A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Dickens 30th annivesary, Ebenezer Scrooge, Merchandise, Vaillancourt Folk Art
Day two with the Vaillancourts, on Sunday, was due to be an almost carbon copy of Saturday, but with everything shifted backward by an hour, meaning that the first show was at 1, instead of 2, and the evening one at 5 instead of 6.
The morning marked an exciting moment for me, as it was my first opportunity to delve into a hotel laundry room and wash the costume shirts that I had used the day before. So, before breakfast, I loaded up the machine, swiped a credit card (no need for bags full of quarters at the Marriott), and enjoyed the buffet whilst my shirts tumbled and fell in their drum. My dining timings were excellent, for I was able to switch the shirts from washer to drier as I left the breakfast room and before returning to 410. When another thirty minutes had passed, I retrieved the clean costume and carefully folded all four shirts ready to be taken back to Sutton.
I left the hotel at around 11, as I wanted to check in with Curtis and discuss the microphone issues from the day before with him. When I walked into the theatre, I was greeted by a new sound engineer who introduced himself as Dave. Curtis had filled him in with all of the developments from the day before and we checked every lead and socket until we were as sure as we could be that nothing could go wrong. We then spent time huddled around the laptop going over the sound cues until Dave was confident in what he was doing.
My dressing room at the Vaillancourts is behind the packing department, and is well furnished with a clothes rack, 2 sofas and a table upon which had been placed a beautiful vase of flowers with a card saying, ‘welcome back Mr Dickens’, which was very generous. The room is sort of an anteroom to Gary’s office which is right at the back of the building, and so that he knows when anyone is coming to see him, he had installed a little motion activated chime which trills an electronic ‘bing bong. bing bong. bing bong’. When I am getting ready for a show I like to pace about, I am not good at just sitting still, so that even as I tie my cravat, or button my shirt, or put my watch chain on, I am walking to and fro, back and forth, and at Vaillancourts this had the result of constantly setting off the chimes. I would walk out of the room and into the packing area: ‘Bing bong. Bing bong. Bing bong’. I walked back into my room again: ‘Bing bong. Bing bong. Bing bong’. Maybe I had a drink of water from my large green water bottle, before going back out to listen to the audience gathering: ‘Bing bong. Bing bong. Bing bong’. Back to put my microphone on: ‘Bing bong. Bing bong. Bing bong’…and so on
On Sunday morning, my costumes were still hanging on the rack from the day before, and I unpacked my shirts ready for the day ahead. I use four shirts for day with two performances of the 2-act version of the show, and they are worn to the following timetable: shirt 1 is worn for show 1, act 1. At the interval it is taken off and hung on a hanger to dry, and shirt 2 is used for the second act. When the show is finished, I change into shirt 3 for the signing session, and that same shirt is used for Act 1 of the second show. Shirt 4 is put on for act 2, and then shirt 1, now dry and aired, is re-used for the second signing event. Simple, really.
When I had changed, I went through my normal routine of checking that I had everything ready – my hat, cane and scarf were on a steel table in packing, rather as if it were a props table in a theatre, and everything else was where it should be. With 20 minutes to go, I made a very quick video call home and briefly chatted with Liz and the girls, taking them on a little tour of the backstage area and showing them some of the beautiful Santa figures which were awaiting dispatch.
Naturally, my backstage perambulations activated the little alarm constantly. They told me all about their weekend, but our call had to be terminated due to the fact that Liz’s phone was almost without battery, the girls needed their supper, and I had a room fool waiting for me to do some funny voices. We finished the call with waves, blown kisses and goodbyes, and I took up position, and waited for the show to begin.
At 12.55 Gary called ‘the five’ and I left the dressing room, striding to the theatre, leaving the bings and the bongs in my wake.
Once again it was a full house, and it included a bus tour from Rhode Island, which had offered my performance as part of their itinerary, meaning that there were quite a few audience members who would be experiencing the show for the first time, which is always interesting, although there were plenty of loyal and regular fans to guide them through the trials and tribulations of Mr Scrooge and the rest of the cast. I have to say, after my self-criticism of the day before, I was very pleased with the matinee performance, it was pacey and energetic and engaged well with the crowd who seemed to enjoy it very much – they even gave Mr and Mrs Fezziwig a round of applause for their remarkable dance moves. The microphone popped once or twice, but not to the extent that Dave had to shut it off, as Curtis had the day before, and it seemed as if the noise was related to certain moments when it banged into my beard, I tried to subtly adjust it to see if that would help and it certainly seemed to. If the levels of sweat are any indication to my efforts on stage, then I certainly put a lot of effort into that performance, and those efforts were rewarded with a superb ovation at the end. I returned to the dressing room, pumped full of adrenaline, and quickly changed for the signing session, pacing back and forth to the constant soundtrack of ‘Bing bong. Bing bong. Bing bong’
It was lovely to meet lots of passengers from the tour, who had thoroughly enjoyed the show (some had actually seen me before in other locations), and I spent plenty of time chatting and posing with them. Usually, an audience naturally drifts away after a while, but the group had to wait for their transport of course, so stayed in the store and looked around the museum, meaning that I needed to politely absent myself so that I could have some lunch and restock my energy levels before the second show. When I had changed, and re-set the stage, I returned to the office space just behind the museum area, and loaded a plate with some salad and ham, and sat down with Luke and Abby, one of the artists who paints the Santas, and who, for my visit, was also tending the bar in the theatre (the reason for the 2-act format here). Just outside the office, the bus passengers were watching a video about the history of Judi and Gary’s remarkable company, and when that finished Gary did what he does so well, and chatted to them, and charmed them, making them feel as if they were all the most valuable and important customers who had ever walked into the store. When Gary had finished schmoozing, he joined us to eat, and we began talking about my ideas for 2023, my thirtieth anniversary tour. Thirty years of performing A Christmas Carol, can you believe it? I very much want the ’23 tour to be a celebratory one, and the opportunity for some special tour merchandising is obvious (my decision to wear my own branded clothing during this year’s trip is sort of a toe-in-the-water exercise to see what the reaction to GD apparel is).
All too soon it was time to start the preparation for the evening performance, and I returned to the dressing room and once more started the ceaseless (can you start a ceaseless thing? Is that an oxymoron? If something never ceases, then surely you can’t actually start it, although it must have started at some point. Ah, the English language!) round of binging and bonging. When I put my microphone headset on, I adjusted the wire, pulling it further from my face, thereby minimising the possibility of further banging.
I had put so much effort into my afternoon show, that I was worried that the evening one may be difficult, but actually I picked up exactly where I had left off, and the performance was as good, if not even stronger, although Mr and Mrs F didn’t get their applause this time. The audience were fully involved and responded with great gusto, obviously made up of regulars, for they joined in with many lines, often before I had a chance to say them. From a performance point of view Sunday had been a very positive day.
Having taken my bows, Gary called me back onto stage and announced that 2023 was to be a very special year, with the big anniversary, and that folk would need to book their tickets as early as possible: the Vaillancourt entrepreneurial brain was already shifting up a gear and accelerating hard!
Before I went to meet the audience in the museum, I made a point of finding Dave, who was packing up the sound equipment, and thanking him for his help and expertise – it had been a difficult couple of days but by the end we had got on top of our problems and delivered a pair of superb shows.
At the meet and greet session I met lots of old friends, but the final photograph of the weekend was with Gary, Judi and Luke surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands of Santa figures, each carefully produced from antique chocolate moulds and each meticulously painted by hand.
I changed out of costume and made sure I had all of my belongings with me, before driving back to Worcester, where Gary and Judi met me and took me to dinner at a steak house – we all dined well, and as the rain pelted the streets outside, we talked about our times together – in the past, the present, and of course, the future.