With apologies for the delay in posting, this is my account of the final day in the USA
And so I wake for my last morning in America for this year. I am meeting Bob for breakfast at 8.30, or is it 8? I can’t remember what we agreed, except we are both early morning people. To be on the safe side I will go to the restaurant at 8.15!
I write my blog post and pack as much as I can, although I still need costumes for my show this afternoon, so I make sure that my roller bag is packed with 2 clean shirts, some socks, black shoes, the red cloth and the two little mice for the stage. I make sure I have the USB drive as well as a CD with the sound cues and pens for signing.
After a shower (a very good one, but not up to Press Hotel standard, which therefore takes the award for best shower of the year award), I take my two costumes to hang in the car and take a pile of souvenir programmes which have been in my car since the signing in the bookstore and need returning to Bob, and walk to breakfast.
Bob is not there, and nor is anyone else as a matter of fact, and the staff are a rather nonplussed. I grab an orange juice and a coffee and read a little more of Hidden Figures while I wait. One of the servers sees the pile of programmes on the table and asks me about them and when I explain about the show she beams: ‘Oh! I’ve had guests here who went to that and said it was awesome!’, which is good to hear.
Bob arrives bang on the dot of 8.30 (so, I was right first time) and soon we both have platefuls of breakfast in front of us as we chat about this year’s tour, how it has worked, is there anything we can learn for the future. It is too early to start talking about future visits, as I need to talk to Liz about how this year worked for her at home alone with the girls before committing to anything.
From the tour our conversation moves on to travelling in general and various other things until it is time for Bob to leave. It is strange to think that I have another performance today, and I have to make sure that I am in performance mode, rather than travelling mode.
I return to my room and watch a bit of TV until 11 o’clock when it is time to check out, I return my key to the front desk where still no mention is made yesterday’s events. I am sure that Bob will mention it to the management, as Byers’ Choice are good, very good, customers of the Joseph Ambler Inn.
My drive this morning is not a long one, less than an hour in fact, but takes me across another state line into New Jersey. I refill with fuel on the way and buy a sandwich for an early lunch, which I eat in the car before heading to the Broad Street United Methodist Church in Burlington NJ. This is another venue where I have many friends and also a venue where I have many friends and it will great to finish up the tour here.
I park outside the church and get not only my 2 costume, roller bag, hat and cane out, but also my large suitcase as I will need to pack straight after the show. As I make my rather precarious way to the door two young guys call out ‘Hey dude, are you a magician? Can you do a trick now? C’mon man, just one trick!?’ Getting up the two steps to the door without dropping everything will be trick enough!
As soon as I am in I am greeted by Laura, who organises this event, her husband Joe and all the rest of the team – I get well and truly hugged, for they are a huggy bunch at The Broad Street United Methodist Church. I usually do two shows here but as I have to be at the airport by 7 tonight there is only the 2pm matinee, which has resulted in a huge turnout expected – around 350. The minister of the church jokes that he is going to take a picture of them all packed in and then post it on the Facebook page as an indication of the popularity of his sermons.
I get myself settled in usual dressing room, under the stage, and then go upstairs to make sure everything is where is needs to be. In years past we have had to improvise with the music cue as there was no CD system and poor Joe had to squat holding a microphone to the speakers of a boom box back stage; he couldn’t see what was happening and there was more than an element of guess work involved. This year however there is a new sound system but sadly at the moment it can only play a CD, so the new effects, which are only on my USB stick, will not have another outing: Mr Fezziwig must dance in silence again.
Having completed the sound check I go back to my dressing room to get ready and with half an hour to I make my way to the kitchen and get a nice cup of black tea. A number of volunteers are there busily preparing cookies and cakes which will be served to the guests during the signing session.
20 minutes. 15 minutes. 10. Laura, Joe and I chat and then at 2pm I go to the back of the hall, whilst Laura takes to the stage to welcome the audience. As I stand waiting at the back of the sanctuary I get a big wave of the hand from Kevin Quinn and Herb Moskovitz, both members of the Dickens Fellowship, who have travelled from New York and Philadelphia respectively to see the show. I have known them both for many years and it is very generous of them to make their journeys.
Laura finishes her intro and I make my slow way to the ‘stage’ (the alter rail has been removed, as has the table to give me as much space as possible to perform on). The hall is indeed packed on floor level and in the balcony and there is definitely a good atmosphere in here.
I try to use the various different levels as much as possible to suggest different scenes, especially those in the streets of London. The audience get fully involved and as many of them have attended multiple times they know the score. Bob asked the other day why people who have seen the show so often don’t gasp in delight at the turkey, when they know I am going to feign frustration at their lack of participation. I have noticed over the years that I return to a venue about four times regular attendees DO gasp on cue, but then they begin to realise that the joke is better when they don’t make a sound so dutifully remain silent in subsequent years.
About half way through the show I am aware of a loose shirt cuff, which always seems to happen here, I ascertain that the cufflink hasn’t broken, just come out of the button hole, I make a couple of attempts to re-fasten it but am not successful and end up leaving it to flap.
The performance is a very emotional and intense one, which holds the audience’s attention fully. The comedy gets laughs, the pathos is received with concentrated silence. It is a good way to sign off.
‘God Bless Us, Every One’ for the last time in the USA and the whole audience rise to their feet and make a lot of noise (I wonder if the minister is filming this!). I take my bows and linger a little longer than usual on stage before retiring to my dressing room, where I change out of my rather damp costume, which I hope might dry a little before it needs packing in an hour or so’s time.
The line for the signing line is very long and backs right up into the narrow walkway which also serves as a second hand book store. I have to ‘excuse’ my way to the front before I can get to my seat and begin signing.
Kevin from New York has managed to get right to the front of the queue and after shaking hands he gives me a little gift – a new set of Dickens Fellowship geranium cufflinks, as over the years he knows that I have often broken pairs thanks to the rigours of performance. It is strange that today is the only show on this year’s tour where I have suffered a cufflink malfunction – maybe it is the spirits reaching out to us!
The signing line is full of families who have attended the shows for multiple years and one such present me with a framed picture featuring our portraits over 6 years, which is incredibly moving.
As I sign and chat, I sip a lovely cup of tea, poured from a bone china pot, into a bone china cup which sits on a bone china saucer – things are very civilised in Burlington.
Quite apart from the long signing line, the room is full of people sat at tables enjoying their own tea and cookies, which means that just when I think the signing is coming to an end someone else gets up to come to my table, but everyone is in high good spirits and there is a lovely atmosphere.
When the signing does finally end I go back to the dressing room and start the business of cramming everything into my suitcases for the first time in two weeks. Socks get packed in my hat and the thick woollen scarf is wound around it. Both costumes (2 times grey trousers, 2 times red and gold waistcoats, 2 times burgundy cravats, 2 times black frock coats) are folded and packed into my little roller case.
It seems strange to be leaving so soon, as usually the whole team go out together for dinner at a local restaurant, before putting on an evening show. Today, even though the others are dining and have invited me to join them, I need to drive to the Philadelphia International airport, where I have a date with a British Airways 747. I am sent on my way with two sandwiches that Marcia has kindly bought for me, and after being well and truly hugged once more I am on my way.
So the USA tour comes to an end (although my Christmas season will continue in the UK next week) and as I sit in the departure lounge awaiting Zone 5 to be called I can reflect on a very successful series of performances during which the show has progressed once again. I have been very happy with the new scene involving Bob Cratchit mourning Tiny Time, and I am very happy with the use of the cloth throughout the performance.
But you don’t want to hear about my thoughts on the play for I know that there is one pressing question to which you are desperate to know the answer:
The Best Breakfast of the Tour Award! On reflection, taking everything into consideration, weighing up all the pros and cons, I think that the short list boils down to:
The Beechwood Hotel, in Worcester Mass
The Press Hotel in Portland
The Fairville Inn at Winterthur
The Joseph Ambler Inn at Byers’ Choice
And the winner is: The Press Hotel in Portland!
I will continue to write through the rest of my tour, and the nest performance is in the beautiful city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne next weekend. I shall see you there.