‘I’m sittin’ in the railway station
Got a ticket for my destination
On a tour of one night stands
My suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned
For a poet and a one man band
So mused Paul Simon in his 1966 classic. I empathised with him on Saturday morning, although I was at an airport instead of a railway station. I rather wish I’d caught a nasty chesty cough, so I could write ‘My suitcase and catarrh in hand……’, instead I just had a second suitcase, and a heavy one at that.
My week long tour had finished the night before at The Hermitage and I was now ready to pack up my things and travel home. Fortunately my flight out of Nashville was not until 1.10, so I had plenty of time to prepare. To ensure that my big case wasn’t over weight for check in I packed all of the heaviest items in my little black carry on case. The braided cloak, and the rest of the Tale of Two Cities costume, along with the thick black frock coat and my various waistcoats were squashed into a tiny cube and looked rather like one of those crushed cars. In the other half of the case I packed my common, coarse boots from Great Expectations and my black shoes from the other shows, and into the void of each I stuffed socks, as well as the little boxes containing my cufflinks and pocket watch. I needed to sit on the lid to get the zip closed, but I was pleased with my handiwork.
By contrast the main case looked a little empty but that was just as well because in addition to the main zip being on the point of failure, so the one that closes the internal compartment had broken too meaning, that every time the case was opened everything spilled out. The less weight in there the better.
I left the hotel at 10.30, which was far too early, but the airport would be more interesting than my little hotel room. Having re-filled my lovely Jeep with fuel and returned it to Hertz I made my way into the departures area of the airport. I was only flying to Charlotte but as it was the first leg of an international flight I had to have my passport checked, which meant standing in a line to see one of the American Airlines agents, rather than just doing everything at the little kiosk. The proliferation of self check-in kiosks means that in the world of day to day travel the process of checking in has speeded up to an extraordinary amount, but it also means there are many less agents available and I was forced to join a long and largely stationary queue.
The sole agent was dealing with someone who was trying to take her dogs on her travels and for some reason the correct procedures had not been followed (whether by the passenger or the airline was not clear), so the whole situation needed a great deal of keyboard tapping work to sort it out. Thank heavens that I was so early, I hate to think what would have happened if I had been in a rush.
Eventually another agent appeared and the line began to crawl slowly on until it was my turn. After a cursory glance at my passport I was sent on my way.
At the security check my little case was taken to one side for further inspection and apparently a watch hidden deep in a pair of shoes, disguised by rolled up socks, was deemed as suspicious!
My flight took me to Charlotte where I had a three hour lay over, which I filled with some lunch and a coffee before making my way to the gate. Fortunately their was a request for passengers to offer their carry-on bags to be checked, and I was able to rid myself of my black cube of solid mass for free.
We took off as night fell and headed north towards the eastern seaboard where we turned left. I had my blind closed, but heard the two people behind me trying to work out where we were. They were a young couple and American. I was intrigued and wondered if I might recognise the coastline, so lifted the blind to peer down and was astounded that they had any doubt as to where we flying. Beneath me was Manhattan Island with a bright glaring glow coming from Times Square. Brooklyn Bridge, Triborough Bridge and George Washington Bridge all clearly visible, and all busy.
I closed the blind again feeling somewhat smug that I know America better than some Americans, and relaxed for the long journey home and to my family.
It had been an interesting tour and one during which I felt I had conquered a demon which was rather an unwelcome visitor. The learning of two major shows had frightened me through the summer, more than I’d like to admit. As I struggled to get the words to stick and kept coming up short I had a fear that my ability to learn lines had deserted me. I have struggled with lines before, but the enormity of trying to commit over three hours worth of dialogue to memory seemed overwhelming. Actors are naturally insecure and when their confidence is dented they can spiral down into a very dark place, a place where I have no desire to go.
The fear of forgetting lines is real for anyone who performs on stage, but when you are a solo performer it is increased greatly, for you have no one to help, no one to rescue you, no one to save your embarassment. You are standing alone, as if stripped naked whilst hundreds of people laugh, or even worse get up from their seats one by one to leave leaving an empty theatre with only the performer left (this is my most terrifying and vivid stress dream).
So when, on Sunday 15 September I stood in the Broad Street United Methodist Church in Burlington and uttered the immortal lines ‘It is a far far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; It is a far far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known’ the tears in my eyes were not purely for the selfless sacrifice of Sidney Carton but also from the knowledge that I could still learn lines and had somehow conquered that demon. I don’t mind saying that I had a feeling of elation and pride.
A few days later, after I had performed Nicholas Nickleby at Winterthur, my friend David Keltz who is also a one man performer asked me ‘how many hours of material do you have in your head?’. At the time I didnt have an answer, but I thought I would give it some thought.
These are the shows that I could perform right now with minimal work:
Mr Dickens is Coming: 50 minutes
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1 act): 70 minutes
Great Expectations : 100 minutes
A Tale of Two Cities: 60 minutes
Doctor Marigold: 60 minutes
The Signalman: 40 minutes
A Child’s Journey With Dickens: 30 minutes
A Christmas Carol (full version): 110 minutes
All of that equals 8.6 hours of material.
A Tale of Two Cities will fade away soon, and after October 13 so too will Great Expectations, although I have a feeling that that is on the way to becoming a permanent fixture.
The human mind is an extraordinary thing!
Now I am back in the UK, and I have a few shows coming up. I will be performing Doctor Marigold and The Signalman at the Ffestiniog and West Highlands Railway, and Great Expectations in the village of Sutton Scotney. After that it is time to dust off A Christmas Carol, initially in Liverpool for a school group and then my main American tour will begin.
I will, of course, be telling you all about it in this blog, and greatly look forward to sharing my adventures once more.