Monday morning, and a new week begins. Today I have two shows in separate library branches, buy my day’s work will begin with a live TV interview to help promote the forthcoming events as well as getting some exposure for Mid-Continent Public Library.
I take the opportunity to load some costume shirts into the ground-floor laundry which can clean as I am eating my breakfast, so that I will have a good stock for the rest of my performances in the mid west . I potter around in my room until it is time to get into costume and meet Kimberly in the lobby for the 20 minute drive into the heart of downtown Kansas City, and the studios of the local NBC affiliate KSHB-TV Chanel 41.
We make good time and arrive quite early, so sit in the lobby surrounded by posters of tanned, white-teethed presenters.
After a while some more of the team from the library service arrive: Dylan, a colleague of Kimberly’s who will be interviewed with me, Emily from the marketing team, and Tommy who looks after all of the company’s social media and who is already touting the camera on his phone in the way that the old pioneers touted their Smith and Wessons in the same neighbourhoods way back when.
Shortly after 11 we are ushered into a studio and as ever I am amazed to witness news television from behind the scenes. These days there are is only one camera operator and he is sat behind a desk, controlling the whole fleet. Suddenly, without warning, cameras will start to glide around the floor rather like the Daleks in Dr Who, bent on taking over the world.
After a bit of travel and a bit of weather Dylan and I are ushered onto the stage ready for our slot and we are joined by Cynthia Newsome who will be conducting the interview. As is the way with these things it is all over in a flash, but goes very well – I talk about my long history with Mid-Continent, and Dylan gushes about how great it is to have me in town. All of the event details are flashed up onto the screen over some video of me performing at Byers’ Choice a few years ago and everybody achieves what they wanted to achieve.
After our piece is over, and when the meteorologist on the far side of the studio is waving his arms around against a blank green screen, we pose for selfies on the set, before we leave and Cynthia returns to her desk.
There is still a little time before my first show, so Kimberly drops me at the hotel where I can relax for a while.
The first performance today is at the Parkville library branch, a drive of about 30 minutes. When we arrive the audience is already filling up the rows of metal seats which have been arranged amongst the book shelves. The set is the wrong way round (ie the armchair upstage left instead of right, and the stool on the opposite side). I can easily flip that once our sound check has been completed. Ah. The microphone system resolutely refuses to produce any noise. We check every connection, every dial, every volume control, every button, but from the speakers comes there nothing. An occasional ‘pop’ or crackle, but no voice.
The audience are still gathering and our start time is getting ever closer. Phone calls are made and instruction books are sought but without moving us on any further.
As we peer at the tangle of leads a snippet of conversation reaches me from the front row of the audience, and it is one of those moments when you wish you were privy to the whole tale: a lady’s voice says ‘This T-shirt saved my life on Mount Rushmore….’ But I never hear the details of the story! It would be a rather good title for an essay contest.
The head librarian at the branch is getting nervous as we are now running late, so the decision has to be taken to perform without amplification today. I run back to my dressing room to finish getting ready, and am not in the best frame of mind to do a performance. The frustrating thing is that we have had the same problem with this microphone system for the last 2 years, and we just can’t get to the bottom of it. I am rather short and snippy with everyone as I stride to the stage.
In itself performing without a microphone isn’t really an issue (I did exactly that in Pigeon Forge and at The Hermitage, as well as at the High School in Riverside), but the issue here is the venue itself: it is a library. Libraries are designed to be quiet, and to suck extraneous sound up. I must not strain my voice, but will have to work much harder than usual to make sure that everyone can hear.
I start the show, gauging how much I need to project to include everyone in the audience and trying to adjust my output accordingly. Things are not helped by the fact that I never got around to switching the stage around and am trying to make my moves in reverse. A couple of times I stride to a chair that is not there but on the whole I adapt pretty quickly.
The best part of this show is the audience who are completely onside and enthusiastic from the very start. Perhaps they are extra supportive because they know of the technical difficulties (after all they watched them unfold before their very eyes), or perhaps it is just one of those days when a certain group of disparate individuals come together to form a positive mass, but they spur me on and bring out the best in me.
It is a good performance, and I am very pleased with the response, although worried about my throat and voice. As soon as I have taken my bows I go back to my dressing room and drink lots of water and suck a Fisherman’s Friend lozenge. I sign plenty of programmes and take the plaudits, whilst trying not to talk too much, having lapsed already into preservation mode.
When it is time to say goodbye I rebuild a few bridges, before getting into Kimberly’s car for the drive back to the hotel. Kimberly is so apologetic and arrangements have already been made to bring a professional sound crew in for tonight’s big show, which is reassuring.
Back at the hotel I have a sandwich for lunch, even though it is 4pm, and soak in a hot bath, which is wonderful. I do nothing until getting ready for the evening’s performance, which is at the nearby branch at Woodneath, a matter of 5 minutes up the road. At 6 I am in the lobby and make myself a black tea with honey and wait for Kimberly, who as ever arrives on time.
Woodneath is one of my regular stops and I am greeted by the enthusiastic staff who always put on fantastic shows there. In the past I have performed in their ‘program room’, but this year they have laid out the stage in the library itself, which allows a much larger audience, they are expecting around 350. The seating is arranged in three banks: the largest one is straight out in front of me, the other two at 90 degrees to left and right, meaning that I must remember to include everyone in the show.
The sound guy is called Connor, and fits my microphone to my waistcoat before switching it on: and there is sound, wonderful, distorted, loud sound. Connor adjusts everything from his hand held tablet, and will monitor the levels throughout the show and adjust them as necessary: oh, it is nice to have a pro on board!
The audience are arriving in their droves, the majority clutching our wonderful red souvenir programmes in their hands, for the staff on the door are doing a great job in selling them hard.
I have two interviews to conduct before the performance, one for a newspaper and one for a videographer who is filming some of the show on behalf of Mid-Continent so that they will have extra promotional material in the future. Once the pre-show commitments are completed, I have another Fisherman’s Friend and stand at the back of the library listening to the fabulous carol singers, and watching the audience swell.
It is a BIG show! A lovely show. I work hard and the audience responds. my movements are slightly hampered by the seating layout (in that if I walk into the main bank of the audience, the two side areas cannot see me), but it is not too much of a problem and I once again I adapt quickly. Connor is hovering with tablet in hand listening intently and obviously enjoying the show.
One member of the audience catches my eye particularly – a tall bald-headed man with smiling eyes. From my vantage point this gentleman is the spitting image of the actor Patrick Stewart, who of course toured his own one man production of A Christmas Carol for many years, in between flying around the universe in control of the star ship Enterprise. Of course it is not Patrick Stewart (it seems unlikely), but the fact that I think it is, and that he is so obviously enjoying the show, gives me quite a confidence lift!
It is a great fun evening and I get that wonderful high of performing to such a large crowd. The reactions are amazing and the cheers that accompany a long standing ovation are so welcome. As Percy Faith’s rousing version of ‘Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly’ rings out through the library, I stride off to change.
My signing session is going to be back in the Program Room where I used to perform and the staff have laid on plenty of cookies and drinks for people to enjoy as they wait. There is a long line waiting at my desk when I re-emerge from the little plant room that doubles as my dressing room, and in no time I am signing programmes and smiling at the backs of smart phones.
One lady arrives at my table and presents me with a bunch of flowers! She reads my blog daily, and had responded to my remark in Riverside that I had never received flowers after a performance! How very, very thoughtful. Now, I need to say here that I have never been presented with a Ferrari after a show……..the ball is in your court blog lovers!
Not only does she give me a bunch of flowers, but also a can of freshly made choc-chip cookies to accompany me on my travels. She has carefully decorated a Pringles canister, so that the cookies can remain fresh and will not get broken as I make my way East during the next few days. Thank you so much, your generosity is very touching.
The evening winds down and the Library becomes quiet once more. It is time to leave and as there is a Longhorn Steakhouse nearby, we decide to have dinner there (‘we’ being Kimberly, Dylan and myself.)
As we sit in our little booth Dylan talks about the shows and how I manage to adapt to different venues so easily. Dylan always expresses himself in a fabulously literate way, and in making his point he comes up with a spectacular phrase, he says: ‘It is amazing at every performance to watch you devouring the space anew.’
I like that!
I am tired, but the hotel is only 5 minutes away, so when dinner is over it is but a tiny hop back to my room. A challenging day in some respects but ultimately a very satisfying one.