I have a quite an early start this morning as I have a three hour drive ahead of me culminating in a sound check at 11.30.
The first job is collect the load of laundry that sat in the drier overnight, and set another load going. Back in my room I carefully fold and pack, and then try to collate all of the generous gifts into one bag to take with me on the road.
I go to the lobby for breakfast where I join a few other early risers. A local network is broadcasting on the television and a very enthusiastic meteorologist informs us that it is ‘A GREAT day to be alive!’ He even has a graphic conforming his statement. The assertion of the day’s greatness is based purely on the fact that its going to very cold and clear all day.
Having finished breakfast I go and retrieve the final load from the laundry and finish my packing and leave the hotel at 8am. The car is under a shroud of ice and it takes quite a while until the windows are clear enough for safe driving. I set my SatNav for Delaware (my sixth state since arriving on Black Friday, which isn’t bad going) and also an alarm for 9am, as I have to stop on route to conduct a live radio interview at 9.10 and it would be all too easy to forget.
A new Morse novel, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn is my companion and soon I am driving down route 15 towards Harrisburg. As ever on this road the advertisements are a strange mix, from the gaudy and expensive billboards proclaiming the services of realtors or lawyers, to a chalked notice on a rough patch of ground which leaves no doubt as to what the vendor is offering: ‘Dirt Cheap Cars!’ If I was so disposed, and had our cat Ruby with me, I could even attend the special event this weekend – ‘Pet Photos With Santa.’
Traffic is fairly light and the sky is absolutely beautiful this morning, a few wispy high level clouds decorating the Wedgewood blue.
When my 9am alarm sounds I am close to Harrisburg and find a car park to pull into ready for my interview. Soon I am chatting to Warren Lawrence on a New York station, and as we have spoken before the interview is much more relaxed than some. I sit in my car with the mini Statue of Liberty behind me, standing proudly on the parapet of a long demolished bridge in the middle of the Susquehanna.
I skirt Harrisburg, entering Lancaster County and Amish country, where the sight of horse-drawn gigs is no longer a novelty, but quite natural. Today is the day of President Bush’s funeral and I notice that the large majority of the huge American flags hanging at half mast seem to be very new and bright, and I wonder if businesses keep a ‘special’ flag in storage for such occasions.
A shining chromium diner in Soudersburg proudly states that they serve ‘Food like Grandmas!’ and I try to remember what my Grandmother’s food was like and realise with sadness that I can’t actually remember her cooking at all.
There are a few snow flurries in the air as I pass the Fairville Inn, which will be my temporary home tonight, and drive on towards the magnificent Winterthur Estate. Winterthur was one of the great homes belonging to the DuPont family and I have been performing in the visitor centre here for 8 years or so.
My journey comes to an end in the car park and I carry my costumes and roll my roller down the slope and into the gift shop where I am welcomed by Barbara who is charge of retail here. The routine is a familiar one and soon I am established in Barbara’s office which serves as my dressing room. There is a large bowl of fruit on the desk, as well as a mug and a selection of teas, not to mention a squeezy bottle of honey.
In no time we are joined by Ellen who is responsible for staging my events at Winterthur and we go into the auditorium where I set the stage so that it is ready for the show. The Copeland Hall is basically a lecture hall but a couple of years ago Ellen had a stage set built for me, meaning that I was not on an empty stage in front of a curtain. The ‘walls’ are painted a gorgeous Georgian blue and are hung with paintings, giving a real sense of permanency and solidity. Green garlands and Poinsettias give the whole set a festive feel.
Ellen and I chat about the year’s events and she is so excited to hear our news.
But outside the audience is already gathering and are getting restless (there is an hour to go before showtime), so I return to my dressing room and Ellen opens the sluice gates!
As I sit I check my phone and notice that there are two very lovely comments on my blog site from audience members who had attended the shows in Lewisburg. Thank you for taking the time to write, and I am delighted that you enjoyed the show so much. I sip tea as I wait.
At 12.30 it is time to get into costume and when I am ready I go and join Ellen in the store and greet audience members as they arrive. In particular I am looking out for two particular people and soon I spy David Keltz and his wife Teresa perusing the shelves and making a purchase. As regular readers will know Davis is a fellow actor who portrays Edgar Allan Poe and it as with great pleasure that I was able to introduce him to Ellen last year which led to David performing at Winterthur this October. David and Teresa have been such good supporters of mine of the years and is always a joy to see them. A bonus this year is that they are also staying at the Fairville Inn, so we will have plenty of time to catch up later.
A major change in the organisation of Winterthur this year was the retirement of the director David Roselle, so my introduction to the stage will never again feature his favourite line that anyone seen using a cell phone would be removed to the catacombs! Instead the new director Carol Cadou will introduce me, although Ellen is slightly concerned in that Carol is in a meeting and there is no sign of her, so just in case she puts Jeff, who has done the job before, on standby and we chat in the shop as he mentally prepares himself for what he is going to say.
With minutes to spare however Carol sweeps in and with a firm shake of the hand and a warm greeting she is ready to take to the stage. Jeff is stood down and the adrenaline gently disperses.
I stand at the back of the hall as Carol speaks clearly and fluently, commanding attention from her audience, well most of them, for the lady I am standing next to is intently reading something on her phone which catches my eye: she is reading my blog!
With the introduction finished Dennis up in the lighting box plays my sound cue and I walk to the stage to begin. The Copeland Hall is remarkable in its design in that it is a perfect sound chamber. Although a long hall, the sound of a speaker’s voice is amplified naturally and no electronic enhancement is necessary . No mic = nothing to go wrong, so why cant all halls be built like this? What did architects know then that they don’t know now?
Actually the hall underwent a revamp this year, with new lighting, a new sound system and new seating, I was terrified that whatever they did might ruin the perfect acoustic, but no it is as good as ever.
The show is good and once again I have plenty of room to roam. As ever when David is in the audience I become very aware of my technique and try to make all of the transitions between characters as perfect and crisp as possible. The audience are a large and good group and as with many venues on tour, a loyal group too.
The new ‘dead Tiny Tim’ scene works very well, especially as Ellen had decorated the little table where I lay the cloth with silver candlesticks, meaning that it looks even more as if the tiny body has been laid out prior to a meagre funeral.
The door to the hall is right at the back, there is no access to the shop or my dressing room from the stage itself , so after I have taken my bows I have to exit quickly to get changed or I get will caught up among everyone leaving. The effort is made more difficult as the audience are still all standing making their egress more easy and mine more tricky but I manage to make it back to the office before the bulk of the audience comes out I gulp water, for it has been another energetic adventure and then change slowly, before heading to the cafeteria where a table and a line of people are waiting for me. Ellen is marshalling the line and makes sure that she has people’s phones and cameras ready to take photos, as well as ensuring that books are open to the correct page to be signed.
People are so generous in their praise and it is lovely to chat to those who have attended before (again some people have come here from Hershey, and some from Virginia) and others nervously admit that this is their first time as if they are not sure how to behave now that they are members of this club! One jocular gentleman says ‘if you don’t mind may I give you a piece of advice? cant you get a little more energy into your presentation?!’
Last in line are David and Teresa and we arrange to meet up again when we are all at the Fairville. I change and hang my costumes up before saying goodbye and getting into my car to make the short drive, across the state line back into PA, and the beautiful Inn.
I have my regular room, upstairs in Spring Cottage and once we are settled the three of us meet in the main building and enjoy tea and cookies in front of the fire. We chat about our years, and I am delighted that David comments on my show, particularly the crisp transitions between characters!
Rick, who owns the Inn with his wife Laura, chats to us also but the happy ambience is broken slightly by another guest who arrives in the parlour and asks, no demands, of Rick ‘is the TV in here better than in our room?’
Rick is a little nonplussed: ‘I don’t know how to answer that.’
‘Is it better?’
‘I don’t know what you mean by better.’
‘Let me rephrase my question then. Is it good?’
‘Well we have Comcast cable, they show movies and news and local’
‘We have that at home and I don’t like it!’
Sigh, it just seems so unnecessary. If you want millions of fabulous channels to watch then don’t stay in a beautiful historic B&B, go to the local Holiday Inn, or somewhere, and don’t make such a vocal public fuss just to assert yourself.
I am meeting Ellen and Rob, the finance director of Winterthur, for dinner at 6 so David and Teresa and I finish our tea and cookies and go our separate ways for the evening.
Dinner is at Buckleys Tavern, a favourite old haunt, and it is packed with Christmas parties, meaning that we have to wait in the little entrance vestibule while an ever more harassed hostess tries to find tables for an ever growing crowd. As we pass the time Ellen mentions the remarkable coincidence that for the corresponding performance last year we had an audience of 216, whereas this year we had 214.
Eventually a table is found for us and we settle down to a most enjoyable and convivial dinner. I am hungry having not had lunch today, and I order a plate of good old bangers and mash to remind me of home.
Our waitress is an older lady, rather slow on her feet but very friendly, chatty and efficient so it is with a sense of guilt that I can’t get the ‘Two Soups’ sketch featuring Victoria Wood and Julie Walters out of my mind. If you don’t know it here is a link:
We chat and we laugh and we eat and the evening is wonderful.
There is a positively festive feel as we emerge into the cold night. The day’s dusting of snow and the beautiful Christmas lights which decorate so many houses make the scene almost unreal.
I get in my car and return to the Inn where I watch a little television (a Harry Potter film, I’m not even sure which one!) and then get ready for bed and sleep.
Tomorrow I will be back at Winterthur for two more shows.