Friday 23rd November and it is time to return to the USA for the second part of this years tour. But before I get into describing my daily adventures let me fill you in with what has been going on back in Britain during the intervening weeks:
Owen Drew Luxury Candles
Earlier in the year I was introduced to a small company that is making great waves in Liverpool and is winning multiple awards for entrepreneurship. The company was formed by Drew Cockton after he had a brush with a large candle company with which I have had a few dealings in the past….
Drew liked to decorate his home with candles but became annoyed that many of the products on the market left black sooty marks on the wall, and that the scents seemed rather stereotypical. So in the way of all good entrepreneurs Drew set to do something about it himself and began to research how to make beautiful luxury candles.
His research showed him that there were completely natural ingredients available that could replace the petroleum products and the same was true with essential oils instead of synthetic scents.
Drew went to work and the results were truly remarkable. But why should I, a performer of one man shows based on the works of Charles Dickens, become drawn into this particular orbit? This year Drew decided to introduce a new candle into his Christmas range that was inspired by the young Charles Dickens and his writing of A Christmas Carol. The result was the 1843 Candle.
I was invited to a lavish launch bash held at the historic Albert Docks in Liverpool and it was quite an event. I wasn’t called on to perform, or even speak, just to schmooze with the many invited guests as they nibbled on canapes and quaffed champagne. My experience of press launches in the past has been that most of the guests have been….press, but not this time for the bar was filled with bloggers!
Mostly in their mid twenties and almost exclusively female this group spread the lifestyle word across the internet, so a word or a photograph of your product can make all the difference. As I chatted I was amazed to learn that most of these bloggers have followings well upward of a million followers each! Wow, I get excited if WordPress informs me that I have 150 hits in a day – I am doing something wrong!. perhaps I’d better start talking about skincare products.
The launch was great fun and I was photographed with all sorts of people and in all sorts of poses. It was an exhausting evening, but great fun. I wish Drew all the best with his new product line, and know that the spirit of Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol will grace many tables this December.
If you would be interested in knowing more about Drew’s story and other products the website is at:
One of the advantages of being home more during this season is that I have been able to explore new venues for my performances. For quite a few years Liz and I have thought that it would be good to perform in some of Britian’s great stately homes, but inquiries to the two main organisations that manage such properties has repeatedly drawn blanks. The National Trust and English Heritage are both huge corporations and emails, phone calls and mail outs constantly fall into the wrong desk and get carefully filed away, never to be seen again.
But at Kenwood House there was a chink. Through the wonders of social media I was contacted by a lady called Jennifer who used to work at the Dickens World visitor attraction in Chatham, Kent. When DW closed Jennifer got a job with English Heritage at Kenwood, and started telling anyone that would listen that they should feature one of my shows. Nothing happened for a number of years (mainly due to my USA schedules), until this summer suddenly emails began to arrive from a manager of events. After a brief meeting at the venue a date was set and my first performance with English Heritage was settled.
The mansion is magnificent and stands proudly on a hill overlooking London in beautifully landscaped gardens. The original house was built in 1616 and has been enlarged and developed over the years. In 1859 Edward Cecil Guinness bought the house to display his art collection, which is one of the most valuable private collections in the country boasting Rembrandts, Gainsboroughs, Vermeers and many more. When Guinness died he bequeathed the house and the collection to the nation with an understanding that no charge would ever be made to those who wished to view the art. In 1986 English Heritage took over management of the house, of course respecting the requirements of the bequest.
Because the art collection is so valuable security is a major concern at Kenwood House and I had to go through a great deal of red tape before I was allowed to perform there, but at last the date came and on a dark November evening I set up my props in the Old Kitchen – part of the servant’s quarters.
The timetable to which I had agreed back in the summer was quirky to say the least, with one show at 6 and another at 8.30 – making for quite an intense evening. However the acoustics in the kitchen were very good, meaning that I did not have to use too much energy in projecting my words.
The shows had sold well so it was through an almost full house that I walked to begin the story. I am often asked what is the difference between an English audience and an American one this event was a perfect illustration of the answer. The crowd sat quiet and intent, enjoying the language, appreciating the storytelling, but with very little responsiveness (in the first show I dropped some of the audience participation, although the second group were slightly more up for it). However when the show finished the rounds of applause lasted a long time, calling me back to the stage to take more bows.
For the second performance a young lad sat in the front row with his mother and when the show was finished he came up to me saying ‘can you just do my GCSE for me!’ (A Christmas Carol is on the curriculum this year and many schools are studying it).
It was a lovely, friendly evening and one which will hopefully lead to more appearances in more beautiful houses.
My final event before returning to America was at the Revelation Arts centre in the heart of Ashford in Kent. St Mary the Virgin Church is still a fully functioning place of worship but in the evenings it is transformed to a vibrant arts venue, with lots of bands, stand up ad theatre. I have been performing at Revelation for a few years and am proud to be an official ambassador for the venue.
The stage itself is beneath a huge stone arch (gothic? Norman? I don’t know my architectural styles well enough) and a state of the art lighting system has been installed which not only focuses the audience’s attention on the performers but also shows off the venue itself. When I performed The Signalman there a few years ago the arch took on the brooding character of the train tunnel that features so strongly in the story.
A feature of my shows at Revelation had been the presence of the centre’s own photographer Lewis Brockway who took a series of amazing pictures, many of which I use for my publicity shots. It was with great sadness that I learned that Lewis has recently died.
Lewis and his wife Rita had been great supporters and admirers of my shows and the theatre manager told me that Rita was planning on coming to the show and would I sign a couple of Lewis’ pictures for her.
I set the stage (hiding the two little toys on the stone pulpit, where they would watch me from above), worked through the various lighting cues with the tech team, and then retired to my dressing room to prepare.
This was an amazing show, the audience were huge and enthusiastic. The stage allowed me plenty of room to move and the lighting created the multiple atmospheres that the story demands. Revelation is a great place to perform and I greatly look forward to returning there next year.
Once again there were many students I the audience who were studying the book, and when I had finished they all came up onto the stage to chat and ask questions. I assumed they would be asking me about the book or CD himself, but they wanted to know how I managed to remember all those lines. The answer to which is the same as to the question ‘can you tell me the best way to get to Carnegie Hall?’ Hard work!
And so my British shows were done and each was memorable in their own way. There was one other event that I was unable to attend, but I will devote another blog post to that on its own.
And now it is time to get into my taxi to renew my American adventures, and I will tell you about the first of those later today.