I sent a message to my friends, knowing that they would fully understand (David is an actor who also performs one man shows), and spent the rest of the day in the apartment doing not very much, and letting my body slowly recharge.
In the evening I was due to meet with a gentleman whom my brother had met in London at a meeting of The Pickwick Club. Ian made the introductions and after a bit of emailing back and forth we found a time that we were both available to meet for a drink. Jeff owns a café and restaurant in downtown Minneapolis and I decided to book a cab to visit him. No, not a cab – Uber. I have lived a sheltered life and tend to come to new ideas late in the day, and this was my first experience of the revolution in the taxi industry. I was enthralled as I booked my car using the app and then watched the little icon navigate the streets of Minneapolis as it drove to pick me up at the door of the apartment. It was rather like playing a live version of Pacman!
Jeff’s café is in the St Anthony’s district of town, right next to the rapids and falls in the Mississippi River around which the city grew. He is a cool dude (not your usual Pickwickian), and reminded me rather of the actor Ted Danson. We had a nice time, and he showed me his venues, including a function room overlooking the river in which he would like to stage some theatrical events. I know my Christmas tour is almost booked for 2017 now, but I will put him in touch with the Byers and maybe something will grow from it.
Unfortunately Jeff had a business meeting so our visit was only a short one, however that suited me as I was ready for another early night.
On Yer Bike!
On Tuesday I was feeling a lot more with it, so contacted David and Teresa and invited them to breakfast at my favourite diner. We spent a very happy hour or so talking about the show and where it might go from here. They were very enthusiastic about the prospects of To Begin With, which was exciting to hear: as a team you tend to get so wrapped up in a project and it is reassuring to know that an outsider’s perception is as positive as our own.
After breakfast they had to get back to the hotel to pack and check out, and I set off to explore my surrogate home town further.
Minneapolis has a system of rental bikes, as most large cities do these days, and after the long cold Minnesotan winter, the scheme had just been re-launched for the summer of 2017.
I signed up for a day’s pass, and hopped on the first bike and rode towards the Target Field Baseball stadium, where I purchased a Minnesota Twins Baseball cap, to keep the sun of my exposed forehead.
Each bike rental is for thirty minutes and if you go over that time you have to pay a penalty fee – even though I had paid for twenty four hours – so I had to make sure that I switched bikes often. At the stadium I returned my first bike to the rack and took another one before cycling back down to St Anthony’s, where I spent longer walking along the trails by the riverside, and admiring the old mill buildings, which are being restored and turned into luxury studio apartments. I walked across the famous stone arch bridge (so called because….well you can guess)
On the south bank of the river there is a partially demolished mill, onto the back of which has been built a modern glass and steel building: it is a very impressive structure, and houses a museum of mill life in the city.
Before I took another bike from the nearby stand, I returned to the Guthrie Theatre where I had seen King Lear two weeks ago, and explored right up to the 9th floor, where there is an amber box giving an extraordinary view on all sides (including down, as it has a glass floor).
Time was moving on now, and I had to get back to the apartment ready for a live radio interview, so I took another bike and cycled through the heart of downtown Minneapolis and dropped my transport off right outside the Historic Wesley Center – what a fun day.
The interview was taking place at The Daniel Group’s offices in the Wesley Center, and Rosalie was there to let me in. Actually it wasn’t an arduous task, for the presenter spent most of the thirty minutes telling his listeners how he had seen the show two years ago and how great it was, and how they couldn’t miss it, and how they must see it. Really we got a thirty minute drive-time commercial for free, which was excellent.
At 4.30 it was time to move on again, and I was in for a wonderful relaxing, gentle evening in the company of our production designer Bob and his wife Mary, who had invited me to dinner. They live a fair distance away, so Bob came to pick me up, and we drove through the rush hour traffic towards the beautifully-named Apple Valley suburb.
On the doorstep I met Mary and the third member of the household, Buddy an energetic little ball of fur – a Chinese Shih Tzu.
Bob had been anxious that the evening should be relaxing, away from the city, away from work, away from restaurants and diners, and he succeeded on all counts. It was such a fun, gentle, friendly time, and a great way to relax. Between them Bob and Mary had prepared a salad and a delicious beef stew, followed by a homemade cherry pie with ice cream. Time seemed to slip by unnoticed as we chatted about all sorts of things, and Buddy curled up next to me on the couch and nestled against me as he slept. I felt very welcomed and very at home. A lovely end to a lovely day.
Take me to the Ball Game!
On the third and last of my free days I had discovered that the Minnesota Twins would be playing the Kansas City Royals at Target Field, so I had bought a ticket to go to my first ever ball game.
I arrived early, but the crowds were not big for a midweek, lunchtime fixture. Various people had also told me that the Twins had had an awful season last summer, so the ticket sales were down.
I checked into the stadium and got my first glimpse of the field, which was smaller than I had imagined. I walked all around the gallery behind the actual seating on my level and took in the ever-present smell of bratwurst and beer. As the noon-day start time approached I took my seat: section 133, row 3, seat 12, and found myself surrounded by…nobody. I had purposefully booked a seat next to others, so that I could play the foolish Englishman and ask about the game as it unfolded, but section 133 was deserted! Maybe the other seats were taken by season ticket holders, who had elected not to come today. Anyway, I settled in to take in as much as I could on my own.
The game started with the raising of the American flag by a military veteran who got all of the admiration and respect that he deserved. The anthem was played by a high school marching band who perkily marched onto the field and then perkily marched off again!
And the game started. With the assistance of Google (made possible by free wifi throughout the stadium) and my own observations I began to understand more and more of the game. Oft heard phrases such as ‘top of the fourth’, and ‘bases are loaded’ began to make sense, and I got more involved with slow progression through the 9 innings.
I had assumed that American sport would be action-packed and with constant scoring (as basketball or ice hockey is), but actually the scoring opportunities in baseball are few and far between, and by the fifth inning the score was 3-0 to the Twins. A game of twenty-twenty cricket would be much more exciting to watch, which is an extraordinary thought.
As the game moved on I went to buy a healthy lunch of bratwurst smeared with mustard and ketchup, a mug of beer and a bag of peanuts in their shells (Dennis had told me that this was the required dining option at the ball game)
For the second half of the game I walked around the balcony so that I could watch from different angles, and chatted with people similarly huddled under the heated lamps. I learned a little more about the sport, one guy telling me: ‘only one thing you need to know about baseball – the New York Yankees suck! I love watching them get beat as much as I loved watching the Twins win!’ Many people feel the same about the top rich teams in English Premiership football.
I felt much more part of the crowd standing among the hot dog stands, and cheered lustily with the rest of the ground at the bottom of the seventh when the Twins suddenly added 6 runs to their score.
That flurry of scores settled the match, as the Royals had only managed a single run, and the crowd were in a happy mood as the 9th inning began.
With KC up first they had to score a further 8 runs to make the Twins bat again, and they showed no signs of getting close. 1 batter out, and two, and the third with two strokes against him, and now the crowd all stood and it was like being in the Coliseum as the Emperor gave the thumbs down sign. Sure enough the poor batter struck out and a roar rose from the crowd.
I really enjoyed my day at the game and would love to come back, and although I am sorry for all my friends in Kansas City, I was delighted that the Twins were triumphant.
I walked back through the busy streets of the city and back to the apartment. My days of rest were at an end and on Thursday I will be back on stage as Charles Dickens once more, but Minneapolis had cosseted me and looked after me and entertained me.
Whilst at Target Field I received an email alert with a link to the first online review of the show. Here it is: