With just under week to go before my Christmas season starts I am making the final preparations for this year’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ tour.
As readers of my previous post will know this year has been quite an adventure for Liz and me, with the arrival of our two adopted children which has changed so much in our lives, not least the length of time I can (or want to) be away from home.
I first mentioned to Bob and Pam Byers that the 2018 tour would need to be severely curtailed over a year ago and they immediately embraced the new situation and began to work hard to create a trip that would work for everyone involved. The final result is that I will be performing for a week at the beginning of November with dear old friends in Pigeon Forge, Omaha and Kansas City before returning home for just under two weeks before returning to begin more performances from the Thanksgiving weekend for a couple more weeks.
Whilst we have managed to retain many old established venues (Vaillancourt Folk Art, Fortin Gage in Nashua, Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, Winterthur, Byers’ Choice and Burlington, New Jersey), sadly there are some places where I have been travelling to for many years who we have lost for this year, prominent among them being Williamsburg and Hershey (both fixtures on tour since I first travelled in 1995), as well as more recent additions such as Cambridge Ohio, Roger’s Gardens in California and Andrew Jackson’s House in Nashville. Other notable absentees are as a result of circumstances beyond our control, for instance the dear old Golden Goose store in Occoquan has closed allowing Pat and Laverne to enjoy a well-deserved retirement, and The Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem PA is no longer run as an independent store but is now under the management of Barnes and Noble.
I apologise to all of those who have enjoyed coming to my shows over the years – especially Derek and his family in Hershey – but I am sure that you understand my reasons for this trimmed trip, and please know that I hope to see you all again soon!
With the two children both under the age of ten it has been important to carefully prepare them for this period of absence. Liz and I have been gently talking about the trip, and I have showed them lots of photographs of my shows (thanks to the souvenir brochures of the last two years). We have a chart which shows where I will be every day alongside their swimming lessons, gym clubs etc. During the tour I will make sure I Skype as much as I can, and record bedtime stories that Liz can play them in the evenings.
A couple of weeks ago I hit upon the idea of buying two little soft toys which will come to every venue with me, and sit somewhere on the stage throughout the show. I will photograph them wherever I go so that the children can share the trip through their alter egos.
The other important thing is to make sure that Liz has as much help as possible, as looking after them has been quite a handful for the two of us, not to mention singly. She will definitely have her work cut out during my two absences and family and close friends you must prepare yourselves for plenty of phone calls!
Alongside the obvious changes to my tour this year, I have also considered the show itself a little, as I do each year, and come up with a very slight change to the scrip that may or may not prove popular with dyed-in-the-wool fans. One of the strongest moments of the story is when Scrooge is taken by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to the Cratchit’s house, and witnesses the grief of little Bob when he returns from the grave.
Since 1995 I have played the scene (somewhat lazily I now realise), as if Bob alone had gone to visit Tim’s grave, leaving Mrs Cratchit to look after the rest of the family apparently unmoved.
However last year a viewing of the Jim Carey Disney version of the story sent me scuttling back to the original text. Bob is NOT visiting Tim in his grave, just the site which is being prepared for the simple funeral. Having talked with his family and ‘broken down all at once’, Bob makes his way upstairs to where Tim still lies and by his bedside reconciles himself to what has happened, before returning to the rest of his family who dearly need his love and support.
So, I have included this simple and touching moment in the ’18 script and have also introduced a new prop, the idea of which comes from Doctor Marigold and was created by Liz a couple of years ago. In Marigold there is a scene in which the market cheapjack steps out onto the footboard of his cart holding his baby daughter. Somehow I could never effectively mime the scene to be believable, and Liz suggested using a rug or blanket to represent the child.
So during this season I will have a red blanket with me, which can have multiple uses: It will be over Scrooge’s knees as he settles into his chair on Christmas Eve, it can be tidied away at Fezziwig’s ball, it can be a shawl for Belle, it can be bed curtains being sold to old Joe, and then it can become the frail form of Tiny Tim.
It is always a pleasure to find details in the book that I have either passed over or forgotten and this is no exception. I am greatly looking forward to my first show on Sunday to see how it all works out!
The only other change that I have planned (and there will be others along the way, for the show always develops on the road), is a costume tweak. For years my friend David, a theatrical costumier by trade, has railed against my very formal pinstriped trousers, which come from a morning suit. ‘No!’ he tells me, ‘Victorian gentleman’s trousers were plain in colour, with no crease in the front. They had high waist and back, and the braces were buttons not clips!’
So, for David, I have ordered two pairs of plain grey trousers, cut as he prescribed. They are lightweight, and washable (which is always a bonus) and should create a more authentic look.
The only issue is that they have yet to arrive! I tried some other colours, which didn’t look right, and returned them but somehow the courier company failed to deliver the replacements. I am hoping they will arrive today or tomorrow and can be in my case on Saturday morning.
My next update will be from Pigeon Forge in Tennessee and I look forward to sharing my adventures with you once more.