A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Carol film, Charles Dickens, Dickens and Staplehurst. A Biogrpahy of a Rail Crash, Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley, Mid Continent Public Library, Miriam Margolyes, Snow
Saturday 5 November was very similar in shape to Friday 4th, with two performances of A Christmas Carol at a single venue, in this case back at the Woodneath Library auditorium. Woodneath is only a five-minute drive from the Hilton Garden Inn, and I didn’t have to be there until 1pm, so I had a very lazy, and recuperative, morning ahead of me.
After the torrential rain of Friday, I was astounded to see low cloud and snow greet me as I arrived in the lobby for breakfast. Of course, the ground was so wet that none of the snow survived on the ground, but it was lovely to watch the big flakes float down.
There is not much to say about the morning, really (Wordle in 3, is worth a mention though!), I did a little more laundry, not that I really needed to, but it is good to keep on top of it and keep a full stock of white costume shirts in the bank. A day of two shows typically uses three shirts – one to be worn during the first performance, then a second one to change into for the signing session, which I will also wear for the second show, and then a third fresh one for the evening signing. There are days on tour when there is not time to get laundry done, thanks to travel commitments, so I have always tried to catch up as often as possible.
As the morning went on, so the weather cleared and by the time I was collating all of the costumes and props the sky was clear blue with the temperature rising. Kimberly arrived at 12.45 and we made the short drive to Woodneath where we were greeted by a somewhat panicky group of librarians, for they had discovered that when the furniture for the stage had been collected from MGC that morning, the guys had forgotten to load the leather armchair that takes on the multiple roles of Scrooge’s office chair, his bed and Mr Fezziwig’s desk respectively. By the time the discovery had been made there was no time to drive back to Independence, collect the chair and get it back to Liberty in time for the matinee, so we had to improvise. Fortunately, the Woodneath branch has been imaginatively designed and styled, so there were a few possible ‘understudies’ dotted around. I chose a fairly plain green vinyl one which, although a little modern, would do the job. As we placed this humble chair onto the stage, the famous line from 42nd Street came to mind – ‘Hey, kid, you are going out there a nobody, but you have to come back a star!’ I hoped that the chair would not crumble under such pressure.
With much larger audiences expected to attend A Christmas Carol than those that came to watch A Child’s Journey With Dickens two days before, the true flexibility of the brand new Woodneath auditorium was literally revealed, for a wall could be raised allowing a whole new area of seating to have a view of the stage.
With the minor emergency of the chair averted, I went into my usual preparations for a show – changing into my costume with 30 minutes to go. As the audience gathered, so they were entertained by the Dickens Carolers, who sung wonderful acapella arrangements of favourite Christmas songs. The group is highly popular in the Kansas City area, and for my shows a group of 4 (the entire choir is much larger) delighted the audience with their very witty and lively renditions. Having got into my costume, I stood in the wings and watched them perform, which really helped me get into the spirit of the day, as well as giving me a chance to gauge the responsiveness of the audience.
With five minutes to go I made my way to join Sara in the sound booth and watched the end of the caroler’s set from the back of the hall. At 2 o’clock they sang ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’, their final number, and left the stage to loud applause, which boded well for the next 90 minutes. Indeed, the show went very well, although my voice was still a little husky. The chair fulfilled its commitments admirably, and maybe was even a good omen, for when I flung my top hat into the air as Scrooge gets dressed ‘all in his best’ it landed squarely and securely onto my head, thereby earning me an extra, and quite undeserved, round of applause. I am often asked how often the hat lands on my head successfully, and the answer is very rarely, maybe two or three times each season. Usually, as it drops to the floor, I cheerfully pick it up, dust it down and say, ‘One day!’, which actually helps to established old Ebenezer’s new sunny and positive outlook on life. I haven’t quite worked out how to best respond when the hat trick is successful. Yesterday I simply stood at the centre of the stage with my arms spread, soaking up the applause, but I wonder if a better response is simply to carry on the scene as if it were an absolutely normal part of the script: maybe I will try that approach next time.
The audience reaction was wonderful, as it always is in the Kansas City area, where I have so many fans and supporters. I quickly changed into a dry costume (even more important with my throat being a little tender), and made my way to the lobby where a long line of people was waiting for me. My signing table was in front of the magnificent living moss wall, which provided a quite spectacular backdrop for the many photographs that were taken. Last year when I was in the area my Staplehurst book had yet to be delivered, so Kimberly had asked me to sign 200 bookplates which could be stuck in when the stock arrived. Now, even with the bookplates, everyone wanted their copy personally signed, and I can quite understand that. I recently bought a copy of Miriam Margolyes’ autobiography which had been ‘signed by the author’, but it would mean so much more if I was next to her chatting as she scribbled her name. I was actually filming with her recently, for a forthcoming TV programme, and very foolishly forgot to take my book!
When the signing had finished, my first job, as always, was to re-set the stage for the evening’s performance. A performer, or stage manager, will always do this immediately a show is finished, rather than waiting until the evening when, if there is a problem, it is too late to resolve. Once the stool was back in its starting place, the red cloth draped over the stand-in chair and the hat, scarf and walking stick back in the dressing room, I changed into my normal clothes and went to get my lunch, which the team had ordered in for me. Unfortunately, my salad hadn’t been delivered with the rest of the order, so Kimberly suggested we drive back to the deli, collect my lunch and then I could take it back to the hotel eat it there and have a short rest between shows, which was what I did.
Back to Woodneath, the original chair had been collected and now sat rather sheepishly, slightly out of position on the stage, whilst the replacement had resumed its life in the library, having had the briefest glimpses of show business. I positioned the original how I wanted it, placed the cloth over it, and went to get ready. Again, I listened to the carolers (a different quartet) as they did their thing equally as cheerfully and energetically as their afternoon counterparts. The audience was another large one, and they sounded to be equally responsive.
My voice was still not fully up to par, despite drinking a lot of water, sucking on Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, and doing all of my warm-up exercises. The good thing is that it does not feel sore or inflamed and I think that it is simply a question of getting used to being constantly on the road, performing every day. Sadly, I was not able to repeat the success with the top hat, so couldn’t try out my new idea – it may be a while until I can! The response was every bit as enthusiastic as the afternoon’s had been, and everyone stood and cheered and stamped as I bowed to all sides of the room.
The signing session was fun, and there were more gifts bestowed upon me, but the best moment was when a gentleman approached me (he was not standing in the queue), shook me very firmly and earnestly by the hand, and said ‘Marley was dead, but Charles Dickens is very much alive within you’. He didn’t say anything else, had no book or DVD to be signed, didn’t want a picture, he just said those words, which meant the world to me.
My time in the Kansas City area had come to an end, I said goodbye to the various MCPL staff who had looked after me so well, most especially to Sara who had run the shows expertly from the tech booth throughout my visit, as well as wielding the rubber plunger when necessary.
Kimerly took me to the nearby Longhorn steakhouse, where we celebrated with a couple of Ribeye steaks and baked potatoes, before returning to the hotel where we said our goodbyes for another year.
On Sunday morning I get to drive my Toyota Venza for the first time since Wednesday as I make the journey to Omaha to get together with more old friends and to continue my adventures
PS: A very happy birthday to my brother Ian, who has had such a positive and supportive influence of my career, and life. Celebrate well!