“Comedy of Errors”

I mentioned a while back that I was keeping my first posts after vacation pretty brief because I had a writing assignment that I had to complete. Although an interesting challenge, completed as of this past Monday, the whole procedure turned into what my “boss” called a comedy of errors.

I got a phone call back in late August from an old friend (and husband of the man who is possibly my favorite community theater actor) asking me if I was interested in helping our county historical association with its Pioneer Days celebration (going on this weekend, now). I was hesitant, thinking it wasnʼt my plan to give away my writing more than I already am, but I still need to learn to just say no, so I ended up agreeing. She gave me the number of the historical museum director for my final information, and then things got busy (I think getting a sub job or setting myself up to get those jobs, or something), and almost a week went by before I remembered to make the call. The director was very nice, even excited about the project, however, and told me she would be getting some information on my subject soon.

The project was to write a skit about the main historian of early Jackson County, James Whitcomb Ellis, perhaps acting out scenes from his life or perhaps from his researches. I was supposed to have a main narrator (the husband mentioned earlier) and keep it relatively simple as a production. Since I had written most of the Andrew Community School spring plays (and even the few bigger, longer fall shows I composed myself) in not much time, I figured I could pull this off without too much trouble. Whether theyʼd like what my demented imagination conceived was another thing altogether.

Anyway, I fired up Celtx (scriptwriting software/freeware, which I actually prefer using over Final Draft, perhaps just because I got more familiar with it last summer, formatting some of my plays to ship off to possible publishers — one rejection, two limbo-status, meaning I am sending those to other publishers, baby) and created a basic project, saved the blank and waited for my information on historical Mr. Ellis. And waited. And waited some more. And forgot all about it, as I realized September was going strong, knowing I had to create a dozen or thirteen posts to cover our vacation days. And got so preoccupied writing and formatting those posts that I evidently never noticed in the day or so before we departed (I was packing during this time, too) that I had received an e-mail from the museum. An e-mail containing the necessary information…

a repeat image — but me being blissfully unaware (not an uncommon state for me)

The Lovely One and I took off for the Northwest, and for eleven days I didnʼt even look at a computer (and, no, my totally basic TracPhone is so far from a smartphone that even receiving or making calls taxes its limits). And that absence from digital overstimulation actually felt pretty good, let me tell you. Unfortunately, during my absence, the Pioneer Days committee was getting pretty distressed that I wasnʼt a] responding to their messages on our answering machine or b] acknowledging the e-mails they left, requesting my skit or at least an update on my progress. Another good friend got pretty distressed at my apparent lacksadaisicality, as she believed I must be getting online daily to post the blog (the idea of auto-posts arranged well in advance has baffled many of my contacts); her last few e-mails were downright abrupt and curt. Of all this, of course, I was blithely unaware.

Then we came home. Our telephone had 23 messages for us, which I listened to the next morning before my appointment with the surgeon. I got online again in the hours after my lipoma surgery (it is just a fat tumor, by the way, as acknowledged Wednesday when I got the stitches removed) and figured out I had a problem. I called the friend leaving the messages and e-mails, who told me she figured out we were on vacation but couldnʼt understand why I wasnʼt acknowledging her e-mails, although I tried to explain. She told me to call the museum director, and when I did, she tensely joked about how this whole affair had become a comedy of errors. And it had. But she still wanted the script!

Now Pioneer Days is tomorrow (Sunday, the third). The phone call was Thursday morning, September 23. I had a hard time imagining how they were going to rehearse a skit, no matter how quickly I could get it written. But…

Even as Janet winced and glared, I agreed to complete the task, with a warning that it might take me a week (I still wasnʼt sure just how bad my recovery from the lipoma-ectomy would be). I did get a start on the project, even hatching the scheme that would give me a plot from the material in the e-mail I hadnʼt seen before our trip. And then Friday hit — the day I felt lousy, so it passed with precious little work. The weekend was booked with stuff for us to do, including a trip to Galena on Sunday (ah, yes, Cannovaʼs pasta!), but I pushed the little play to about four “pages” in Celtx. Monday morning, I decided I had to finish the thing and get out from under the pressure. So I spent all morning and into the early afternoon forging a little playlet that, considering it would be performed in less than seven days, could be manhandled around in any number of ways to keep it simple (up to and including having just the narrator tell all the information). I kept the cast to four, of which only three got lines, and only two were really necessary. Not knowing a lot about the subject except for the information I gleaned out of the unheeded e-mail (and an article on the celebration in our local paper), I did what I could, mostly using verbatim information from the museum director, therefore my co-author. I spellchecked and proofread my little creation and sent it off as a PDF via e-mail to to my unwitting co-playwright. I even called her to let her know it was done. 1:40 Monday afternoon.

On Wednesday (once I got home from subbing all afternoon and the postoperative surgeon appointment), the museum director called again to have me speak with my original contact about the production details. I realized only then that they had wanted (without ever so saying) my theatrical as well as writing experience. I think everyone thought I was going to produce the show and probably even act in it. I never realized that, and my ambitions for involvement had ended with the script complete. Besides, The Lovely One and I were already booked for this weekend…

I talked with the Narrator that evening, evidently deeply disappointing and upsetting him in the process by my lack of availability. Sorry. I didnʼt even know. He spent a rotten night, not knowing how to put even my sketch of a skit together in less than four days. Lots of people met and talked on Thursday (as I spent the whole day substitute teaching again) in various combinations of the Pioneer Days committee until my message-leaving and e-mailing friend realized the best solution was simply not to include the skit on Sundayʼs set of activities. She showed up Thursday evening, as I was about to make our supper and Janetʼs lunch, to let me know personally that my skit was off. Or at least postponed to Heritage Days, coming up the end of this month (at the same time, more or less, that Iʼll be impersonating Picasso — if I ever actually learn my lines, that is). It was sweet of her to report the decision in person, and we had a nice visit, with me running on at too much length about both vacation and lipoma. So the end result is… now the skit is off.

Thatʼs the story of the Great Nonperformance. A comedy of errors and miscommunication indeed. And my apologies to everyone.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.