Sunday would be my last day in the USA for this year, and it has certainly been a tour like no other. I had a whole morning at The Ambler Inn, which started with breakfast in the bar. As I finished I was greeted by some audience members from the previous afternoon, and we chatted for a while about this, that and the possibility of my performing in Pittsburgh in the future. Actually, Maria and John were not complete strangers, as I had performed a video reading from The Pickwick Papers which was used in a Christmas variety show, and we had been in touch since then. It was a lovely chat, but they were driving on to Alabama, and I had a show to get ready for.
Back in my room I was playing around with some ideas for next year’s 30th anniversary tour, and found a site that created word clouds, so I entered all of the characters that I play in the show (including the dressing gown) and pressed the ‘enter’ button to see what came up. I don’t know what sort of merchandise I was thinking with this idea – a tote bag maybe, or perhaps a fiendish jigsaw. Possibly, probably, nothing, but it was fun to do for an hour or so.
At 11 o’clock I checked out of the hotel and a few minutes later arrived at Byers’ Choice, where I found a parking slot right by the door. I took my large suitcase in, for after the show I would need to pack it with my top hat, cane and various other things ready to fly home. In fact I had plenty of time, so I unpacked my entire case for the first time since I touched down in Boston. Unpacked, so I could pack again.
I went to the hall, checked in with David, and discussed some changes in the lighting plot, brought about to my ‘repositioning’ of Scrooge’s Grave (I had previously played it in the centre of the stage, but now it is stage right, but had forgot to mention that fact the day before!). We also did a quick sound check, and then I went back my room, so that audience members, who were standing in the pouring rain, could be let in. I busied myself with sewing on the button, that had fallen off on Saturday and then got into costume and relaxed as best I could, before returning to the hall at 1.20 (the show starting on the half hour). It was another very full house, and another choir was producing beautiful harmonies to entertain them. Soon Bob gave me the sign, and began the process that would lead to the show itself, that being congratulating the choir, taking their good luck wishes, and then slipping into the large room when David had faded the house lights, and Bob was making his introductory remarks. In no time I was back on the stage and starting the script once again.
I had a big fright early on, for as I placed my cane, which becomes an important symbol later in the script, at the bottom of the hat rack it slipped, and was left precariously laying with its handle against the brass stand, the other end hanging over the back edge of the stage, the slightest jolt would dislodge it and send it falling down irretrievably to the floor below, which would not only leave Mr Scrooge without a knocker, but Tiny Tim without a crutch also. I trod VERY carefully in that quarter of the stage, until Scrooge left his office and I could thankfully rescue it.
The rest of the show went well, although my voice and breath control was much the same as it had been on the two previous days. I did get a round of applause for Fezziwig’s dance (if truth be told, I complete milked a round of applause, pretty well refusing to carry on until the hesitant clap from a person on the stage left side grew to encompass the whole audience!) It was another fun show, and the audience joined in more and more as we went on, and It was a good performance to bring the tour to an end with.
Once again Bob hosted a Q&A, although a lot of the audience rose to leave, probably wanting to get on the road as soon as possible,as the weather was closing in. Those that did remain listened attentively, as I spoke about how and why Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, had I heard any stories about him through the family, and who is my favourite Formula One driver – somebody reads my blog regularly, you know who you are!
Bob brought the session to a close, I took my final bow, and left the stage. Back in the conference room I changed from costume into normal clothes, stuffed socks into my top hat and wrapped the scarf around it, before carefully packing my suitcase, and roller bag, ready for the flight back to England. When everything that needed to be was in my bags I went back to the theatre which was rapidly being changed back into a manufacturing facility, and said my goodbye and thanks to David, Jeff and Bob and Pam. The Byers family are always so generous to me, and on this year’s fragmented tour they have been even more so – reassuring me that everything would be OK, cautioning me not to come back too soon or too hard, just being good and kind friends.
Actually this wasn’t quite my final goodbye, for back with my cases I realised that I didn’t have my car key! I unpacked all three bags with no joy, and then remembered that I had it in my hand when I took the microphone back to David. I went back to the sound table and sure enough there was the key, on top of the mic pack. I said more goodbyes, and finally left Byers’ Choice.
The drive to Newark airport was through thick mist and heavy rain, meaning that on many occasions I couldn’t see lane markings, and had to make my way gingerly through intersections. As I approached the environs of the airport I could see that it was immensely busy, and I was glad that I had time in hand. At the Hertz garage I bade farewell to the Santa Fe, although I hadn’t spent as much time driving hither and thither as I had hoped to, it had been a faithful companion, even it did try to take over driving duties.
I was right, the terminal was very busy, and I stood for an age in the security line, before having my roller bag pulled aside for further inspection. It was with horror that I realised almost straight away that I had failed to empty my water flask following the show. and the humourless TSA officer firmly told me that I could either go back to check-in and check the bag, and start the process all over again, or the flask would be thrown away. I had no desire to go back to square one and stand in security all over again, so reluctantly let the flask become a victim of the tour.
I was very hungry by this time, not having had anything to eat since breakfast, so I found a restaurant in the terminal and had a burger and a creamy meringue desert, before going to Gate 102, where I now sit. In my eyeline is the jet bridge over which I will walk, but at the moment it is not attached to a plane, there being no plane to attach it to – Considering we should have boarded forty minutes ago it seems likely that we will be late.
Update – yes we will be late We have all been moved to another gate, where there is no plane either! Am announcement has just been made, telling us that, ‘We are waiting for the aircraft to be towed to our gate – it IS on the ground….’ Well, that’s good to know, for it would be a hell of a job towing it, if it wasn’t!
So, this year’s tour was of course dominated by the six days I had to spend in isolation, which was a real shock not only physically, but emotionally as well There was the irrational guilt of letting people down, there was the fear of the financial consequences, there was the sheer frustration of not being able to do what I was here to do. But, aside from that week, the shows I was able to perform all went very well, and the performance is in a very good place. The only new venue that I actually got to perform at was the theatre in Waynesboro, Virginia, and that was a spectacular evening, and I hope that the venue can find a regular place in future tours. Of the old favourites, we had sell-outs at all four performances at the Vaillancourts, and at both in Lenox. The return to Lewes was a triumph with around 550 attending, and both shows at Byers’ Choice were upward of 650. Looking at the full half of the glass, it has been a very successful trip, and has laid the foundations for next year’s great celebration, work on which has already started,
Thank you to all of those people who have made this happen, even if I was not able to get to your venue, and to the people without whom none of it would be possible: The audiences.
It is now 11pm, an hour after we should have flown and still there is no change – I will certainly sleep well when we finally get airborne.