Saturday 17 November
Saturday marked the last full day of the first part of my 2019 American adventures and Kathy had given me a full morning off, with nowhere to be until 12.00. Sadly that didn’t prevent me from waking at around 4am yet again.
I spent the morning writing my blog, eating breakfast and watching the coverage of the practice sessions from the Brazilian Grand Prix, which passed the time. I was also able to check in for my flight home on Sunday morning.
At around 11.30 I started gathering my costumes and props ready for a performance at The Field Club of Omaha, where I have performed every year that I have been coming to the city.
On the Saturday of my visits it has always transpired that The Huskers (Omaha’s college football team) have been playing at the stadium in Lincoln Nebraska, and being a dedicated fan Lee has always driven down to cheer them on (or to share in their disappointment, as seems to be the case this season.). On Saturday therefore I would be liberating my car from the parking garage and driving myself to the Field Club.
I arrived at the stroke of 12 and found Kathy already setting up, being helped by her marketing assistant Chris (who had been responsible for the early morning TV interview a couple of days before). I dumped all of my things in the locker room where there were plenty of men getting ready to take advantage of the fine November weather by playing a round of golf. I watched them rather enviously! Lee is a member at The Field Club and one day the schedule will actually work out so that I can play.
I made my way to the ballroom which was set ready for the splendid tea service which would precede my performance and found a microphone laying on my set, so I clipped it on and began a sound check, all of the levels sounded good and needed no adjusting.
The next thing to sort out was my sound effects which have always been rather a problem at the club, for the only way to play music through the speakers in the ballroom had been to plug a phone into the sound system which was located in a closet at the end of a long corridor. In previous years we have had a human chain exchanging a series of hand signals to get the music playing at the correct moment. My sound check had brought Caitlin, the events manager at the club, to the ballroom and after hugging hello she delivered the astounding news that we could now actually play music in the room itself. A laptop was sourced and plugged in and in no time my sound cues filled the space. Chris had volunteered to operate the sound so I talked through all of the cues with him and he seemed confident. Unfortunately I had left my script at the hotel, but there was plenty of time to drive back (it was only a few minutes away) to collect it.
Once the preparations were completed I went back to the lobby where Susie had arrived, and we went into the restaurant for a bit of lunch before the event got under way.
The guests started to arrive for their two o’clock tea, and as I had nothing to do until 3 I simply sat in the locker room and relaxed until it was time to dress in my costume.
When I was ready I peeked into the ballroom and the tea was going well, there was the loud murmur of conversation that signifies a group of people enjoying themselves. Kathy was running around trying to sort a few seating issues out, as some guests had simply ignored the table they were supposed to be seated at in favour of a better one. Apart from that all seemed calm.
At 3 Kathy checked that I was ready, I checked that Chris was ready and the show began. The stage at The Field Club is a slightly strange one, in that it is very wide side to side, but very narrow front to back, especially with the furniture on it, so I had to be extremely careful not to fall. Fortunately the stage was not high and at certain points of the show I could use the floor as well to expand my available space, and of course on such occasions the front row of the audience were easy prey!
The performance went well and the audience were most appreciative as they always are at this event. When Kathy had asked before the show how many people had seen me perform before the hands that went up must have accounted for about 80% of the people there.
But one incident about the sperformance troubled me greatly, for as Scrooge walks into the streets on Christmas morning muttering ‘Merry Christmas’ under his breath as if rehearsing the phrase, he momentarily forgets himself and barks ‘GET OUT OF MY WAY’! at one of the guests, before continuing on his way. Usually I return to the individual asking for their forgiveness and wishing them a heartfelt Happy Christmas, but on Saturday I returned to my chosen victim and found myself looking into the terrified, tear-filled eyes of an elderly lady, who clearly thought hat she had ruined the show. I held her hands as gently as I could and tried to assure her by my look (not Scrooge’s) that all was OK. I Kissed her hand softly, and whispered ‘Merry Christmas’ until I was fairly certain that the tears would not fall, but she still looked like a fragile little sparrow which had fallen from its nest.
After the applause and when everyone sat down again Kathy opened the floor to some questions, and I spent an extra fifteen minutes entertaining the crowd with a few anecdotes from my years of touring, before it was time to say goodbye and head for the signing table in the lobby.
The signing session lasted quite a long time and I didn’t get to finally leave the Field Club until 5.20. Kathy had told me that I was being picked up at my hotel for the evening event at 5.45, so I didn’t have much time to play with! I rushed up to the 7th floor, quickly swapped my gold waistcoat for a plain sombre black one, picked up my reading folder and script before rushing back downstairs again to find Frank, Kathy’s husband, waiting for me.
The evening show was in the general Crook House, which as well as being open for public tours, is also the headquarters of the Douglas County Historical Society. On Saturday night I was to perform the gruesome, violent, brutal reading of Sikes and Nancy, which has at its heart the murder of the poor young girl.
The first part of the evening was spent mingling and chatting as the guests enjoyed what were billed as ‘heavy appetisers’.
During this time entertainment was supplied by two high school students, neighbours of Susie and Lee, who played violin together from the little stage. Noah and Negil sounded superb and as their proud mother whispered to me ‘they are brothers, so this is the ONLY time they are in harmony!’
The music was good and the crowd were generous in their tipping.
At 7 o’clock it was my turn and I took to the stage and explained the history of the reading, before launching in. The script of Sikes and Nancy had been brilliantly constructed by Dickens in 1868 to slowly build the tension before the explosive climax to the reading as Sikes bludgeons Nancy to death. Even then he didn’t release his audience but continued the action until Sikes hangs dead with the knife clenched in his stiffening hand. If that wasn’t enough Dickens provided the coup de grace by describing the death of Bullseye, Sikes’ dog, as he leapt helplessly for his master’s shoulders.
I think my performance caught the full horror of the reading and I even broke a cufflink in the sheer violence of the moment of murder.
It was with a quite and reflective air that we all gathered round the dining room table to listen as Susie delivered one of her superbly crafted toasts and we raised champagne glasses to the end of another memorable visit to Omaha.
On Sunday I will be flying back to England t be with the family, before setting off on the road again, and I shall keep you informed of all my adventures.