Sunday 14 November was to be my final day of the the first leg of my 2021 tour, and I would be performing a Christmas Carol twice more. Kimberly was due to pick me up at 11.45, so I had the morning to myself. Slowly my body clock was beginning to catch up with reality (just in time to be completely confused again), and instead or waking at 3, I slept through to 4.45 which I know sounds ridiculously early (it is), but it marked some kind of progress! Having written and then breakfasted I returned to my room ready to enjoy a full morning of Grand Prix racing! I had discovered that not only would ESPN be showing the Brazilian Grand Prix live, but also the full British Sky F1 pre race build-up, which would start at 9. I made sure that I had fresh shirts for the two shows and that my second costume (the first was still in Kimberly’s car along with my hat and cane), was complete and ready. There would be no chance to return to the hotel between shows so I needed to have everything prepared for the whole day.
Preparations completed, I switched on the TV and became immersed in the murky world of Formula 1 politics – there had been lots of controversy over the weekend and various penalties had been meted out, not least to Lewis Hamilton, the British champion, who due to a technical infringement had been relegated to the back of the field for the ‘Sprint Race’ (held on Saturday to determine the starting grid for the main race), and even though he had fought through the field to finish 5th in that encounter, he had another penalty which took him back to 10th on the grid, so it had been a difficult weekend for him so far. There was a real sense of anticipation from Brazil which was infectious.
As race time approached I made another coffee and ate a muffin that I had brought up from the breakfast buffet. For 45 minutes I was able to relish what seemed to be one of the classic races as Hamilton surged through the field to be close behind the leader, his championship rival Max Verstappen. The race was just building towards a very exciting second half when the phone rang and the cheery girl on the front desk told me that ‘your ride is waiting’! Sigh, but work called.
We were returning to the Midwest Genealogy Center again, so there were to be no surprises in store, and as we arrived everything was being readied: Sara and her team were getting the stage ready and Lindsey was practising the sound cues in the technical booth. Philip and Ruby were setting up their i-phone cameras ready to broadcast my show to those who wanted to follow the live stream, rather than being in a live audience and in general there was a sense of concentrated activity in the room. Having hung my costume in the green room, I draped the red shawl (which represents Scrooge’s blanket, as well as becoming a representation of Tiny Tim), over the chair and once again hid the mice in the foliage of the Christmas tree which decorated the set. Lindsey had a couple of questions about the sound effects for A Christmas Carol, so we discussed those and also developed a system to ensure that the microphone was on, to avoid a repetition of the previous day’s mistake.
When all of the preparations were complete Kimberly drove me to the same petrol station that we had visited the day before where we bought a sandwich, fruit and a protein bar (finding one without chocolate was very difficult) and returned to the green room to eat our lunch, as the audience started to arrive. The Dickens carollers were back and doing an amazing job entertaining the crowd with a great zeal and energy which one more was bringing lots of applause and appreciation. At 1.30, with 30 minutes to go, Kimberly left to help the rest of the team and I started to get into costume. At 1.45 I made all of my final checks, shoes tied with double bows to make sure that the laces didn’t unravel with all of the movement, genuine Victorian penny piece in my waistcoat pocket, cravat carefully tied, pocket watch set to the correct time, and I was ready to go.
At 1.55 I switched the mic on and slipped out of the green room and stood at a spot where I could make eye contact with Lindsey, she checked on the sound board that the mic was on and gave me a thumbs up. At 2 Sara began the introductions, encouraging everyone to switch off their phones, and the show began. Once more it felt a very good performance, although annoyingly an electronic beep kept going off – at first I thought it was someone’s phone receiving messages, but as the show went on I began to think that it must be something in the room, for no one would repeatedly let their phone interrupt a show….would they? The most annoying moment was as Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come visited Cratchit’s house and just as I was saying ‘It was quiet. Very quiet’, sur enough the beep beeped. Annoying, but it didn’t disrupt the flow of the story and when I got to the end and took my bows the audience were standing and cheering. The show is in a good place this year, I have kept the pace up and not allowed myself to drift back to the ponderous, overly dramatic performances of previous years in which I tried to give every line drama and gravitas which just led to a serious of long pauses which fragmented the natural rhythm of the narrative.
Back on stage for the Question and answer sessions, and the first came from a young audience member Levi, aged 7, who asked did I prefer being an actor or an author? – A great question which gave me yet another opportunity to shamelessly advertise my new book! The answer though is of course being an actor. The session went on with plenty of good questions, including how did I come up with all of the different voices for the show which led to a sort of masterclass session running through not only the voices but also some of the theatrical ‘tricks’ I use to differentiate characters (citing the conversation between Scrooge and the charity collector on Christmas morning, in which Scrooge holds the hat and cane in one hand and the collector holds them in separate hands – a simple device to create two characters on the same stage together).
Eventually the session came to an end, and having taken another bow I left to change once more as the audience left. When I was back in 21st century garb and my costume was on its hanger, I returned to the room to say good bye and to thank Lindsey, Philip and Ruby for their help through the afternoon.
It was 4pm and Kimberly and I set off for the next venue, the Colbern Road branch of MCPL. As we walked to the car all of the furniture from the set was being loaded onto a large truck ready to take it on to Colbern Road. I have performed there before, but since my last visit the old branch had been flattened and a new, modern, shiny, futuristic steel and glass structure had risen in its place. It made for an impressive sight as we turned off the road and into the parking lot.
Inside was just as impressive, presenting an airy open spacious feel to the lucky library goers who have this in their community. We met with the branch manager, Seth, who showed me around: the room where I was to perform was already laid out with a temporary stage, with a black screen behind, at one side. Having performed in larger spaces over the last two days, this was a return to an old school style of Library performance, under the regular room lighting meaning I would be able to see every expression on everyone’s face throughout the show.
Having checked out the space Seth showed me an area of the library tucked away where I could lay and rest for an hour or so, before I needed to start preparing again, and before laying on couch I glanced at the shelves and what was there? An audiobook of A Christmas Carol recorded by yours truly, featuring a very young and slim image of me.
The rest was very welcome and I lay on the couch until 6, when it was time to go and do a sound check. Back in the room I found Chris, a sound engineer, testing microphones. He had set up two very large speakers (perhaps larger than the space truly warranted), at the front of the stage. I introduced myself and we did a good sound check during which he walked to all corners of the room making adjustments on an i-pad until he was quite satisfied.
Phil and Ruby were back to stream this performance too but Phil was having trouble connecting to a wifi network, without which the streaming would be impossible to achieve. Eventually a system was cobbled together using a personal cell phone as a hotspot and connection was complete. It had been a tense atmosphere in the room and we had to delay letting the audience in until everything was sorted, but that didn’t matter for the good old Dickens Carollers were doing the stuff in the main library.
I retreated to my dressing room (actually an electrical plant room and store room, but quite spacious enough for me to change and relax in) and got into costume. The carollers were now in the ‘theatre’ and I knew their set well enough by this time to know when it was almost show time, I didn’t need to look at my watch.
At 7 they took their much deserved applause, I slipped into the room, Seth stood on the stage and introduced me and the show began.
Seth returned to the stage to host the Q&A and the first question came from Colin in Lincoln. Now, this was an important question, for Colin has been a regular attendee to my shows along with his dad Doug, but this year Colin had suffered a serious illness while at college in Lincoln, Nebraska and was unable to return home to join us (Doug had been at shows the day before and generously given me a gift of banana bread and his favourite blend of coffee!) Colin’s question therefore was his chance to be a part of the event and he was watching the live stream from Lincoln (I was so relieved that Phil had managed to establish the connection therefore.)
The Q&A carried on, with thoughtful questions such as ‘what relevance does A Christmas Carol still have today’ and ‘what lesson would you like us to take away from your performance?’ I was asked if I had ever tried Kansas City barbeque, as my blog mentions all of the places that I eat along the way and BBQ didn’t seem to feature. I am ashamed to admit it in the heart of the best barbeque city in America, but I am not a great fan – I was taken to plenty of restaurants when I used to stay in the heart of downtown Kansas City in my early years, but maybe my delicate British constitution is not fully prepared!
And so my final appearance in Missouri this year wound down to a close, and I returned to my store room to change once more. I thanked all of the library staff and Chris the sound engineer who had done a superb job with all of the effects, and made sure I had everything with me before leaving the magnificent new library at Colbern Road.
Kimberly and I found a restaurant still open on the way home, although we seemed to be the only diners, and then continued the journey back to The Hampton Inn where we arranged to meet at 10 the next morning to get me to the airport in plenty of time to board the first part of my homeward journey,
In my room I hung all of my costumes up on the shower rail in the bathroom, so that they could air well before being packed away in a suitcase, and then it was time to sleep.
Thank you Missouri for looking after me so well.