My third day in Pigeon Forge begin in time honoured fashion with darkness outside the window and the view dominated by the constantly-changing lurid neon of the local ferris wheel which never seems to shut down (is it the Pigeon Forge Eye? The Pigeon Eye. The Eye that Never Sleeps, with apologies to Pinkerton’s Detective Agency).
I sit in bed and think through the events of yesterday before recording them for posterity. At around 7.30 I get up and showered and make my way down to the breakfast room. I load up a couple of bowls with granola and fruit and find a table in the large room that is dominated by my stage and set. Later today I will be performing one of my other shows, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and I need to work out how to adapt it to the little T-shaped stage that I have here. As I devour my pears I run through various scenes in my mind, trying too see how they will fit in this space. I must look rather vacant and pre-occupied to anyone else who is watching on, but it is a useful exercise.
There are many faces I know in the room and many people wave and chat about yesterday’s shows or their excitement at seeing a new performance today. It is a fact that without exception everyone here is just so polite! The manners and etiquette in the Southern states are so strong, and as I watch a father with his child gently enforcing ideals of respect as they eat together I can see where this innate good nature is born. Very rarely do you see instances of a parent shouting at kids, or ignoring them, or belittling them as is so often the case elsewhere in the world.
I have always been impressed about how genuinely friendly folk are here and how they eager they are to talk, but also how much they respect personal space and leave me to my own devices when they can see that is what I want.
There is a lot that the world can learn from Tennessee folk.
One conversation is particularly exciting, I get chatting to an old friend from years past called Gary Guthrie, and he is keen to see if I have any spare time during my stay as he has a treat for me. We agree to meet on Tuesday morning for…ah, but that would be telling! However on Tuesday I will be like a kid in a sweet shop.
Back in my room I get all of the props and costume for Nicholas Nickleby out and make sure everything is in order – noose, horse-whip, schoolmaster’s cane. I wonder what airport security made of that lot when they x-rayed my case a few days ago. For the next hour or so I work my way through the script, and recalling the thoughts I had in the breakfast room, to fit what is basically a theatre show onto a smaller stage.
The rehearsal goes well and it is nice to slip back into Nickleby which I haven’t performed for a couple of years but which used to be the most performed show in my repertoire.
My first actual commitment is at 1pm, and it is back to the Carol again. I get into costume and go downstairs to prepare. Dwight and Kristy have great feedback from yesterday’s shows and the initial feelings is that the new Tiny Tim scene is working well and people like it, which is good to hear.
The room is laid out ready, with plates of delicious looking cookies and gingerbread men, as well as urns of coffee and hot spicy cider.
The doors are opened and in come the crowd, excited and noisy. Dwight and Kristy welcome, chat and banter in their inimitable way, while I shake hands and greet in mine. People fill out their door-prize slips and put them in the little box, and generally settle in ready to be taken back to 1843.
With 15 minutes to go we start the handing out of the gifts for those on a package, and as usual there is much laughter and fun to be had. This is really a very good way of warming the audience up and getting them fully involved even before the show has started.
At 1 the giant glockenspiel in the lobby chimes the hour, and Dwight makes his introductory remarks before welcoming me onto the stage. The mournful cellos of the Trans Siberian orchestra fill the room and Ebenezer Scrooge makes his slow way onto the stage, as if following the coffin of his deceased partner to the grave. The bells toll. The atmosphere is set. ‘Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt…..’ at which the strains of Percy Faith’s rousing ‘Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly’ blare out and rather destroy the whole moment. Bugger!
Whether because of the sound mistake (I shouldn’t have both tracks on the same CD), or whether that is how this particular audience are, the show has a slow start with little response from the crowd. I carry on with the script not letting myself get agitated and concentrate on doing the best job I can. As the story progresses the audience relax and soon are fully involved, which is a great relief!
The rest of the show goes without a hitch (apart from a couple of coughs and splutters due to my ever-improving cold), and the end is greeted by a lovely standing ovation.
Having changed into a dry costume I return to the stage to do our now regular Q&A session, which is fun. The lady in the front row whose arm had been the recipient of Old Joe’s snot wiping admits that she has played the same role for the last two years (she really shouldn’t keep sitting in that seat!), whilst the lady who Topper flirted with piped up to say that she had been Joe’s arm three years ago and in general much preferred being the object of Topper’s attentions.
Having wound up the questions we all make our way to the lobby for the signing session, where I sit in front of the tree to scribble my name and smile.
When everything ends I go back to my room, and relax for a while, before returning to the tree for yet more signing. In past years I have appeared at the Amazing Christmas Place itself, but the signing sessions have never really worked there, so this year Kristy has decided to bring it back to the hotel Any proceeds raised will be donated to local elementary schools, but not for books, or teaching resources, but to supply them with walkie-talkies for heightened security in these uncertain times. It is an awful realism that in the shadow of the majestic Smoky Mountains, in a region of good manners and respect there is a need to protect students from attack, but these are the times we live in.
There is a good stream of people buying books and we all have fun together. In between times Kristy and I chat about the best way of laying out the stage for the evening’s performance of Nickleby. In the end we find a very small table and chair, which wont get in the way too much, and rather than having a screen for old Ralph to hang himself behind we move the entire fireplace from the Carol set forward, so I can slip behind that at the relevant moment. It should all work.
The signing session finished at 5.30 and I have a couple of hours to rest before preparing for the evening’s show. Thanks to a succession of early mornings I am feeling a little tired, so go to my room, set an alarm and doze for a while which is lovely.
All too soon 7pm comes around and I start to prepare. First of all I have one of my icy showers to wake and energise me and then get into the all-black costume for Nickleby. I make sure I have the various props needed for the show and make my way down to find a huge crowd waiting and baying at the door.
With everything where it should be we are ready to go and Kristy opens the doors as if they were sluice gates on a weir and the tide of excited and curious folk flood in.
I begin the show by talking about the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby and how that so inspired me back in the early 80s, and then launch in to my show. It is so different to A Christmas Carol and I think the audience take a little while to adapt (also the thick Yorkshire accents may be rather difficult to comprehend), but as the show goes on they are laughing along. Mr Vincent Crummles and his family are particular hits, as is dear old Tim Linkinwater.
It is a lovely feeling to inhabit old friends again and the evil Ralph Nickleby, Wackford Squeers and Sir Mulberry Hawk take the stage with ease, while the two Cheeryble Brothers live up to the spelling of their name. All is a success.
It is interesting where the Q&A sessions go, and this time the questions very much focus on my process of creating a show – how long does it take to write and to learn and do I write the adaptations myself?
The signing session that follows is quite a long one, which I am surprised by as most people have already seen A Christmas Carol and have already purchased books, but people just love to chat, which is brilliant.
We wrap up at around 9.30 and I go back to my room to change. I am starving, as I never really had a proper lunch today, so I cant wait for a good supper at the dear old Mellow Mushroom. I select a large burger and mini roasted potatoes and sit alone at the bar running the events of the day through my mind as I eat and wind down. I even treat myself to a lavish, and most unhealthy, dessert.
It has been a fun day, and things went well. Tomorrow will be my last in Pigeon Forge before moving away from this little cocoon that is the Inn at Christmas Place, and I have two more shows to do, but before that there is my treat. Tomorrow Gary will let me….well, you must read the next blog post to discover what!