A Child's Journey With Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge, Line learning, Mid Continent Public Library, Rehearsal
Friday 4th November would see me perform A Christmas Carol for the first time since December 23rd 2021, and to be perfectly honest I was quite worried about it, as in the build-up to the tour the words were just not coming back to me as easily as I would have expected. During the preceding weeks I have been doing a lot of rehearsal and line learning of A Child’s Journey With Dickens, which of course proved very successful, but when I came to A Christmas Carol it had been a bit of a struggle.
On Friday I woke with the knowledge that I would be tested twice later in the day, and that there would be nowhere to hide, so the morning would be given over to some serious rehearsal. Having completed Wordle (my usual score of 4 again) and had breakfast, I returned to my room, and prepared to run through the entire 80-minute script of A Christmas Carol. Outside heavy rain was falling, very heavy rain for a storm was lashing the Midwest with a ferocious intensity that was quite scary, and traffic edged along the busy freeway with thick clouds of spray hanging in the air. Occasionally an emergency vehicle’s flashing lights brought a splash of colour to the scene.
And so, I began: ‘Marley was dead, to begin with…….’ Amazingly, suddenly, unlike my previous rehearsals, the words just flowed. I slightly change my rehearsal from purely a vocal one to include the movements, which was rather difficult seeing as I had a tiny strip of floor between the hotel bed, the desk and the TV stand, but even then, everything came back to me. It was almost as if my mind had been controlling my rehearsal needs and had prioritised A Child’s Journey, before releasing the Carol into my memory when I needed it. I had never felt anything like this before, and it was equally reassuring and unnerving, for I felt slightly out of control.
The run-through finished, and I made some coffee and relaxed, thinking about what I had just been through, and decided to repeat the process in a little while. Firstly, I took the trip’s first load of laundry downstairs and caught up with some emails and admin. One email was from my brother who had seen that Dolly Parton was taking her Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol to London. In previous years when I used to perform in Pigeon Forge this was a very familiar production to me, so I sent a tweet to Ms Parton welcoming her to England. It would be amazing to unite the two shows one day! It would have been easy to stay online, but I forced myelf to start another rehearsal and launched into the script once more. Again, the words, the intonation, the pace, the expression all came from within, and it was if I had been performing the piece every day throughout the previous weeks. There was a huge sense of relief as I came to the end again.
Outside, the rain was till beating the ground and I started to gather everything that I would need for the show – two costumes, cufflinks, watch and chain. walking stick, top hat, red cloth to drape over the chair, Victorian penny pieces in both waistcoat pockets, and then it was 12.15 and Kimberly was due to collect me. I went to the lobby and joined the little group of staff and guests watching the torrent of rain falling from the clouds above.
Kimberly’s car pulled up under the portico, so I could get my costumes and bag stowed without them getting soaked, and off we set to join the streams of cars. The windscreen wipers couldn’t work fast enough to clear the water, so the journey was a slow one, but we still got to the Genealogy Center in good time. Usually in the KC area I have two shows each day in different venues, meaning that as soon as I have finished it is time to pack up and get on the road, but this year it had been decided that I would spend one day at MGC, with two shows, and one day at Woodneath.
The team was already there, Beth, Carmalita, Susan and Sara, and straight away I wanted to go through the music cues to make sure that the show would be slick and perfect – I was still harbouring those nerves from early that morning. Sara opened the sound equipment, and we ran through each sound effect, until we were sure that we were both confident. Next it was time to do a sound check from the stage and I started to run through lines again, and continued for much longer into the script than was absolutely necessary.
Having made all of the preparations I withdrew to the green room, where I got into costume and then began to make my final preparations. I did some deep breathing exercises, and then started my favourite tongue-twisters to make sure that my lips and tongue were working well: ‘Bibbity bobbity bought a bat. Bibbity Bobbity bought a ball’ and ‘She stood upon the balcolny, mimicking him hiccoughing and amicably welcoming him in.’ The important thing about these is to get every syllable pronounced, basically taking my father’s advice from years before, ‘always finish one word before starting the next’. In the second of those excercises it is the ‘ing’ sounds that it is easy to lose, as well as the ‘m’ on the end of ‘him’.
I had done all of the work and preparation that I could so now I sat down quietly to think about the show. I took a selfie of me in pensive pose, and when I looked at it there was an almost uncanny resemblance to my great great grandfather’s pose in an 1859 portrait, even the colour of the wall matched. I swear that I didn’t set out to recreate the Frith portrait, it was simply a happy coincidence. I was definitely channelling the founder of the feast.
At 1 o’clock Susan popped her head into the dressing room to check that I was ready and then went to the stage to make my introductions, while I made my way to the back of the hall to start the show walking through the audience as the somber music played.
What can I say? The show went so well, so smoothly, and the audience responded to all of the moments that previous audiences have – not just the big obvious ones, but also those little times when I listen for a gasp, a giggle or even for complete silence. Even the weather contrived to help, for during the Christmas Future scenes thunder began to rumble outside, adding a portentous and heavy atmosphere to the proceedings, and then stopped again when the story returned to Scrooge’s bedroom on Christmas morning. From a personal point of view there were a few moments of timing that were not absolutely perfect, but these were minor – A Christmas Carol was back in all its glory.
After I had taken my bows, I changed costume and made my way to the auditorium lobby to sign and chat. The reaction to the performance both from well-seasoned fans and first timers was extremely gratifying and for the first time that day I began to relax.
Once the last of the audience had made their wild dash through the rain to their cars, it was time to rest with over 4 hours until the evening show. The library staff had kindly ordered in lunch, in my case a salad, and when I had eaten, I pushed two chairs together, stretched out my legs and although I didn’t actually nap, just switched off.
The evening show was very well subscribed, although we didn’t know if the weather would put people off (the events here are all free, but attendees have to register, meaning that there is often a degree of drop off in numbers.) As 6.30 passed it looked as if almost everyone was coming, for the hall was filling up nicely, and it promised to be a really enjoyable evening. With 5 minutes to go I put my hat and scarf on and prepared to go, when I saw Sara, who I would have expected to be at the sound desk, walking down a corridor wielding a large rubber plunger. She gave me a wry look and said ‘Oh, the joys of being the building superintendent’ and off she marched with an air of resigned determination. Shortly afterwards Beth appeared to tell me that we may be delaying for 5 minutes or so, as there was a slight plumbing emergency that needed attending to – I didn’t ask for any details. It was not long until Sara was back, and we were ready to go.
The evening performance was another good one, although my voice was a little husky, probably due to the efforts I had put into the morning’s rehearsing as well as the first show. It was great to perform for such a large crowd, and it felt as if they were all engaged in the story. There were quite a few children in the audience, and they were giggling at the silly bits – snoring etc, and at one point I found myself playing to them too much and had to pull myself back into line. The response at the show’s conclusion was amazing, with shouts and whistles and whoops. It had very definitely been a good day
At the signing table there were more gifts, a drawing of the Child’s Journey stage by Aiden, and a painting by Paisley, whilst Lily, who gave me the picture the day before, was back with her mother too. I signed lots of copies of my book, as well as the A Christmas Carol DVDs which are available this year and posed for lots of photographs.
When all was finished, I packed up my belongings, said my goodbyes and Kimberly drove me back to Liberty, where we dined in a sports bar (a delicious salmon and mashed potatoes for me), before she took me back to the hotel. It had seemed a long day, but an ultimately successful one, the only negative aspect being that somewhere along the way I had mislaid one of my red cravats – maybe it fell off the coat hanger when I was running through the rain, but that means I only have one for the rest of the tour.
I may have lost a small item of costume, but I have NOT lost A Christmas Carol.