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The windy stormy weather of Friday had blown through and given way to another bright sunny Saturday morning, albeit with a winter’s chill to the air. My morning routine is now well set and as usual I wrote my blog and some of my touring memories before heading down to the lobby for breakfast (the oatmeal option this time). I was cheerfully greeted by another guest with whom I shared a ride in the lift the day on Friday. When I had told him that I was from England he went into raptures: ‘Oh! I love you guys, God, you know how to protect your history! I love England! I stayed in Wrexham for a while, such a great place!’ (to be pedantic, Wrexham is in Wales, but we will forgive him that). So, at Saturday breakfast he called across the lobby ‘Hey! My British friend, how are you!’ Which was a nice way to be hailed.

Having finished breakfast I went back to my room where another practice session from Brazil was being broadcast and I watched for an hour, which took me to 10. It wasn’t to be such a lazy day for Saturday would see me performing twice, and Kimberly was due to pick me up at 11.45. Alongside watching tv and having another coffee, I prepared my costume for the first show of the day, another performance of The Signalman, so it was the all black ensemble.

At around 11.30 I had a message saying that Kimberly was stuck in traffic so may be a little late but as it happened it wasn’t long after the agreed pick up time that the front desk called me to say my ride was waiting. We were driving to the Midwest Genealogy Center, where I have performed o a few occasions before. The main performance space there is a large room with a stage at one end, it was obvious from the amount of chairs laid out that the library were expecting a good crowd. The auditorium space was under the directorship of Lindsay, who had set theatre lights ready for the show, and undertook a good sound check, playing with the various levels and settings until everything sounded perfect. I was feeling a little hungry, so Kimberly and I drove to a nearby petrol station to buy some sandwiches and fruit, which I ate in my dressing room as the audience began to arrive.

I got into costume, fixing my microphone before butting up my waistcoat and at 1.55 I left the greenroom and stood on a ramp which leads to the stage (hidden from the audience). As the clock ticked further, I reached round for the switch on the mic and clicked it over as Sara, one of Kimberly’s team who I have worked with many times, took to the stage to make the introductions. Once again the excitement of having live events back in the library service was palpable and there were rounds of applause for almost every part of Sara’s opening remarks. Having gone through all of the official stuff and demonstrated her potential prowess as airline cabin crew, indicating all of the emergency exits, Sara welcomed me to the stage and I began. Strangely my microphone didn’t seem to be on, and I asked the audience ‘am I on?’ the answer came back ‘Yes!’ so on I continued, maybe Lindsay had got an absolutely perfect setting. The first part of The Signalman presentation is given over to talking about Staplehurst, and as I was doing that I was aware of the librarians scurrying around a bit, eventually Sara pushed a note onto the stage which read ‘Microphone Off!’, so I had been right, I reached around and clicked the switch again, and sure enough I was properly amplified.

The Signalman itself was very well received and I was pleased with my rendition of it. It is a piece that I perform spasmodically, but this was the third time I have done it on this trip, as well as once in England shortly before travelling, so it had gained a solidity and confidence that perhaps it doesn’t usually have. When I had finished I talked a little bit more about my writing of the Staplehurst book, which gave the library team an opportunity to collect written questions – the hall being too large to effectively take questions from the floor. Once all the slips had been gathered Sara would host the Q&A, and again there were some good questions: ‘Did Charles Dickens hold the Rail company responsible for the crash?’ ‘Did he have any premonition of the crash?’ While I was answering those questions a huge freight train approached rumbled along the tracks which pass next to the building, so I was able to cry Halloa Below there!’ Sara continued to feed me questions: ‘How did I come to be in Kansas City and how did I first hook up with the Library?’ (maybe the subject of a Bonus Blog), and then the inevitable ‘what age did you get into theatre?’ Cue the Rooster anecdote which of course brought huge amounts of laughter to the room. The final question Sara prefaced with ‘Of course you know that we are all foodies in Kansas City and think that our food is the best in the World, so bearing that in mind, where is your favourite city to eat in?’ Slightly loaded question one may feel! I gave a diplomatic answer saying that if I wanted fine beef then there was nowhere better than Kansas City, but for seafood then coastal cities maybe a better choice. I think I got a away with it.

Time was up and I took further bows before returning to the greenroom to change. When I gave the microphone back to Lindsay we discussed what had happened at the start of the show, she has seen me turn the mic pack on when I was changing (she had it muted on the desk, so there was no worry about me being heard), and then noticed that I turned it off again when I was waiting in the wings, so what must have happened was that I accidentally flicked the switch to on as I dressed, and then just before the show when I thought I was turning it on I was actually doing the opposite. I will be back at The Genealogy Center on Sunday, so we will make sure the same doesn’t occur.

Kimberly took me back to the hotel, briefly, so that I could get the costume for A Christmas Caro, including the top hat, cane and the red shawl, and then we drove on to the evening venue – the Liberty Performing Arts Theater where I would be performing in their 650 seat auditorium. It was dark as we drove and for the first time on this trip I saw Christmas lights adorning neighbourhoods, which gave me a warm glow inside! I will be putting up our own lights at home in the gap between my American trips and as I looked at the multi coloured bulbs twinkling, and caught glimpses of trees bedecked with white and golden lights, I really felt that Christmas was on the way.

Walking into the auditorium I could instantly see that it was going to be fun night – the stage was huge and would give me plenty of scope to play with.

Although the auditorium was large it felt remarkably intimate, helped by the stage curving out, as if reaching to the audience. Sara and other members of the team were decorating a small tree which would adorn my set and I thought that would be the perfect place for my daughters’ little mice to hide and watch the show from, so I hid them away among the boughs and baubles.

Far away at the back of the hall was stationed Lyndal in her tech box, and I mounted the steps so that we could discuss sound cues etc, when all of that was finished I descended to stage level again to do a sound check and, as with Lindsay earlier in the day, Lyndal spent plenty of time finding exactly the correct balance before pronouncing herself satisfied.

With the preparations completed I retired to my dressing room, where a wave of tiredness came over me and my body seemed to switch off – no energy. It may seem strange to say, but I wasn’t concerned by this. It is often the case that before a big show (and this was going to be a big show), the body seems to recognise that a huge amount of adrenaline and energy are going to be required shortly so it shuts down slightly, preserving itself. Sometimes in such circumstances I am almost on the point of sleep. I pulled up to chairs and just sat, alone, relaxing. I played a little backgammon on my phone, and waited.

With 30 minutes to go I got into my costume and starting waking myself up. On stage The Dickens Carollers, who are often called in by the library to entertain the audience as they arrive, were singing beautifully to loud rounds of applause: this was going to be a good night I felt. There is something wonderful about the solitude and anticipation of standing in a dark wing space in a theatre, preparing to perform. Even when I used to be in productions with a large cast I would always try to be alone in those final moments.

And then it was time to start. Steve Potter was due to make my introductions. Steve is the Director and CEO of Mid Continent Public Library, so an important man, but I first met him in 1995 when he was a branch manager at Blue Springs South, where one of his team was Kimberly: these two have been part of the system through my entire time performing for Mid Continent and are dear and good friends (Indeed, this year Kimberly celebrated 40 years with the organisation, which is an astounding achievement).

Steve made his introductory remarks and once again the announcement of the recommencement of live programmes brought a loud round of applause. He welcomed me to the stage, the first music cue started and I began my slow walk to Marley’s grave and began. The first clue as to how the evening was going to go would be when I broke the fourth wall for the first time, telling the audience that ‘I dont know what there is particularly dead about a doornail, do you?’ The response to the line was loud laughter and when I asked them to reiterate that Marley was as dead as a….’ the cry of ‘DOORNAIL!’ was enthusiastic and joyful. Yes, this was going to be a great night.

I loved every second of my time on that stage, in that theatre, it was energising, exciting, invigorating, and the audience were along for the ride at every moment. Once more I tried my new trick of velcroing the black frock coat to create the dark spectre, and once again I did it too early – more work needed on that effect, but I will persevere.

The standing ovation at the end was amazing, and I took bows to all sides of the auditorium as they cheered and whooped. I eventually retreated to the wings as Steve took to the stage ready to host the Q&A. The library team had already gathered plenty of questions, and Steve began running through them and we formed quite the double act up there. Some questions were familiar (how did you first start doing A Christmas Carol leading to the anecdote of losing the script in Tennessee), and then there were others such as ‘Where did the name Scrooge come from? ‘In these days of pandemic and isolation is there a parallel to be drawn with Scrooge’s solitude and ultimate reformation?’ ‘What age are you?’, and one from Gwen aged 6, just checking on the validity of my claims to be part of the Dickens family, with the testing ‘What was your grandfather’s name?’ It was fun session and maybe ran longer than it should have, but we were all having such a good time it was lovely to keep going. Eventually Kimberly whispered to Steve that it was time to wrap up and after taking one more round of applause I returned to the dressing room.

I changed and returned to the stage to retrieve the various bits and bobs that belong to me, and I rescued the girls’ mice as the library staff packed away all of the decorations from the tree. Lyndal was on the stage and I thanked her for all of the tech expertise (the cues had all come in at the perfect moment and levels, and had faded out as necessary). She was very excited and saying ‘you guys must come back again, I LOVED this evening!’

Kimberly and I loaded up the car and we drove back to the Longhorn Steakhouse near to my hotel where we met up with Steve for a lovely dinner. We chatted about libraries and communities, and I showed them images of The Word, where I perform in the UK, which they were suitably impressed by. We laughed about Steve’s name (he had touched on this during my answer about Scrooge’s name earlier), saying that for years, until JK Rowling came to his assistance, he had always been known as Mr Potter, the curmudgeonly old banker from Its a Wonderful Life. He said that on becoming Director of Mid Continent Public Library the first email he sent to all of the staff was instructing them to call him Steve and NOT MR POTTER!

It was late now, we were the only ones in the restaurant, except the staff who were sat around in their coats, and the adrenaline that had allowed me to sail on the stage that night was subsiding and exhaustion was returning. It was time to leave,

Sunday 14 November will be my last day of this leg and two more performances of a Christmas Carol will bring it to a close.