I wake up at 5.15 this morning and have the awful thought that this time tomorrow I will have to be on the road, heading back to Omaha.
I am expecting a telephone call from the UK at 7 am, so I make sure that the blog is written and posted well before my Samsung begins to play ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac, my current ringtone.
The call takes rather longer than I had anticipated, and I have only a brief amount of time to gather my costumes together and get down to grab a bit of breakfast before Kimberly arrives to ferry me to the first of the day’s performances at the Blue Springs North branch, which is a slightly longer drive than the other venues this year.
We arrive in good time and I am delighted to find that Sarah has been called in from headquarters to look after the microphone today. Sarah is Mid-Continent’s ‘microphone whisperer’ as the system seems to respond only to her touch and nobody else’s. Sure enough everything bursts into life and I am amplified once more.
The show this morning is open to the public, but the large majority of the audience will come from a neighbouring elementary school next door, leading to the rather disconcerting sight of 200 empty chairs with 15 minutes to go. Soon however the doors open and the school children start pouring in.
It is a huge audience, but it is going to be an interesting challenge, as the show will be quite long and wordy for most of the crowd, but I cant really cut and simplify (as I would if it was exclusively for the school), as that would be unfair on those adults who have travelled to watch. This will be a compromise.
I start and to their huge credit the students are very attentive and well behaved, although they do not respond to many of the lines that usually get good reactions. The first big laugh comes when I plonk my top hat on one of their teacher’s head as Scrooge takes his usual melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern.
Another rather helpful prop is a huge mural running along one wall, which depicts a winter scene with a river and a town, so when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to such a place I can almost play the scene with a cinematic quality.
As the show goes on the concentration levels start to drop away a little and the students become fidgety and tired, with a few yawns in evidence. I cut a few passages from the script and don’t linger over moments that usually merit more attention in a full production, and push on towards the end, which is received with polite applause. However at the very back of the crowd the adult audience stand as they clap!
I change in the head librarian’s office and then return to the signing table where I undertake the shortest signing session of the tour: 6 people! Meanwhile all of the children flow through the door and head back to school.
The early start and the lack of signing means that I can get back to The Hampton Inn before midday. I am keen to get as much rest as I can today, for tomorrow is going to be an incredibly intense one. I spend time packing my case, so that I don’t need to do it late tonight, and then drive to Panera Bread where I have my favourite chicken noodle soup, served in a hollowed out bread bowl. The restaurant is full of people busily working on their laptops, which I suppose is the danger of offering free Wi-Fi to your customers.
With lunch finished I drive to WalMart because I want to replace the battery in my wrist watch, having noticed that at 6pm yesterday it was telling me it was 11. I find the jewellery counter and ask the rather frightening lady behind the desk if she can replace watch batteries? ‘That depends,’ she growls, ‘on how difficult it is to get the back off.’ She takes my Skagen watch and peers at it, then takes it to her work station. She selects a sharp implement and then, almost as an afterthought, asks ‘is it an expensive watch?’ This is turning into one of those conjuring tricks where the magician takes a Rolex from an audience member, wraps it in a cloth and then hits it with a hammer. I gulp ‘quite, yes’ The answer seems to change nothing and with a deft flick of the wrist the back of the watch is off. The battery is replaced, before the watch is put into a kind of crushing machine, which apparently is necessary to re-attach the back plate.
It is with great relief that I finally receive my watch (a present from Liz a few years ago) back unharmed. All of this cost me the grand total of $7.00
I return to the hotel and take the opportunity of having a free afternoon to phone home, and Liz and I catch up on our various adventures. Of course we are in email contact every day, but there is nothing quite like hearing each other’s voices.
The afternoon is a relaxing one, and I have nothing to report until 5.45 when I meet Kimberly once more and head off to our next venue, the Raytown branch. When I first travelled to the Kansas City area in 1994 the Raytown library was the first one I ever visited and I recall it was the night of a horrendous ice storm, something I had never seen before.
The weather today is better, although there is a keen wind blowing and I am very glad that I have my scarf wrapped around my neck. The staff at Raytown are all incredibly welcoming and it is lovely to be back.
Immediately I go to the stage where Sarah is busy whispering to the mic, and it answers her as it had earlier at Blue Springs. As is always the way at the library branches, some of the audience have already arrived, and one lady tells me that she used to bring her baby daughters to see my show – they are now both in their mid twenties. Ugh, I feel old!
I retreat to the Library’s staff room where I get ready for the evening, and play a little backgammon on my phone until it is time to head for the stage. Carol singers (the same troupe as last night) are entertaining the capacity crowd, who are in very good spirits.
Promptly at 7 I am introduced, and I start the show. Instantly the microphone gets its own back – maybe it resents being coaxed into life by Sarah, but somewhere in the system a connection is loose and it crackles and pops throughout the rest of the show, which is rather distracting to me, and presumably the audience also. Each time I am sat in the chair, or have a moment, I try to jiggle the lead in my pocket, with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately the problem never goes away and the show is accompanied by most un-Victorian noises. But this is a loyal audience of long-time supporters, and they wont let anything as mundane as a crackling microphone put them off: they laugh and cry and join in and all in all make the evening a thoroughly enjoyable one.
The signing line is very long when I come out from my dressing room, and everyone has lovely things to say about the show. One girl asks to be photographed striking the ‘you have never seen the like of me before’ pose with me. I agree to her request knowing full well that a large can of worms is being prised open. Sure enough in short order the request is repeated, and I am spending a lot of time balancing on one foot.
The final photographs with the library staff are taken and it is time to leave. Kimberly drives me to an Applebee’s restaurant for a bite of supper before dropping me back to the hotel, where we say our goodbyes for another year.
My time in Kansas City has come to an end, and has been great fun as it always is. Tomorrow morning I have to be on the road at around 5am for what could well be the toughest day of the tour, so I finish my packing, set the alarm and get into bed.
As always, you are a fantastic storyteller!