Friday, 31 August 2007

Chinese Twisters

Chinese Twisters

It occurred to me the other day that communication is the lifeblood of any society or relationship, and how fragile such a thing can be, especially if it breaks down. It subsequently occurred to me that ‘breakdown in communication’ is a phrase I remember preceding ‘with hilarious consequences’ in the covering letters for sitcom scripts I used to read for the BBC.

With so many forms of communication at our disposal these days – the internet, text, email, something called a ‘telephone’ – it’s no wonder that certain ‘hilarious consequences’ can inevitably arise during the course of one’s life. This is doubly assured when one considers that many people these days seem to have an inability to command the standard form of communication: everyday language. It is a potential disaster waiting to happen.

Whilst refusing to communicate with anyone through standard methods last week, an email arrived in my inbox from an Arthur Shipton who said he needed someone at short notice to come and speak at his writer’s workshop and I was ‘the natural choice’. Flattered, not least puzzled, I replied saying that I’d be glad to, and was even happier at the offer of a nominal £50 fee for time and expenses. I asked Arthur Shipton what exactly he wanted me to talk about and he replied with ‘the usual stuff’ but to make sure I gave priority to ‘the main thing’. I didn’t actually have a chance to find out what ‘the main thing’ was as my email connection decided to break down at that point, so all I could do was trundle off to the small repertory theatre the next day at my assigned slot time.

The theatre was already full with aspiring writers when I got there and Arthur Shipton was standing up on the stage talking to them about script format and what readers look for in a submission. I was a little perturbed by this as it’s a subject I class myself as an authority on, so had to quickly adjust my workshop plan. I waited until the break when Arthur Shipton came and greeted me and thanked me for ‘standing in’ at such short notice as the whole organisation of his workshop had been a ‘complete nightmare’. The phrase ‘standing in’ began to ring alarm bells with me, and everything suddenly became clear when the workshop resumed.

Arthur Shipton took me onto the stage and apologised to the aspiring writers that Ricky Gervais had turned out to be unavailable, but, luckily, I had been able to step in at the last moment and was someone who had ‘strong Gervaisian connections’. Completely confused by this point, I proceeded with my usual repertoire of script unit anecdotes, including things that resulted in hilarious consequences, and then moved onto more important issues such as characterisation.

It was only when I reached my using workshop mid-point of inviting the writers to ask questions that I realised there had been some kind of serious communication breakdown. Someone from the audience put up their hand and asked me why I had retired from writing if I had such strong connections. Naturally, I replied saying that I’d never actually been a professional writer in my life and it was what I was struggling to do now. Arthur Shipton then piped up and asked if I could talk about the interactive episode of The Office I was writing. You could have cut the silence with a knife - that is until I admitted in a very quiet voice that I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about.

It’s at awkward moments like this in a workshop when it is wise to call a break, and that’s exactly what Arthur Shipton did. I was getting rather nervous as he waited for me at the door to the foyer looking decidedly angry. He asked me to explain what was going on, but all I could say was that he’d obviously confused me with someone else. However, he clearly knew my name, which just added to the confusion. I asked him what he had been expecting me to talk about and he said that a friend of a friend had told him that they’d read somewhere on the internet that I was a ‘semi-retired scriptwriter’ who was writing an episode of The Office using the format of a blog.

I cautiously explained to him that I was a semi-retired script reader and had never written an episode of The Office in my life, and the friend of a friend had clearly got their facts wrong. Arthur Shipton was not very pleased and became quite abusive when I offered to talk about the trials and tribulations of writing pub-lunch reviews instead. So I thought better of asking for my nominal £50 fee and left the theatre wondering how and why these things keep happening to me.

1 comment:

The Naked Madhatter said...

nice story telling indeed! Such communication breakdown happens to me all the time.
I like your blog background and linked it to mine.
I sure be back soon.
Kind regards,
The Naked Madhatter