Being guided by my Facebook and OneDrive memory bank has meant that for a few days there has been nothing new to describe, as all of the posts have concerned the venues that I have already described: Nashua, The Berkshires, Omaha and Kansas City, but today a new one popped up: The Country Cupboard in Lewisburg, PA.
The Country Cupboard is a an amazing complex of destination, gift store and restaurant, the latter which offers the MOST SPECTACULAR buffet. I perform in a large function room on a wide stage, well lit and furnished, therefore giving me plenty of scope to play every scene properly. In my early years there the performance would be to a cabaret style audience, sat at large tables, but in recent years we have moved to a more traditional theatre setting. The audience are always enthusiastic and join in at the appropriate moments with great gusto, for many have seen the show multiple times and know when to, and more importantly when not to, shout out.
As with all of my venues there is a small group of people that I work with at The Country Cupboard and we have become a good and close team over the years. Firstly there is Missy who runs the whole show with quiet efficiency, juggling my various needs with those of the huge audiences all of whom need to be fed at the buffet before being marshalled into ‘the theatre’ in time for the show to start. Missy always pays huge attention to detail and remembers exactly what is needed, for example one year I had a scratchy throat that needed soothing and I asked it were possible to have a cup of black tea with some honey before the show and now, every year when I arrive in the store and stand at the back of the room, watching the audience gather, there will always be a cup of tea and honey waiting for me. The other arm of our Lewisburg triumvirate is Kj Reimensnyder-Wagner a singer and songwriter who entertains the gathering crowds before the show. Kj has such a peaceful and gentle touch as a performer and soothes away any anger or frustration that may be welling up in the audience with her chat and beautiful voice. We make a good team, the three of us.
But the Lewisburg experience is so much more than the performances at The Country Cupboard, for the journey there has become a hugely important tradition for me. I will usually be driving from the south of the state, through Harrisburg and then hugging the banks of the beautiful Susquehanna River as I drive north.
The drive is an impressive and familiar one to me now and I look out for little landmarks along the way: there are the amazing long bridges crossing the river, which Charles Dickens vividly described in American Notes when he visited the city in 1842, and there is the strange replica of the Statue of Liberty which sits on a crumbling parapet which once supported a bridge but which long ago fell into the waters. The current statue is made of metal, but the original Harrisburg Lady was made as a prank in 1986 out of old venetian blinds!
Further on I always make sure I stop at the little township of Liverpool where I can walk to the river’s edge and take photographs.
Pennsylvania is regarded as a microcosm of America as a whole in that the state boasts large liberal affluent metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia, but also swathes of rural farmland and mountainous hunting regions. The drive to Lewisburg encompasses pretty the whole range of demographics.
I am always afforded a warm welcome when I arrive and I stay in a small hotel next to the store. I always have the same room with its little kitchen area and a huge whirlpool bathtub in which I can relax between the matinee and evening performances. Everything about performing at the Country Cupboard is familiar and easy and above all FUN!
Another venue that appeared on my memories was from longer ago: my two years at the Bogata Casino in Atlantic City, on the New Jersey coast. I am not a gambler and never have been, so casinos hold a sort of unreachable and dangerous fascination to me. I have visited Vegas in the past (officially I can say I played on The Strip) as well as Monaco and Macau and each time I have felt as if I had landed in an alien environment. If someone made me sit at a gaming table I wouldn’t have known what to say or do. It is strange therefore that one of my favourite opening passages to a book is set in such a setting:
“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.”
I was invited to The Bogata not only to perform but also to make a special guest appearance, in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, at a huge holiday party thrown for the high rollers who had won and lost big during the year. The party was a celebration of wealth and greed and during it huge swathes of cash and prizes were handed over in thanks (as one of the directors whispered to me it was no skin off the nose of the casino for most of the money would be handed back over the tables later that night.) Usually old Ebenezer is a figure of fun but on this occasion he was there to be admired for his singular pursuit of wealth. I have to say the whole experience didn’t sit comfortably with me.
What I did enjoy at The Bogata, however, was the theatre itself: a huge space akin to one of the theatres on a cruise ship and packed with every technical gizmo that I could wish for: lighting of all moods and colours, as well as dry ice that would seep across the stage like ghostly fingers groping toward the audience.
I had asked if we should perform the show in two acts but the staff said definitely not for if we let the audience out in an interval they would head straight for the gaming tables and slot machines and we’d never see them again!
The Bogata was never destined to be a constant on tour, in the way that Nashua, Sutton and Chalfont are, but my two years there certainly opened my eyes and were an amazing experience.
Back in 2020 the season moves on and I am getting ready to actually perform at the weekend. Over the next few days promotion for the film continues with a series of interviews as well as some Q&A sessions with various organisations around the globe. Exciting times, indeed and in a few days I will be able to announce a new collaboration which means a great deal to me.
For those who are unable to see my show this year don’t forget that the film version is available on Vimeo throughout the Christmas season and is available via my website: