Thursday, 14 November
On Thursday it was back to work and I had to be early at the office. My alarm woke me at 5 am and I immediately got out of bed lest sleep should return to overwhelm me again. A coffee and a shower helped me into the land of the living and by 5.30 I was making my way to the lift and the parking garage.
I was due at KMTV3 at 6am so I put the address (charmingly in Mockingbird Lane) into my sat nav and headed out onto the streets of Omaha. Although the was a fair amount of traffic the journey was unencumbered by delays and I arrived bang on schedule at 6.am
Having rung the morning show’s producer I waited until someone came to the door to let me in and from that point everything went by in a bit of a blur. No sooner was I in the green room than I was called to the set and fitted with a microphone, and no sooner was I sat on a sofa than the anchor appeared (I didn’t even get her name, although I think the weather guy called her Courtney when he threw back to her). While we waited I said ‘I have NO idea how you can do this every morning’. I had expected her to be bright and perky as most morning anchors are, but instead she replied ‘Nor do I, God, it is killing me!’
When the meteorologist finished his piece (I noticed that he was wearing grey trainers, which looked completely incongruous against his smart suit and tie, but of course they were unseen on screen), he passed back to us and our chat commenced. It was a fun conversation, although brief, and the station showed some footage of my show which looked as if it had been filmed in Bethlehem PA, judging by the set. All too soon we were finished and I was back in my car before I knew what had happened.
The traffic was heavier now and of course I was heading back into the city, so the journey back was slightly slower, but I was still able to sit in the lobby eating breakfast before 7.
My old friends Lee and Susie were due to pick me up at 8.30 so I had a little time in my room to make sure that all of my costumes and props were ready for the day ahead. I needed to plan for two performances as we wouldn’t have time to return to the hotel between the two shows.
When I went to the lobby Susie was standing reading a newspaper with great concentration so I was able to surprise her by creeping up and giving her a hug! Lee was waiting in the car and soon the three of us chatting away and sharing our various news.
The day’s shows were both to be at retirement villages owned and managed by the Immanuel Group. We have been working with the group for 5 years or so now and I have performed in most of the venues in the cities of Omaha and Lincoln. This year I would be at the Courtyard and the Trinity Life Center.
We arrived at the Courtyard with plenty of time in hand and were greeted by Cameo who we worked with last year. The venue was to be in the Folgestrom Chapel which was dominated by a huge stained glass window which took up the entire back wall behind the stage. The bright sun illuminated the figure of Christ and cast the most beautiful rainbow across the room – I would be in good hands.
Not only were Lee and Susie there but also Kathy who is the director of The Douglas County Historical Society, and who is responsible for bringing me back to Omaha. It was great to have the team back together again.
In one corner of the room two men were working hard to get a new sound system working for my performance. There was not time to fully install it so when it was switched on there would be no way of adjusting the level, we just had to hope that it was OK – I clipped the microphone on and the sound was perfect. Yes, we were definitely being looked after. I asked if we could play the CD so as to get the opening music for the show, the engineer shook his head, it was doubtful he thought, but we could try. Sure enough when we pressed the play button music filled the room at a perfect level, the engineer took of his baseball cap and opined ‘That just goes to show, it’s better to be lucky than good!’
Soon the residents began to arrive and as The Courtyard is an assisted living centre many of them were using walking frames, in fact there so many that the staff had arranged a parking lot in the ante room with specific areas depending from where in the community an individual resided.
The Chapel filled up and a choir of carol singers from the centre serenaded the guests as they arrived. At 10.30 it was time to begin. Kathy made my introduction and then the music filled the chapel and I walked slowly to the stage.
Marley was dead, to begin with. I was off and running.
At the point in the show where Scrooge walks into the London streets it is my custom in a venue such as this to walk into the auditorium, barking at people to get out of the way: I did that. It is also my custom, as Scrooge arrives at his melancholy tavern to take his melancholy dinner, to plonk my hat on someones head, snarling ‘there hold that!’: I did that.
When Scrooge finishes his dinner I always stand up, peer at the person wearing my hat, and wrench it from their head scowling ‘give me that, you look ridiculous’ which always gets a good laugh: I did NOT do that. I don’t know why I didn’t do that, but I can only imagine that I was being well and truly guided.
This is what actually happened. I stood, and stared at the lady who was wearing my hat, and she looked at me. I didn’t move and she said quietly ‘would you like your hat back?’, at which point I (or Scrooge), would naturally have grabbed it, but I (he) didn’t, instead I said ‘yes, I would like my hat back’ and the lady took it off and gently handed it to me. Now, as I looked at the hat, before placing it on my head I saw that the lady’s hairpiece had come off her head and was stuck in my hat, at the same moment she also realised what had happened. I made no comment, and didn’t react in any way, either as Gerald or Scrooge but I simply handed the hat back to her and she retrieved the wig quite calmly and with no sense of embarrassment or anger, then she handed my hat back to me, and I was able to continue the show.
If I had played the scene as I always do I would have ripped the hat off her head, the wig would have flown across the room, just at the moment that I would have been saying ‘you look ridiculous!’ But on Thursday morning something stopped me.
The rest of the show passed without incident, although I fluffed a couple of lines, which was frustrating, but not disastrous. I had been aware that many of the audience had been shading their eyes against the multi coloured glow streaming through the window, but it was only when I went back down into the auditorium, so that I could approach the altar when Scrooge went to Church, that I realised the light was SO bright that it must have been impossible for anyone to see anything for the duration of the show. It didn’t seem to matter though, for the response was amazing and the whole room stood to applaud me as I took my bows.
Cameo had set a little table up near the door so people could have their programmes signed and everyone formed a very orderly line. The comments were lovely, but one stood out, in fact it is maybe the most moving compliment anyone has every paid me in all my years of touring. A lady took me by the hand and said simply: ‘Thank you. Thank you for letting that be part of my life’. I almost cried with gratitude.
When all of the residents had collected their walkers from the correct zone and returned to their rooms it was time for me to change and rejoin Susie and Lee.
We drove to a nearby Panera Bread, where we ate a healthy yet hearty lunch before driving to our second venue of the day, the Trinity Village, another Immanuel venue.
My performance was actually being held in the Trinity Life Center, a large hall which is used for both church services and recreational events. On the wall were folded up basketball hoops and yet the floor was covered with a hard, fine carpet – I wouldn’t like to play basketball on carpet, imagine the burns if you went sprawling onto the floor.
Once again the smiling Cameo was there to greet us, along with a huge staff from the Trinity Village. The stage was an impressive size and would give me lots of room to use.
I changed quickly, but there were already audience members making their way in and carol singers singing by the time I was ready to do a microphone check, meaning that a few folk got a sneak preview of the show, although I was careful not to give them any plot spoilers.
Soon the hall was filling and I paced up and down at the back, like a caged lion desperate to be released. 2 o’clock came round and once again Kathy made the introductory remarks, while Cameo squatted on the floor ready to hit ‘play’ on a portable CD machine that she had bought specifically for this purpose.
During this performance I did not venture into the audience, partly because the stage was quite a distance from the front row and partly because I didn’t want to press my luck after the morning’s narrow escape.
As I performed the charity collector’s scene in Scrooge’s office on Christmas eve a thought came into my head which rather changed the dynamic of the exchanges in my mind. Some actors love back stories. If you are playing a character you want to invent a full back story so that they appear as fully rounded individuals, not simply one dimensional sketches. Some actors, however, dismiss this exercise by pointing out that if we randomly meet someone in the street and strike up a conversation we do not know their history and it is completely irrelevant anyway. I am somewhere in the middle of those two poles.
So, here is my thought: surely everyone in the City of London would have known about Scrooge and his reputation for meanness (in the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come we see three businessmen discussing Scrooge’s death as if it is common knowledge), but the charity collector (singular in my version, but there are two of them in the book) seems to have no idea about Scrooge and Marley, even thought the latter has been dead for seven years.
My new premise is that the collectors are new in town and have been sent to Scrooge and Marley’s as a kind of prank or initiation by more seasoned and battle scarred colleagues. You can almost feel the flush of anger rising as the poor man realises that he has been duped, but he ploughs on relentlessly until he comes to the conclusion that he has been fighting a losing battle and withdraws. Imagine then the fellow’s delight when Scrooge seeks him out in the street the very next morning and says ‘I hope you succeeded yesterday, it was very kind of you!’ and goes on to whisper that he will donate an apparently huge sum to the cause. No doubt the collector will have run back to his friends saying ‘old Scrooge wasn’t so bad, but it was I that solicited the donation when all of you have failed!’
None of this changes the show, but it is fun to think about.
The performance at Trinity was a good one and I was pleased with the way it worked. I battled for a while with a crying baby but that was OK, and anyway the father left the room in the end to comfort the infant in the lobby area.
After I had taken my bows we took a few questions and answers and then I sat at another little table and signed more programmes until the hall was empty once more. Before I changed I posed with all of the staff on stage for a photograph and then made my way to the spacious restroom which doubled as my dressing room.
Lee drove me back to the hotel and extended a very kind invitation to join he and Susie for dinner, an invitation that I was happy to accept, and after an hour or so during which I wrote a little and showered, I joined them for a convivial evening of good food and fine fellowship
It was only 8 pm when I returned to the hotel but I felt ready for sleep for it had been a long day, starting with a 5 am alarm call and then the performance of two big shows. However as I got ready for bed a warm glow came over me as I thought once more of those very precious words:
‘Thank you. Thank you for letting that be part of my life’.