The Christmas for Kids starter kit must include –
1) Comfortable black clothes of the drama school variety that are hassle-free to wash
2) An entire pharmacy’s supply of multivitamins
3) Hand gel – obvious
4) Tissues – again obvious
5) Food high in carbohydrates and sugars, as veggies can be scarce
6) Travel sickness tablets – perhaps the most important of all in my case. And I’ll explain why…
After an exciting couple of weeks rehearsing with both Team Benson and Team Harry, we had run the show numerous times and were packed up and ready with a suitcases and bags full of what can only be described as the contents of the best Christmas/kid’s birthday party ever, presents and all.
Unfortunately, my touring experience did not get off to the best of starts. So there I am. Day One. The script is learnt. Elf knows her cues; she is ready, armed with multiple hats and a dozen different props. Choreography and harmonies have been perfected. Already feeling the pressure, as this is her first acting job since leaving theatre college, she does not want to let the side down. And what happens? She only goes and gets the Winter Vomiting Bug (cue scary music). Yes that one, that has been a record high this year thanks to mild weather and THOSE people (you know who you are), who cough and sneeze on the tube without covering their mouths! I know. Living in London and trying to get the ball rolling with this acting thing is a tough old ask. Especially when you have to hold down your waitressing job in between show days. But I wouldn’t have it any other way; it’s good to keep busy!
Having said this, after our first show, I was out for four days as we could not risk bringing a virus of any kind into an environment with already poorly kids. Gutted as I was, it was the right thing to let my fellow Elf, George Bray, step in and cover until I got better. Thanks George! Team Barry to the rescue!
Fast forward a couple of days and after much rest and rehydrating, this Elf was ready to get back on the road with Sue and Caitlin. So off we went on what could be described as our tour within a tour.
First stop was Birmingham, where we did three shows over two days at three different ‘Acorns’ hospices. Being off sick may have worked in my favour; after not running the show for a while, I felt like I had to keep on my toes and not ‘drop the ball’ as the show needs to keep the children and carers engaged. There is always something going on, be it a song, or instruments/sensory buckets to give out, or audience participation.
With running time only at an hour or so, ‘Bensons’ Christmas Letter’ is still an incredibly tiring show with just the three of us running the ship. The beauty of it is that no two shows are the same; there has always been something that has been different with each hospice.
Despite having helpful conversations during rehearsals, nothing can really prepare for how you are going to react when experiencing these environments until you are in the thick of it and there’s really no going back. This is something I am still coming to terms with and have found quite hard to deal with in all honesty. Our job is simple; to bring the happiness and Christmas magic to children and carers alike and brighten up their day with lots of songs and silliness. However, it really has hit home these past couple of days how much we take for granted in life when most days are neither here nor there. By this I mean there is no struggle; we can get up, dress and feed ourselves, go to work, meet friends and go out about the day to days things of everyday life. And I’m sure we all watch ‘Children In Need’ and ‘Comic Relief’ and get choked up at what families have to go through. But these shows are on once a year – we don’t see it every day.
I cannot express enough how much I take my hat off to all staff and families we have met over the past few weeks. We have been welcomed to every place with open arms and have been greeted with such a positive atmosphere and wonderful feedback. Sometimes it has been challenging as to know whether the kids are enjoying the performance or are feeling uncomfortable, and some are more vocal then others. Overall, however, they have been incredibly engaged at all times and really seemed to enjoy all elements of the performance – we have tried to include them as much as we can, instead of it feeling like all they have to do is watch and listen.
Our show in Bristol was another very special day; this was probably one of my favourite shows. We had a lot of siblings in the audience and despite some of them being a bit older, they all really enjoyed the show – who knew a magic colouring book and Christmas ‘wrapping’ would go down so well?! Again, Children’s Hospice South West was such a positive place with so many amazing things for the kids to do and play, as well as space for parents to come and relax. I was very choked up after our little tour of the hospice after seeing the bereavement rooms and hearing about what families have gone through. However, the staff were again incredibly bright and caring and nothing was ever approached in a sad, sombre way. All the kids we have met have been so polite, clever and confident, wanting to get involved and others really warming to us perhaps after initially feeling more apprehensive. You do question – why them? Why do they have to go through all this? But they don’t think that. These hospices still let them be kids, whatever they are going through. I feel quite privileged that, in one way or another, we get to visit and brighten up their day and have fun, even for a couple of hours. I hope we have done the same for parents and nurses too.
One of the head nurses asked us – “who are you?” to which we responded “We’re Christmas For Kids”. She replied “just for kids...?!?"
Yes, we are a performing a children’s show, with multiple elements for children with disabilities, but really we are ‘Christmas for Everyone’, or at least I hope we can bring the magic and joy of Christmas to everyone. (Even though it does not say that on our hoodies!)
On to the next one!