A Christmas Carol, Applebee's, Boston Logan Airport, Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge, Enterprise Car Rental, Holiday Inn Express, Toyota Highlander, Vaillancourt Folk Art, Washington DC, Waynesboro, Waynesboro Theater
Having just about settled into life at the AC Marriott, life in Worcester and life with the Vaillancort family, on Monday morning it was time to move on, and quite early in the morning, too. My flight from Boston airport was due to depart at 9.45 am, but I have been caught out by the very busy Logan airport before, and decided that I needed to be in the terminal 2 hours before my flight, at the very least – add to that a Monday morning Boston rush hour, and the need to get a shuttle bus from the car rental building and I had decided to leave my room at 6.15. Fortunately, I was still in a sleep pattern that saw me waking at around 4.30, so I had plenty of time to carefully pack my cases and get on the road.
Initially my phone refused to find a network, leaving me with no way to navigate, but my experience of many years coming to Worcester meant that I knew which roads to take out of the city, and I was well on my way before the map screen flickered into life and told me that I had more than an hour left in my 40-minute journey: I was glad that I had built plenty of time into my morning, and sure enough I was soon crawling along in very heavy traffic, although I was rewarded by one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen in a long while
As the skyline of Boston appeared so the traffic slowed to a crawl and then a standstill. My spare time was ticking away, but then, deep under the city, in the tunnels that were still being dug when I first visited, I was directed towards Logan airport, and the road cleared again and in no time I was handing my Nissan back to a Hertz agent and pulling my cases into the terminal, which was much quieter than I had supposed. Once I cleared security my thoughts could turn to breakfast, and I found a diner and was shown to a table. There was a gentleman at the table next to me, and after a few minutes he lent over, pointing at my ‘GD A Christmas Carol’ logo, ‘Are you in that play?’ he asked. I explained that I did a one-man version of it and had just performed locally. He went on to tell me that he had been to see a version of it in Providence Rhode Island, in which the gender of many of the characters had been reversed (I mean that Scrooge was female, not that he had undergone surgery), and he had NOT enjoyed the show, neither had his brother-in-law who had booked 40 tickets for all of his family. I suggested that maybe next year they should all come to my show instead – they could be sure of a much more traditional rendition of the story. I never told him about the family connection, just about the show, and we chatted for a long time about theatre in general (he had studied to be an actor in New York City many years before). It is amazing the doors that a simple embroidered logo can open. The gentleman’s name was Richard, and it was one of those incredible occasions that happen every now and then when two worlds, completely separate, just touch for the briefest moment. Richard finished his breakfast and left for Iowa where he was going to shoot some deer, I finished mine and set off to Virginia, where I had a date with a theatre audience.
As I made my way from the diner to my gate, I was overtaken by an airline pilot running very hard, as if he were in danger of missing his flight; ‘relax, I thought, ‘the plane’s not going to leave without you, is it?’ The first leg of my flight was from Boston to Washington DC, and as I took off , I was treated to an incredible view of the new international terminal building at Logan – a great slash of colour, a crescent of Ferrari red. It is so refreshing to see some real architectural expression go into a building such as this, rather than just the usual never-ending re-working of existing and dated structures. I am sure some won’t like it, maybe there is already a heated dialogue about the design, but on Monday morning I liked it!
The flight to DC was uneventful and once at Dulles I had to make my way to a little part of terminal A, especially for little planes – it was like a children’s play area, recreating a ‘real’ airport. I grabbed a cup of coffee and waited to be boarded. It was one of those gates that service four or five flights, all of the jets parked around on the tarmac, so it is essential to make sure you go to the right aircraft, or you may find yourself in a completely different city to the one you had planned. I walked across to a plane and reassured myself that it was indeed heading to Charlottesville, Virginia, and walked up the steps to the door. There is something very special about standing on the top of a set of stairs and standing outside the hatch – it brings images of the great world leaders making state visits, or of the Beatles arriving in New York City in 1964.
I thought about turning for a moment and waving to imaginary adoring crowds, but instead simple wished the flight attendant ‘good afternoon’ and made my way along the very narrow aisle to my seat in row 31.
When we were all settled in, the captain came on to update us on our flight – once airborne it would last 20 minutes, less of a flight than a long bump. Charlottesville airport is one of those brilliant facilities where you can sort out your rental car while waiting for the baggage carousel to tremble into life. On this occasion I was picking up a car from Enterprise and was given a Toyota Highlander – I didn’t know what that was, but for a single day I was sure it would be fine. When my case arrived, I walked to the parking lot and found a large black SUV waiting for me, which was very comfortable and spacious.
I was in a part of Virginia that I do not know, so diligently followed my map app (that is very pleasing to say out loud, try it: MapApp). Signs along the road told me I was on the edge of the Shenandoah National Park, and the scenery that surrounded me looked beautiful; strangely it reminded me of The Berkshires in Massachusetts where I am to travel next. In fact, for a while, I began to think that I had skipped a day and journey to the wrong place as I found myself driving along Berkshire Way and passed signs to Lenoxx (my venue in The Berkshires is the small town of Lenox), but soon I saw signs to Waynesboro, which was to be my destination, and I relaxed once more.
I pulled into the car park for a Holiday Inn Express and as soon as I walked into the reception hall the lady behind the desk said ‘You must be Mr Dickens!’ (Actually, she said Dickerson). I asked her what gave me away, and she pointed at my logo. ‘So,’ she continued, ‘you are at the Wayne Theater tonight? It’s going to be real special’.
When I perform at a venue year after year, I have some idea what to expect – I know what size the audience is likely to be, and to a certain extent how they will respond, but when I come to a new city, I really don’t know what will happen. The Wayne Theater had reached out to us earlier in the year and Bob Byers had managed to find a single day in my itinerary where I could perform for them. I had looked at the venue’s website, and it looked beautiful, but what would the response in the town be? Was it the type of place that would say, ‘Oh, we sent a press release out a few weeks ago, but the ticket sales haven’t been as good as we expected’, or would it be one of those energetic, vibrant, hub-of-the-community type places? All of that I would find out in due time.
I had an hour or two at the hotel and took the opportunity to have an energising shower, and at 5pm I got into the Highlander and drove the 10 minutes to downtown Waynesboro. Along the way, I passed houses that had been decorated for Christmas, with multi-coloured lights, projected snowflakes and large inflatables on front lawns making me smile, as if the spirit of Christmas was really descending. The theater itself is on Main Street and is a very beautiful building (it was originally built in the 20’s as a Vaudeville theater, then became a move theater. before being all but destroyed by flooding and fire. As recently as 2016 it was restored, thanks to the largesse and hard work of the community, and now it is a thriving part of the city.
I parked in the small lot to the side, and went to the front door, where I was warmly greeted and taken into the auditorium by Chris, who I guessed was the technical manager for the night. The auditorium was perfect, and on the large stage my set had already been placed. Chris introduced me to Drew in the technical box who would be looking after my sound and lighting, and in no time, we were going through the script together. I was originally slated to perform my 1-act version of the show, but Chris had asked if it would be possible to include an intermission, as their audiences were used to that. Considering I had just done 2 days and 4 performances in the 2-act format, it really wasn’t any trouble to say yes, and besides this was a venue that deserved the full theatrical treatment. That, and an audience which would number more than 300.
Having got all of the technical requirements sorted out, I told Chris that I was going to drive back to the hotel and pick up a second costume and would be back very soon. Ten minutes each way, and soon I was lounging in the green room listening to the audience gather. The show was due to begin at 7, but we held for a few minutes as the large group took their seats (there had been a 6.30 tree-lighting ceremony in the town, which was one reason that sales had been so good), but soon I was standing in the wings waiting to start. Our original contact, Tracy Straight, was making my introduction, and as soon as she walked onto the stage the whole crowd started clapping and shouting, they were obviously a crowd out for some fun.
I am not going to describe the show scene by scene, laugh by laugh, I am just going to say ‘Wow!’ It was amazing, energizing, moving, exhausting and exhilarating. Drew did a great job with light and sound, not to mention a bit of fog, and the audience were just unbelievably enthusiastic and vocal, which is not always the case at a new venue, especially one of this size.
After two acts of fun, I took my bows to a standing and shouting ovation and returned to the green room where I simply slumped into a chair and reflected on what had just happened. There was no specific signing session planned, but Tracy brought a couple of books that an audience member had brought along, and I signed them, before changing out of my costume. I returned to the stage in the now empty house and stood chatting to Drew and Chris and other volunteers from the centre, just enjoying being in that space. Being in an empty theatre is very special, and I did the same at the Vaillancourts, just sitting reflecting, thinking about the alternative worlds that have just filled that space.
There is definitely a desire from the theatre staff that I return to Waynesboro next year, and I certainly hope that it comes to pass, for it will fit in very, very well. Besides that, I am already part of the fabric there, for there is a tradition that performers of every show sign one of the black bricks backstage. During the interval I had climbed onto a table with a two Sharpies, one gold, one silver, and drew a picture of me as Scrooge (copying one of the publicity photographs that my brother Ian had taken a few years ago), and carefully scribing ‘A Christmas Carol’ beside it. Actually, I lost concentration and found myself writing ‘A Christmas Christmas’ Fortunately I was able use a black Sharpie to correct the error, and I had left my mark on the stage wall.
I said my goodbyes and drove back to my hotel, stopping off at an Applebee’s restaurant to eat a plate of chicken tenders and fries. It had been an early start, a lot of travel and an exhausting evening, so it is no surprise that I fell asleep very quickly. Tuesday, although involving travel back to Massachusetts, is a free day and it was almost as if my body knew that, saying to me, ‘nothing to do in the morning, just let me recover a little before we start again’