A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Dodge Charger, Ebenezer Scrooge, George Floyd, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institue of Art, The Minneapolis Club
My first day in Minneapolis stretched out a long way before me when I woke, for I only had one show to perform and that would not be until 7.30 in the evening, so I had many hours to kill. Breakfast was in the club’s dining room, and it became apparent that I was the only person staying there. The server asked where I would like to sit, and upon my suggestion that it would be nice to have a view, she took me to a small table by a window, as far from her station and the kitchen as could possibly be, meaning that she had a lot of walking to do every time she needed to either ask me anything, or serve me anything. My view was actually of the entrance to the club’s parking garage, and as I sat, I became aware of a number of cars going in, and the strange thing was, they were all black (as indeed was my car, parked in that same garage).
I ordered a breakfast of some French Toast, bacon and scrambled eggs, and went back to gazing out of the window, it was grey, and the air was filled with flurries of snow, whilst the very few passers-by hurried on, well wrapped up in the way that folks from Minnesota know how to do. A little time past and then a car come OUT of the parking lot, and it was silver, shortly afterwards another emerged and it was the same colour…What was going in there? Was there a car body shop that did Saturday morning resprays up on the fourth floor: ‘any colour you like, so long as it is silver!’
I finished my breakfast and headed back towards the fourth floor. As I mounted the stairs I stopped at the library room, where I was to perform that evening, and which had already been set up with a stage and chairs. There were speakers and a sound desk already in place, but the room seemed small enough not to require any amplification. I went in and stood on the stage and tried a few lines, and sure enough my voice reverberated back to me – definitely no need for a mic. With that knowledge I went on to my room and planned the next part of my day. I decided to completely unpack my suitcase, as I have been living out of it for almost two weeks, and filled a draw with my socks, another with my costume shirts, and hung my regular clothes in the wardrobe, next to my costumes. It felt good to have a sense of permanence, even though I will only be here until Monday morning. I had decided to devote the morning to a visit to one of my favourite places in Minneapolis, and that is the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a wonderful gallery just a short drive, or even a walk, from downtown. I retrieved my Charger from the garage and rumbled through the streets of Minneapolis and headed towards the gallery.
I parked in a lot nearby, paying $10 for the privilege, and then spent a very relaxing and inspiring two hours wondering the many rooms, admiring a wide variety of art, from 4th Century Chinese pottery to beautiful Japanese calligraphy, African tribal art, American impressionist paintings and an amazing collection of European paintings. It was past 12 0’clock, when I decided that I had seen enough, and I went to the little cafe and ordered a simple salad for my lunch. It had been a perfect morning.
I drove back into town and got to my room in time to listen to radio coverage of the first race of the weekend from the Brazilian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, the club’s TV package doesn’t include the ESPN channel that shows F1, so I got the official F1 radio feed on my phone and lay on the bed listening while the action unfolded.
When the race had finished, I walked into town just to get some fresh air, and to buy a couple of things that I needed, and to my dismay I found that downtown Minneapolis is a ghost town and most of the stores are closed. Many that are open have their doors locked and only admit customers if you ring the bell, which rather discourages idle browsing. Last time I was here, the city was preparing to host the Superbowl, and there was a sense of excitement and optimism in the air, but it has taken the double blows of Covid and the tragedy and scandal of the death of George Floyd on the very streets I was walking in, and it has not recovered. It is such a sad sight to see one of my favourite cities in this state.
I made my way back to the club, which felt equally empty and deserted and went back to my room, where I watched tv until it was time for my sound check. Back down in the library I greeted Jeff Arundel, who had arranged for me to perform in the club, and we chatted about old times, and the Pickwick Club, of which he is a member, as is my brother Ian. I re-arranged the furniture and having done a quick sound check we agreed that there would be no need for a microphone, although the sound equipment would still be required for the various effects. Jeff and I huddled around the laptop and ran through the script, so that he was completely confident in where each cue was and how long it needed to be played for. The set looked beautiful the little stage in an alcove surrounded by wood panelling and ark, somber wallpaper that has been there since the club was built in 1907. Lit by a yellow LED spotlight which cast a golden glow on the scene, it really looked as if we were in Ebenezer’s apartment in 1843.
When our arrangements were complete, I went back to my room to relax until it was showtime.
The audience, all members of the club and their guests, were to arrive at 6.30, and spend an hour enjoying various libations in the 1st floor bar, before they gathered in the library at 7.30. Jeff had suggested that I get to the hallway at 7.40 and the show would begin slightly after that. I have had a few difficult experiences in private members’ clubs in the past, when the members have been too stuffy and self-important to relax and enjoy the performance. There have been occasions when I have felt that I am observed with a sense of pity, and my various voices and expressions are regarded with disdain, so I was not sure how this performance would go. I took a deep breath, walked up to the stage and began.
The reaction from the audience was certainly quiet and reserved, and there was little response to those key moments that tell me if the show is working well, but there never seemed to be a sense of boredom or belittlement from the crowd, instead there was a concentration and an intensity to them. I put aside any negative thoughts and concentrated on simple storytelling to the best of my ability, and when I reached the end and left the room through the central aisle, the burst of applause and shouting was immense! It was a wonderful reaction and one which filled me with a great deal of satisfaction – I could easily have let my head drop and been disheartened, but I had given my all and been rewarded with an amazing ovation.
Jeff had asked me if I would do a Q&A afterwards and the questions came in thick and fast, which is just as much an indication of how much an audience enjoyed a performance as the amount of clapping. I was asked if I believed in Spirits, what was the probable solution to Edwin Drood, what was my favourite novel, what was Charles Dickens’ favourite novel, how did I go about learning the script and so on. Eventually Jeff brought the session to a close and everyone began to stand and gather their coats, and I stood at the door and chatted more as people left, the overwhelming reaction was positive, and everybody seemed to have enjoyed an amazing evening. One group, a party of four younger guests, introduced themselves and told me that they were the wine distributors who supplied the club, and they were all members too (Jeff had told me earlier that the club had suffered in the same way as the city, and he was trying to inject young blood into it). Would I care to join them with some wine, in the lounge downstairs? The chance to gently wind down after what had been quite an intense show was an offer I could hardly refuse. The company was excellent, as naturally were the wines. We sat and chatted for an hour, or so, and parted the best of new friends!
It was getting towards midnight when I returned to my room and so brought a fascinating day to an end