After our excursions to Lincoln yesterday today sees me remaining in Omaha for two events, and as an extra bonus I have a free morning.
Having looked after the blog, and taken my first cup of coffee I busy myself with sorting the last loads of washing for this section of the tour, which I take to the always-deserted laundry room on the third floor.
Whilst my clothes are tumbling and spinning I call home and have a lovely few minutes chatting and getting the news and gossip. It is extraordinary to think that I will be back in Oxfordshire in just a couple of days time. Experience tells me that I am only a week in to my tour and therefore there is a long stretch on the road ahead of me, so it is wonderful to think that on Monday night I wont be in a hotel room, and that my suitcase will be empty.
For the rest of the morning I rehearse Doctor Marigold, which I will be performing this evening, and relax on the bed watching the very first Harry Potter film, which is being shows as part of the USA channel’s ‘Wizarding Weekend’ to promote the release of the new Magical Beasts film. All of the actors look so young and tiny in the film, but it is lovely to watch.
As the morning reaches its end I get all of my bits and pieces ready and go down to the lobby to wait for Kathy’s husband Frank, who is ferrying me about today as Lee has returned to Lincoln to watch the big football game there.
The weather has cleared and the roads are running freely, despite the freezing wind that is still cutting across the prairie. Our drive is a short one and soon we are pulling up outside the Field Club of Omaha – a lavish golf club where I perform A Christmas Carol each year.
Kathy, Susie and Roxanne are all busily setting up tables for the event as the Douglas County Historical Society take over the venue. I dump my costumes and bag in the locker room, which is deserted as nobody is playing golf in the snow and ice, and make my way to the huge function room that will be my theatre this afternoon. My show will be performed after the guests have had tea and the tables have been elegantly laid with cups, saucers and plates which need only sandwiches, cakes and fancies to be complete.
The stage is set with my regular furniture and a fireplace that Frank installed yesterday, which focuses attention to the centre of what is a very wide performing area. On the chair is my microphone and I clip it onto my shirt and do a sound check – the levels sound good in the large room.
As I walk back to the lobby I bump into Caitlin who looks after all of the events at The Field Club. We have worked together for the last five years or so and have become great friends. We hug and share our respective news, before returning to the business of preparing for the show, the next job being to make sure that my opening sound cue works. At the Field Club there is no CD player, or sound system in the function room itself, and the only way of getting my 54 seconds of music into the hall is to have my phone plugged into the sound system, which is located in a tiny closet off a corridor in a different part of the building. To make sure that the effect comes in on time, we have to set up a relay of people, starting with me in the hall, to pass the signal back to the closet. It’s a bit of a complicated way of doing things but, fingers crossed, it works.
With all of the preparations complete Susie suggests that we have some lunch, and we retire to the restaurant where we are joined by Kathy and Glenda, another volunteer from the society who is a big Dickens fan (of both generations!).
Even though there is no golf today the clubhouse is filled with members all of whom are watching the football game from Lincoln. It looks to be very cold there and we do not envy Lee who is somewhere in that huge crowd!
I have a delicious plate of fish and chips, which sets me up well for the afternoon.
The tea is due to start at 2, although my show is not scheduled until 3, so Kathy, Susie and Glenda have to return to their posts to welcome the audience which is already starting to mass. It is an elegant crowd with plenty of reds and golds in evidence. One party (mother, father and three daughters) have come in amazing hats and look quite the Victorian family.
I retire to the locker room, where I sit quietly and wait for the hour to pass by.
Eventually 3 o’clock approaches and I finish getting my costume on before going to the tea room to see how things are progressing. The room is packed and noisy, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and everything is in place for a good afternoon.
I give my phone to Caitlin, and the human relay is put in place ready for the commencement of the performance. Kathy checks with me that all is OK and goes to the front of the room to introduce me. At first she struggles to be heard over the cacophony of cups, but soon the chatter subsides and the show begins.
Earlier on I had plotted a route from the back of the room between the tables, which would get me onto the stage at the right moment, but as I walk I am dismayed to see that lots of people have moved their chairs around, thereby cutting off my path! I plough an ever more desperate furrow until at last I spy a tiny gap and break through to the front of the room.
The audience is wonderful and attentive, but the show is slightly spoiled by the constant popping of my microphone. It wasn’t doing it during my sound check earlier, and I think something is catching on a piece of my costume as I move around. Allied to this the remnants of my cold are still lingering and causing the odd cough in the back of my throat, which sounds like an inappropriate chuckle. All I can do is get on with the performance and do the best I can.
Despite the irritating interruptions everything goes very well and there are sobs as I perform the new Cratchit and Tiny Tim scene.
The applause and ovation is wonderful at the end and I gratefully take my bows. As is always the way here in Omaha we have a few questions from the audience (one of which is about my first cockerel costume and I suspect that Susie is behind it, as she always asks and loves to hear the story re-told!)
As soon as the questions are over I dash back to the locker room and change into a dry shirt and coat, before returning to my signing table in the lobby. The first people waiting for me are a grandmother and teenage grandson who have flow from Seattle just to see the show! She had heard about it, looked it up on line, discovered that Omaha was the nearest performance and instantly made the arrangements! Astounding.
I chat with others and a few people say ‘Oh, I do hope that you are coming back, we will miss you’ which is a bit strange.
When everyone has left I go and collect all of my things and change back into my regular clothes, before saying goodbye to Caitlin and the staff at the Field Club for another year.
I don’t have much time back at the hotel, just over an hour, but I shower, get into my costume for a performance of Doctor Marigold and run through the lines again.
Lee is back on driving duty now (Nebraska won the game easily) and he and Susie pick me up at 6.15. We drive to the General Crook House which is only ten minutes away and which is already busy as the audience enjoys a sumptuous buffet laid on by Mario.
I perform on a little stage in the parlour, and the setting is so perfect for Victorian storytelling. I chat to the guests, most of whom come to this event year after year, and over and over again people say things like ‘Im so sorry that you will not be coming back to Omaha again’, and ‘I had to be here for your swansong performance’. When I ask one couple what they mean they say that they’d read online that this would be my final appearance in Omaha. I do hope not, but maybe others have taken decisions that I don’t know about.
Id better make it a good one, then!
Marigold is a lovely show, and works very well in such an intimate setting. The small crowd (around 40, which is a full house here), laugh and cry with Doctor and the tears are flowing as he meets his grandchild at the end of the show.
When the applause dies away we all move into the dining room and stand around the table with glasses of champagne, whilst Susie reads out one of her carefully prepared toasts: this time the initial letters of each line spell out GERALD DICKENS.
It has been a lovely evening, but as I sign books and programmes more and more people express their sadness that I will not be returning. I can only say that I hope to, I have every intention of coming back to Omaha.
In the kitchen Mario has prepared a large bag for me to take back to my hotel, as I didn’t get to enjoy the buffet before the show. I bid farewell to Kathy, Frank and Roxanne before getting into Lee’s car and driving back to the hotel, where I give a special hug to Susie.
In my room I lay out the delicious supper and eat as I watch yet another Harry Potter film. Tomorrow I move onto Kansas City for one day and on Monday I fly back home to my family.