My brother, and walking partner, Gerald, is off on another of his US tours at the moment. In between delivering a range of performances in a range of venues – including a hall that looks like an upturned wedding cake, so ornate were the embellishments on its ceilings and walls – he has been busy driving the fund raising.
Checking in on traffic to this blog, I note that readers in America have overtaken those in the UK for the first time and it is clear that Gerry is busy sharing the stories of our fund raising efforts. As an aside, I also note our first reader from Peru, which delivers a total of more than 30 countries following our efforts. I have no idea who you are, but Hola y gracias por leer nuestra recaudación de fondos a pie de la estatua de Dickens.
Over to Gerry to relate how the funds have been swelled to the tune of $2,000 during his travels last week.
“Much more so than in England, Charles Dickens has rock-star celebrity status here. Of course, that is in part thanks to A Christmas Carol, which is a central feature of the American Christmas. The work appears everywhere, from Christmas specials and professional theatre to amateur and school theatre alike. You will find a production in every city, and the advertising industry reverts to Scrooge figures and Christmas cheer sentiments across the board.
But another reason for the affection, is Dickens's character: he fought his way up from nothing to superstar, purely by dint of hard work and commitment. It is the perfect American dream story.
The very first time I performed in the USA, I was completely bowled over by the force of the passion for Dickens. People from all walks of life are so keen to talk, have things signed, watch the shows, discuss the shows and have yet more things signed! If Dickens wanted his memory to live on solely through his works, then his wish has truly been granted here.
For the past four years I have been working with a company called Byers’ Choice who make ‘Carollers’. These are hand-made clay figures, about 8" tall and the originals were very much inspired by Dickens's London and the idyll of a Victorian Christmas. Over the years various ranges have been introduced, including characters from A Christmas Carol and many others. The success of the company was huge, growing from Joyce Byers making the figures on her kitchen table, to a huge factory and visitor centre. But it is still a family business. Joyce is still to be found anonymously stocking shelves in the store and the company is now run by her sons, Bob and Jeff. Check out their web site here: www.byerschoice.com
When I perform there, they clear the factory floor of all work benches (a la Fezziwig: 'Clear away? There is nothing they wouldn’t have cleared away or couldn’t have cleared away with Fezziwig looking on, and the warehouse was as dry and bright and snug a ballroom as you could wish to see upon a winters night!'). They then erect a large stage, decorate it with furniture and props, add a superb sound system and lights and seats for an audience of around 700. The most we did was 900, but parking became a major issue, so they had to scale back the numbers!
The Byers’ enthusiasm for both Christmas and Dickens is enormous and they very much wanted to mark the 200th anniversary by laying on a weekend of celebrations to honour the great man. As ever things were done with great style and panache. The workshop was cleared as before and a market street scene built, with various items for sale along with displays of antiques and Victoriana. Another stall sold English ales from Bass and Newcastle Brown, there was a Punch and Judy show and they commissioned the most extraordinary birthday cake. Then in another part of the factory (the shipping bay) a smaller theatre was created for various shows throughout the weekend. I performed Doctor Marigold, Mr. Dickens is Coming and Sikes and Nancy to very appreciative audiences. That audience was equally appreciative of a wonderful magic lantern show along with a live performance from a lady in Victorian costume who disrobed, in order to give a demonstration of Victorian corsets, petticoats, drawers and bloomers. 50 shades of Dickens indeed......
Before each of my shows, Bob and I gave a short talk about the statue planned for Portsmouth. The Byers’ HQ is based in Chalfont, PA, not far from Philadelphia, which of course has a Dickens statue already. Throughout the weekend we raffled the first print from a limited run of Dickens by illustrator James Fiorentino and raised $1000. And if that was not impressive enough, the kind folks at Byers promptly matched the sum, delivering a highly appreciated donation of $2000 to the fund. When I return in December, we will do the same with an original picture that he painted during the weekend.
Throughout the tour I will also jump onto the memorabilia bandwagon by offering, probably as a raffle rather than auction, my top hat, waistcoat and maybe frock coat as worn throughout the tour. My guess is that could add in the region of another $5,000 to the cause.”
If you hear on the news that a Dickens family member was arrested at Heathrow after flying home naked, you can guess that he got rather carried away with the raffle idea and that further items of apparel were spontaneously added to the cause. Gerry, while we all know that the Second Amendment to the American constitution is clear, it doesn’t mean you must take it literally and bare arms. But heck, if it raises funds, then why not!
The support from our American friends is hugely appreciated and to all who have attended one of my brother’s performances, donated to the cause and sent him home with an empty suitcase, we are hugely grateful. With a new wardrobe (and a stern ticking off from the Judge), he’ll be back across the pond on his Christmas tour in a few weeks time. Book early to avoid disappointment….
Tour dates run from November 11th to December 18th. www.geralddickens.com for further details.
TO SUPPORT THE CHARLES DICKENS STATUE FUND, CLICK ON THE LINK AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE.