My first day back in the States started, as they tend to do following a flight from England, very early. I lay in bed for a few hours, trying to get back to sleep and then giving in to the inevitable and writing my blog post, as well as tackling Wordle, which I achieved in 3 attempts.
At around 7.30 I went to investigate the breakfast offerings at the Marriott and had some cereal and fruit, as well as eggs and bacon. On the wall a very large TV was showing the latest match in the football World Cup – Poland vs Saudi Arabia, which looked to be a very entertaining one.
Back in my room I decided that I may go for a short run, which I haven’t done for a long time. Back in October I completed the Oxford Half Marathon, which was quite an achievement for me, and since that day I haven’t been out on the roads again. I had packed some running gear with the thought that I might occasionally go to hotel gyms during my stay, although I absolutely detest running machines, getting my joy from being in the open air and seeing the scenery, hearing the sounds, watching nature. On Saturday morning I decided to go an explore the streets of Worcester a little more. It was a crisp morning, with a clear blue sky, and I turned left out of the hotel, left again, around a square, and then just followed my nose. I didn’t stay out for long, I don’t really know, maybe 2 miles, nothing impressive, but it felt good to be in the open air, and to see parts of the city that I didn’t know.
Back at the hotel I had a shower, changed into my corporate garb, and then began to make preparations for the day ahead – I was due to perform twice, once at 2 and the second show at 6, and both were my 2-act performances, meaning that I would need 4 shirts for the day. I checked that I had everything else (cufflinks, watch, cravat, penny pieces, red cloth, shoes and socks). I picked up both of my costumes, my top hat and cane and went to the lift.
When I had arrived the night before the desk clerk had given me a ticket for the parking garage, telling me to scan it whenever I entered or exited, and I wanted to check if I needed to do that at the pay station, or the exit barrier, so I stopped by the front desk to ask. I was in a line of lots of people checking out of the hotel but had time to spare so I waited patiently. When my time came to be helped, I asked the question and the clerk confirmed that I needed to scan the ticket at the barrier, and then she said something I didn’t quite hear, but which may have been ‘Are you staying at the hotel?’ I nodded in the affirmative, ‘and your room number?’ I told her, and then she cheerily said, ‘You’re all set, have a great day.’ and off I went to the garage.
Soon I was on the freeway heading out of Worcester towards Sutton, stopping briefly at Wal-Mart to buy some laundry detergent capsules for my trip, and it was as I was getting back into my car that I had a terrible realisation that I may have just checked out from my hotel room! There I was, in line with luggage, asking how to leave the carpark, what if the inaudible question had not been ‘Are you staying at the hotel?’, but ‘Are you checking out?’ I had nodded and told her my room number, she had tapped at her keyboard and said that I was all set! Well, there was nothing that I could do about it now, I would have to see what the evening held when I returned.
My journey to Sutton, and specifically the Manchaug Mills building, is a very familiar one to me, as I have been performing for the Vaillancourt family for the last 12 years and they are not just colleagues but good friends also. As I arrived Gary was standing in the sun and seeing me pull in, directed me to a parking space close to the building. Much of the carpark was taken up with two wooden cabins selling Glühwein and German pastries respectively, for the Vaillancourts love to celebrate Christmas and all of its traditions. We greeted one another as if it had not been a year since last I drove away, but a day or so, and we went into the beautiful store from where the company sells the amazing plaster, hand-painted Santa Clause figures that they make here. We went to the intimate theatre where the stage was decorated and just awaiting a cast of 26 or so characters to bring it to life. At one end of the room was a bar, with a hot jug of Glühwein giving a rich boozy essence to the room, whilst at the far end Curtis, our sound engineer, was putting the finishing touches to the sound system. We spent some time going through the various cues, and then did a sound check, using a microphone system that clips over my ears – I warned him that I am never very successful with those units, as they tend to fall off, but he assured me that we could adjust it, so it fitted snugly, and the sound quality was far superior to a lapel mic, which may also be prone to feedback from the speakers that were right against the stage. I took his professional advice with a few misgivings and retired to the dressing room to wait for showtime.
I could hear the audience gathering, and they were a lively crowd, as the Saturday afternoon bunch usually is at Vaillancourts. Among them were, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law along with their daughter and her wife (they are not actually sister and brother-in-law, it is slightly more complicated than that, but they feel like they are, and that is good enough for Liz and me!) I wanted the show to be special for them and was delighted to hug and welcome them before start time. At 2 o’clock Gary checked that I was ready and walked up to the stage to welcome the audience to the event and to introduce me. The theatre was packed full. in fact, every performance over the weekend sold out weeks ago. When Gary had finished, Curtis started the music, and I began the show. I knew that it would be a bit of a struggle, as I was still extremely tired from my journey and the early morning, but the audience were lively, which gave me extra energy, but then the microphone started playing up – not the headset particularly, although that felt loose, which distracted me somewhat, but it sounded as if there was a loose lead somewhere and every time I moved there was a loud electrical CRACK or POP, which meant that any sense of atmosphere was lost. My attention and concentration were so lacking that I suddenly realised that I had jumped from Scrooge’s school into the scene where Belle leaves him, without even bothering to visit Mr Fezziwig! I realised the mistake I had made because the stool was in the wrong place on the stage (having not been cleared away by Dick Wilkins), and so my practical brain kicked in – I would be able to return to the Fezziwig scene, as I don’t think there are too many laws of chronology in the world of fictional time travel, and then leap forward again to Scrooge seeing the older Belle happily married, celebrating with her family. It was all a bit of a fudge, but well worth the effort for my dancing abilities got a round of applause! The continuing microphone problems were very annoying, and still that cracking and popping accompanied and disrupted Dickens’s words. I was very glad that this was a two-act show, for I only had to wait until the interval to sort something out, rather than ploughing on through the rest of the plot. Actually, the audience applauded loudly as I left the stage, but I was extremely frustrated by the whole affair.
Curtis was soon with me in the dressing room, and we checked all of the leads, which seemed tight and secure, but he replaced the pack anyway, in case that would improve matters. It was rather like a panicked pitstop in the middle of a Formula 1 race, and as I got changed for the second half, I put my waistcoat on before the microphone, meaning that the lead from headset to pack was held under my frock coat only.
Back onto the stage and I picked up the story, and the audience continued to respond enthusiastically, although I was struggling to maintain my energy and concentration a little. They were plenty who had been to the show before, and when I gasped at the stuffing issuing forth from the Cratchit’s goose, they all instantly joined in, meaning that I couldn’t go to the oppose side of the audience, and that I had to rearrange all of my blocking for the rest of the show!
But the really annoying moment came when I was in the very moving scene as Bob Cratchit returns to his house alone and takes off his coat. I did that, as usual, but of course now the long microphone lead was free and flapping everywhere, getting caught in my arm, as I made gestures and pulling the headset from my ears again. It was not a good moment.
In and around all of this confusion, the actual show was going well and there was lots of laughter, especially as Topper did his thing, and old Joe spread his mucus over an unsuspecting arm
I got to the final scenes of the show, and to the point when I could get my coat back on, thereby securing the errant microphone somewhat, and delivered the final narrative before leaving the stage to loud applause and shouting. I returned to take my bows and the audience stood, which was wonderful, but I was angry with myself and circumstances. I was particularly upset for I had wanted the show to be really special for David, Sue, Amy and Tara.
I changed quickly and went up into the store, where I was due to meet and greet and sign books, and the response was positive ‘Best ever!’ ‘You are a true artist!’ ‘Simply amazing’ all bandied about, and I relaxed a little as I posed and signed. At the very end of the line my family members waited, and we hugged again and exchanged news and chatted for a while, which was really nice.
When the signing time was over, I went back to the theatre to talk things through with Curtis, but he was nowhere to be seen. I changed into my normal clothes and went back to the shop where a lunch/dinner of sandwiches and salad had been laid out for everyone to enjoy, I chatted with Judi Vaillnocurt, who’s artistic vision lies behind the entire company, and Luke who is increasingly taking the company into a new future.
The second show was at 6, and having finished lunch, I rested for a while in the dressing room, preserving my energy. There was a knock at the door, and it was Curtis who had returned to his store and picked up a different type of headset, ‘better for the more active performer,’ he said in the way in which a tailor might offer a suit to a client:’ If I may say so, sir, the looser cut is appropriate for the more sporting gentleman’. Certainly, when I slipped it on (the microphone, not the suit), it felt tighter and much more secure. All that I needed to do was to remember to put the lead UNDER my waistcoat.
The second show was much better, and I was able to concentrate on the words and atmosphere – I even managed to get all of the scenes in the correct order this time. Unfortunately, during the second act the electronic cracking and popping returned, but almost instantly Curtis took the decision to turn the unit off, meaning that I was unplugged for the final scenes, but it is a small room and actually it all worked fine – maybe tomorrow I will just not use the microphone at all. The audience were as enthusiastic as the first and joined in at every opportunity, many having seen me many times before. At the final scene, as the narrator says that ‘Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed that knowledge’ I carefully picked up one of the Vaillancourt Santas and placed it on my top hat, which in turn was sitting on the stool. I regarded it for a moment and then said, in Scrooge’s voice, ‘I wonder where I can order more of these?’ which got a huge laugh. It had been a lovely show, one which restored my positivity, which had waned somewhat earlier in the day.
Again, I signed in the shop, and received plenty of praise, which is a nice way to end the day. Changing was quick, as I had no need to pack up my costumes and props, they could stay in the dressing room, and soon was driving back to Worcester, where I would meet up with Gary, Judi and Luke for a wind-down dessert and glass of wine in the restaurant next my hotel. Before heading to the bar, I went up to my room to drop a bag with costume shirts off and was relieved to discover that my keys still worked, and that I was still checked in as a guest of Mr Marriott!
The evening was nice and relaxed, but I was tired by now, so we all said our goodbyes. I headed to the lift and they to the parking garage and back to Sutton.
For sure, it had been an adventuresome day.