For the first time ever I have time to spare in Lewisburg. Usually I drive here on the morning of the shows, arrive at 11, do a sound check and then the performances, before going to bed and leaving early the next morning.
This year however I have a morning to myself. After writing my blog post and availing myself of the breakfast I return to my room and spend an hour or so catching up on some work (sourcing both Christmas Presents and a few new sound affects taking most of my time).
After my time in front of the screen is done I put on my scarf, for it is very cold outside, and prepare to go out for the morning. As I leave the room I find a letter on the floor telling me that the hotel is changing all of the locks during the day (I know that I am somewhat of a disruptive rock diva, but changing the locks while I am out seems a trifle unnecessary!).
I have decided to actually explore the town of Lewisburg today as I have never been there. To me Lewisburg has always been a country store and a hotel next to a busy highway but over the years many people have told me what a beautiful historic downtown area there is and I am keen to explore. Sure enough A short drive brings me in the centre of a most beautiful town.
It seems to be predominantly Victorian and in a very good state of preservation. The houses are sturdy brick built edifices and are painted in the most delicious array of colours, the Chrurches are tall and stately.
Running past the town is the Susquehanna River, which brought life and commerce to all of the communities that nestled against its banks. A modern bridge carries traffic into the town, but just upstream is a fabulous rusting crossing, just a single track wide, that either provided a route for early automobiles or more likely a train service.
The whole town reminds me of St Cloud in Minnesota, both in architecture and situation.
A further walk brings me to the ‘Famous Street of Shops’ which is s sort of an indoor flea market comprising hundreds of individual areas selling antiques or crafts. I spend a long time mooching and surveying.
Eventually I return to my car and set to drive back to the hotel when I notice a sign directing me to an antiques centre set in a towering old mill building. Liz and I love spending time in such places, and I still have plenty of time to spare, so antiques it is (I can never bring myself to use the word antiques as a verb, as the Americans do: I am British and do NOT go ‘antiquing’ any more than I ‘golf”
The antique centre is fabulous and alongside the inevitable small pieces of china, books, kitchenalia and toys there are copious amounts of snow shoes!
I resist the urge to purchase, which is not easy, and spend a very happy forty minutes or so wallowing in American social history.
But work is calling and I return to the hotel in good time to prepare for my soundcheck at 11.30. As I walk through the corridors I notice that each room has a little brown box next to the door which I assume are the new locks waiting to be fitted. In my room I pack my roller bag up, and walk the very short distance around the ornamental pond to the Country Cupboard store where I will be performing twice today. The room that I use as my green room is at the back of the building and I can see that the door is wedged open, so I go in and find my dear friend KJ getting her equipment ready. KJ is a singer who has always entertained the audiences here with a beautiful selection of carols and Christmas songs and we have become good friends over the years. We have a big hug, and then I go into the main room itself, which is laid out theatre style, and where I find Missy who is our ‘boss’ here. Missy also has become a good friend, and the three of us make a great team.
The stage is fabulous (larger than in previous years) and state of the art LED lights illuminate it very effectively. Missy tells me that a new sound system was installed yesterday, and nervously listens as I d a sound check – it is fine and sounds great. ‘Now,’ I ask, ‘about the music…’ and before I finish the sentence ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ is playing throughout the room. Missy still had the file carefully saved from last year.
And, other than hiding the two little toys in a spruce and candle decoration at the front of the stage and draping my red cloth over the arm of the chair, my preparations are done.
Missy, KJ and I sit on the front of the stage chatting about this and that, but the audience are already clamouring (apparently one member rather too energetically so) and it is time to get on. Before I return to my room though KJ asks if I would meet her parents who are coming to see the show for the first time. Both are in their 80s, and both are sprightly, most especially her father who is proud veteran of the Marine Corps. We have a wonderful chat and pose for pictures before I tell them that I must go and change. ‘Never change young man!’ is the advice that accompanies me out of the door.
Walking back to my room I notice that some of the boxes by the door have been opened, and the tide of new locks is flowing through the hotel with a slow but menacing progress.
At 12.30 I return to the main building and in my dressing room put my microphone on, and make sure that all is in order. KJ is already on stage singing and encouraging the audience to join in, and they sound a pretty lively bunch. When I am ready I wait for a gap between songs, and then slip into the room and make my way to the back to join Missy. There waiting for me is a tiny carafe of hot water, a tea bag and a pack of honey. A few years ago I arrived at the Country Cupboard with a very sore throat and scratchy voice and told Missy that tea and honey was just the thing and ever since she has made sure that such a brew is available to me before the show.
It is a big crowd this afternoon, and most of them have come in Christmas attire meaning that the predominant colour in the auditorium is red. KJ finishes her set with a special rendition of Jingle Bells accompanied by her father energetically jingling bells, which is very moving to watch. The crowd applaud loudly and then the stage is mine.
Oh what fun I have! All of that space on stage gives me full rein to perform the show as I want it to be performed, and the intimacy of the room, and the lights, and the sound system, and my day off, and my relaxing morning, and goodness knows what other influences, make this one of the best shows of the year so far.
The audience are fabulous and follow along attentively – in one case very attentively as there is a girl in the front row with her face buried in a copy of A Christmas Carol. I remember her from last year and she must have remembered how I have edited the story for she is not phased as I skip the various passages in my adaptation.
The standing ovation at the end is a great reward for a job well done. I am proud of myself this afternoon.
I go back to my room and change into my dry replacement costume and then go to the little signing table that has been set up at the back of the room. There is a long line waiting and I sign and pose for photographs and chat. There are two ladies in the line who have seen me previously at Hershey but due to my not performing there this year have tracked me down to Lewisburg. They are astounded by what they have seen and couldn’t believe that it was the same show! My performances at the Hotel Hershey are always somewhat compromised by the geography of the rooms, and the ladies say that here they fully appreciated all of the expressions and nuances that they had missed in years past. They will be back here they exclaim. I can see that Missy is rather pleased at that! Later in the line there are more people that have come from Hershey and who share the same thoughts with me
And so the line continues, and I am given gifts. Lots of generous gifts! I am given home made pretzels and cards and candy canes, A Christmas Carol ornaments and a Christmas sweater! Yes a sweater showing a field of sheep with the legend ‘BAAAA HUMBUG’ above them. Even better than that when you push a button the sheep bleat to the accompaniment of Christmas music. Actually the bleating has a rather sinister air to it and somewhere in the back of my mind Hannibal Lecter is saying ‘Well Clarice – have the lambs stopped screaming?
When the line is finished KJ tells me that she thinks that that was the best performance I have done here, and I think she is right!
I go back to the hotel to change into my normal clothes and discover that the lava flow of lock replacement has reached my room, and there are two engineers attending to my door. I hide in the little kitchenette alcove to change, continuing a conversation as I do so, and remerge from the room a 21st century being.
Between shows it has become a tradition that Missy, KJ and I have a quiet lunch/supper at the fabulous Country Cupboard buffet. The choice is amazing, but I restrain myself to some chicken, vegetables and potatoes – avoiding anything dairy based. I am envious of KJ’s plate of mac and cheese and wonder why her throat isn’t effected as mine is.
The three of us sit and chat and it is a wonderfully relaxing and gentle time, as it always is. But time and tide wait for no man and soon the audience for the evening show is arriving and we must all get back on duty. I return to the hotel once more, this time via the front desk as I need to get my new key, although I also have to keep my old one as the exterior doors to the hotel have yet to be changed.
I have about an hour to relax and so treat myself to another relaxing, yet energising, jacuzzi bath. At 6.30 I get into costume once more and walk back to the room where, as this afternoon, KJ is already singing and chatting to the evening crowd. I replace the battery in my microphone, clip it on and go to wait with Missy and my tea and the back of the room.
6.55. Missy signals to KJ to go into her final song. Check my costume, check my microphone….AGGGHHHHH the clip has broken and the mic is dangling around. I tell Missy who immediately signals to KJ to ‘keep singing’ and then we run through the kitchens to her office and frantically locate a little sprung file clip (which have come to my rescue many times over the years, and which I should really have in my roller bag as part of an emergency kit). Our quest is successful and despite rather fumbling fingers I get the mic clipped onto my shirt and I am ready once more.
Back to the room, another signal to KJ, an answering nod, a final chorus of ‘We Wish you a Merry Christmas’ and I am on.
I am slightly worried that I will not recapture the energy and exuberance of this afternoon’s show, but I am wrong. The audience this evening is even more vocal, especially one lady who laughs so loudly at every scene that I assume she must have seen the show before. Her giggles in the Mrs Cratchit pudding scene are completely infectious and I have to struggle very hard not to ‘corpse’. This lady is living proof of Dickens’s own line: ‘There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour’
It is another wonderful show, with another wonderful audience. The signing line is even longer this evening, despite the crowd being smaller, and this time folk have driven from Virginia to see the show because I am not appearing in Williamsburg this year – that is a real double coup for Missy! I meet the laughing lady and am astounded to discover that she had never seen the show before, but just loved every second!
And so the room that has been the vessel for so much laughter today falls silent once more and just Missy, KJ and I remain. After posing for a picture of the three of us sat on the stage (we look rather like the three wise monkeys), we say our goodbyes for another year and go our separate ways. Yup, we are a good team.
Having changed I set a load of washing going (this is the last hotel that has laundry facilities, although Pam is always very generous in taking bags back to chez Byers for me), and then return to Matty’s where Missy has sent word that dinner is on her, which is incredibly generous. The bar is almost deserted when I go in, and completely deserted as I leave.
I stop by the laundry room, put my load of costume shirts into the drier and leave them overnight. Tomorrow morning I have a fairly early start, so I get into bed and after reading about two lines of Hidden Figures I fall asleep.