Tuesday 12 November
Tuesday was a day on which I had two very large shows to perform, in fact the library service were looking to break the 1000 mark for the number of attendees in a single day’s programming – that is a lot of people!
But before any of that could happen there was a much more pressing chore to be undertaken, a landmark in its own right, yes it was time to do laundry for the first time on this trip. For the first part of the morning I juggled breakfast (oatmeal again), laundry, drying, writing and sending submissions of my work to unsuspecting publishers in the UK. By 10.30 all of those objectives had been achieved and I had a little time to do not very much until Kimberly came to pick me up at 11.45 to take me to my first event which was back at the Midwest Genealogy Center, where I had performed Mr Dickens is Coming in darkness two nights before.
On this occasion the room was set up with theatre style seating and there were 400 chairs out in neat rows. Steve, the director, was there and immediately showed me the improvements that had been made to the lighting, and it was impressive indeed. Now the stage could be bathed in light and thanks to some hard work earlier that morning been transformed into a really effective performance space.
Gunard was back to look after my technical requirements and he was joined by Edwin. Together we went through my sound cues until they were both happy as to how they slotted into my performance.
Having completed our technical discussions and had a sound check my next commitment was to pose for some photographs for the Mid Continent marketing team to use in future years in their promotional magazine (the image that they are using at the moment is rather old and features a remarkably slim Mr Dickens with a dark beard nonchalantly leaning on his walking cane. It is a nice picture but with the best will in the world is not a wholly accurate representation of me these days.)
As ever at the Mid Continent venues the audiences began to arrive early (in fact the first person turned up at the door at the same time as us, 12.30!) I retired to my dressing room and waited for the arrival of a newspaper reporter who needed to do an interview prior to watching the show. We chatted for a while and then he left to take his place among the growing throng in the hall.
Over the intercom system I could hear the growing hubbub as the seats filled up, as well as the beautiful harmonies of the carollers who were back yet again and were doing sterling work entertaining the crowd.
Although I was already in costume thanks to the photo shoot I went through my final preparations as the start time approached: Microphone switched on, Victorian penny in the right pocket of my waistcoat, scarf wrapped around my neck in such a way so as not to bang the microphone, frock coat buttoned up to hide the bright red and gold waistcoat during the opening sombre scenes, cane in hand and hat on head.
At 2 o’clock precisely we were ready to start and I waited in the wings as the head librarian at the MGC made the introduction and welcomed me to the stage.
For so long my performances for Mid Continent have been slightly compromised by the very small and cramped stages that have been squeezed into library branches, but this year Kimberly has made a real effort to find larger venues for me and I have been able to give big proper theatre-style shows, which is much more satisfying to me and hopefully the audiences.
When Gunard, Edwin and I had been chatting in the technical booth earlier Gunard had asked ‘do you ever forget a line?’ I had jocularly riposted ‘do you ever miss a cue?’ but most frustratingly we both messed up slightly in the first minutes of the performance. The error from the booth was to fade the opening sound effect before the heavy, sombre, tolling bells rang which wasn’t a huge mistake but slightly changed the atmosphere of the opening. For my part I completely scrambled the line ‘he was a squeezing, wrenching, rasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner’. I am not sure what came out but it wasn’t that! Maybe it was a lapse of concentration, or just one of those things that occasionally occur, but for the next 15 minutes or so I became very nervous about my lines and concentrated on them more intently than I really needed to, meaning that the first scenes were a little stilted and not as natural as I would have liked.
As the plot progressed I relaxed again and things started to go well once more. Indeed after the show one audience member who has watched almost every performance I have given in the Kansas City area (yes, I really mean that – over 23 years), was moved to say that he felt it was my finest ever performance! I will take those sort of comments any day.
The signing session went on for quite a while and there were lots of pictures to pose for and hands to shake. I could feel the adrenaline seeping away and fatigue taking over so that my smiles became a little more forced.
There was due to be another major author event in the hall that evening and as I started to change and pack up, so another team from the library arrived to set up. This is exactly how this room should be used and I am sure that Steve was very happy to see the company’s investment being so well utilized.
Kimberly and I loaded all of my things into her car and we set off towards Lee’s Summit for my evening commitment. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and I could feel my body crying out to be refuelled before I asked any more of it, so we drove through a drive-through near to our destination and carefully avoiding anything with cheese in it I chose a bag of chicken tenders to keep me going.
The venue for my evening’s adventures was the John Knox Pavillion, a huge, cavernous pyramid which can hold over 1000. When we walked in I was taken aback once more at the sheer scale of the place. 800 chairs were laid out and the stage looked tiny in the distance.
We were greeted the venue’s manager Richard and also by Larry who was running tech for me. We have all worked together before and immediately he dropped into a friendly banter. Before we did anything to prepare for the show Kimberly and I took our lunches to my dressing room where we ate quietly, both in a sort of ‘shut-down’ mode before starting to build ourselves up for a major evening.
When we were finished with our food I took the script and the sound effect USB stick to Larry and we started going through my technical requirements. Larry is one of life’s utterly positive guys and his enthusiastic demeanour is infectious. You cant spend time with Larry and not smile, added to that he has one of the finest sets of moustaches I have ever seen.
It was 6 o’clock with an hour to go and the audience were arriving, so once more I took myself back to the quiet of my dressing room where I pulled two chairs together to form a little couch and napped for a while.
The time ticked on. A dressing room for a one man show can be a lonely place so I decided to slip into the hall and stand quietly to watch the audience arrive. It was a big crowd, and they kept coming. I think the final count by the library staff was 670, although the pavilion staff reckoned it was more like 750 (there were a lot of young children running around, or sitting on laps which made an accurate count difficult). Anyway, there were lots of people.
As I stood some dear friends came to say hello, having spotted me lurking or skulking in the shadows – firstly Miriam Alexander who used to work with the library and looked after me during my first years with Mid Continent. It was lovely to see Miriam again after so many years. Another ex colleague from those early years was Carma who was also there with her family and she came and chatted too, meaning that the evening had a most nostalgic start.
The audience continued to arrive, and the carollers sung loudly. I returned to the dressing room to go through my final preparations, only to find it locked! I went back to the hall and fortunately found Richard who gave me the key. Mic on, watch in pocket, penny, scarf, buttons, hat, cane. It’s showtime!
It is such a pleasure to be on a big stage, well lit with such a huge audience watching. I was where I love being and I gave the show everything, in fact maybe a little to much, I was over extending myself when I really didn’t need to. At one point I could feel a sort of tension headache building behind my temples which is always a sign that I am trying too hard, so I tried to rein things in a bit. Most importantly I got the ‘squeezing, wrenching etc etc etc’ line right.
It was not my finest show, but it was a good one and the audience were enthusiastic and attentive. During the Tiny Tim death scene it must have looked as if I was genuinely choked up and crying real tears, but the truth of the matter was that I managed to rub some sweat into my eyes which stung like anything and caused them to water profusely.
Scrooge’s scenes with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come were passionate and dramatic and it all led to a fine finale. On Christmas morning when Bob Cratchit arrives late for work I unwrap my scarf and fling it over my shoulder before taking a set on the little stool, well last night the scarf fluttered through the air and settled perfectly on the hat stand right next to the top hat – I couldn’t have placed it more neatly.
The applause and ovation was wonderful and as I bowed I knew that I couldn’t have given any more than I had during the previous 80 minutes.
I took a long time changing and calming down before going out to the signing table where a very long line as waiting for me.
There were many old friends waiting to say hello, as well as lots of people who proudly announced that this was their first time seeing the show. Two ladies had books to sign which already bore the autograph of my dad from his years at the Holiday Fair which I spoke about yesterday. I felt a huge emotion welling up as I looked at (and touched) his scratchy cardiogram of a signature, and so wanted him to be looking down at me saying ‘well done dear boy, I am proud!’
At last the pyramid was empty apart from a few of the staff. Larry was packing up, as was Kimberly and I went back to the dressing room to collect all of my belongings.
Having said goodbye and thanks to Larry we loaded the car up and went to find dinner, which came in the form of an Olive Garden nearby. Both Kimberly and I were exhausted from what was an incredibly full on day. Did we hit the 1000 mark? Not quite, but very nearly and our efforts had certainly set a new record for a single day’s attendance.
Kimberly drove me back to the Hampton Inn for the last time and we said our goodbyes for 2019. I am due to drive to Omaha to spend three days with the Douglas County Historical Society, whilst the library embarks on its annual Storytellers event, but for now we could congratulate each other on a job well done!