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  • Writer's pictureJustin Shaw

How We Produced a Show in 61 Days

Updated: Apr 27, 2021

The balance of trust when working with a colleague can be challenging, but perhaps all the more challenging when working with a friend.

It’s February 22, 2014, around 9am in Charlottetown. I am cold and clinging to my tray of Timothy’s coffee for warmth. One medium two milk, one large double-double. Presently, I am standing outside of Cameron MacDonald’s apartment, and have been knocking for at least eight minutes. I hope he’s awake. The coffee wasn’t just a gesture of good faith, but also a reminder that we have work to do.

Earlier this winter, I made the choice to move to Alberta in the coming Spring. All affairs were in order: tickets were purchased, living arrangements were made, and job prospects were on the horizon. Everything was accounted for.

Almost everything.

Cameron MacDonald had become a partner in comedy development with me for quite some time. We ran UPEI’s improv club and were performers in Popalopalots Live Improv Comedy at The Guild. We were keen fans of comedy, and always had on our agenda that one day we would produce sketch comedy together. We would write, rehearse, and perform our own original material before a live audience. The decision to leave made both of us very aware that sketch would be an unchecked item on our shared to-do list.

One week prior to me at his doorstep, Cameron and I were at a party. After perhaps one too many sips of beer, we both found the nerve that had alluded us since I told him I was moving. We made a pact: before I move, we are going to produce our very first sketch show.

In less than three months.

Of course, one of those months happened to be February, the “shortchange” month, but luckily it was a leap year so we were afforded an extra day of work. In total, we had 61 days of work ahead of us. 61 days to cast, write, rehearse, and market this entire project, not to mention the video sketches that are to be screened between the live sketches. That doesn’t even include hunting for sponsors, so we don’t end up in debt with this vanity project. I have never been more aware of days, hours, or minutes before I agreed to sign on to this project. 61 days.

And Cameron is asleep.

By the grace of god, he finally opens the door. He is half awake, which is luckily awake enough to mumble “thank you” for the coffee. Let’s pray that’s also enough for him to write a sketch show.

I sit with him at the kitchen table while the coffee nursed him into consciousness. As he joins me in the land of the living, I’m frantically writing sketch ideas onto a napkin. Within the hour, the napkin graduates to becoming a notepad, then a word document, then eventually is laid to rest in the recycling bin of Cameron’s PC. For those keeping score, we are currently at negative one sketches for our sketch show that is approaching in 61 days.

After three or four hours, we now have a handful of ideas, but zero sense of structure. We switched to writing our ideas on Post-It notes, which, in terms of project development, is somewhere between a step above a napkin and a step below a notebook. I am pacing in the kitchen as Cameron, now fully awake, is calmly gazing at a collection of Post-Its. We definitely don’t need the show “done” by the end of the day, but we need at least something resembling an idea so we have a proposal to pitch to the cast that we still haven’t finalized. Right now, all we have is a puzzle of Post-Its next to two empty cups of coffee.

My pacing (or perhaps the caffeine) leads me to the bathroom. When I come back, Cameron is standing and looking at the Post-Its. Something is different. “What do you think?”

Cameron moved two of the Post-It notes and put one in the trash. He did it. He solved the puzzle. He solved the puzzle without even looking at the box. I am stunned.

I say “I didn’t know that’s what we were making.”

He replies “neither did I.”

This is the work relationship Cameron and I share for the next 61 days. I worry, and the moment I leave the room he solves a puzzle. He’s like the Loony Toons dancing frog – the moment I turn and look, he stops dancing. This is how we work. And somehow, it works.

55 days until opening. We have our concepts for the staged sketches and zero idea how to pull off the filmed sketches. The next day, Cameron remembers his friend Alex owns a camera and has an eye for videography and editing.

42 days until opening. We question if the show will leave enough of a lasting image in the audience’s minds. The next day, Cameron agrees be naked on stage with his manhood covered by a ‘pickle box.’

The next three weeks are filled with the cast and crew working steadily on schedule as we reached opening night. My biggest concern is that we have a show worth sharing and audience to share it with. These concerns weigh on me every day, and in the rehearsal hall I look at Cameron and who seems more focused on how to effectively cover himself with only a pickle box. Our minds were clearly on different things. The “I worry/he plays” working relationship with Cameron on this sketch production was equal parts draining yet productive, and I have yet to have any reason to doubt its effectiveness.

Until dress rehearsal.

Every staged sketch was ready to go, and all that remained was introducing the filmed sketches into the overall show. Cameron was in charge of the filmed sketches and assured me that they were all on track and totally hilarious. And I’m sure they would have been if we could see them. Especially on dress rehearsal.

A technical problem arose from the booth. “Hey gang, these files won’t play.”

My eyes went to Cameron, while every other set of eyes landed on me – presumably expecting to watch a small, anxious volcano finally erupt. Before I could say anything, Cameron, in his usual “this’ll be fine” tone says “don’t worry, we’ll get it taken care of.”

An hour later following a drive to Alex’s house to reformat the video files, Cameron returned, the conquering hero with video files that actually contained working video. What a technical triumph for our time.

And the videos did work, bringing upon a sigh of relief to the whole room… until we reached on particular sketch filmed near Queen Street.

The thing about Queen Street, as you can guess by its name, is it’s a street. And between 4pm and 7pm on a weekday there can be a considerable number of cars, which, generally, drive on streets. Cars, powered by motors, engines, and other metal objects and combustible elements beyond my knowledge, tend to produce a lot of noise. When choosing to film a sketch, or any video for that matter, near a busy street, volume can sometimes be an issue. These were all the considerations that came to my mind that clearly did not factor into Cameron’s “this’ll be fine” mind.

The Queen Street sketch, a brief, but important sketch, had no usable audio.

Once again, the eyes of the cast and crew slowly turned to me to perhaps see if this is what would cause my head to explode. In my mind, I’m thinking “this wouldn’t have happened if he worried just once during this process. If just once he asked himself “what if this doesn’t work out?”” I want to find the nerve to say it to him, the same nerve he and I found together at the party where we decided to do this in the first place. But now I feel a lingering sense of doubt, the same doubt I felt between knocks on his door with coffee in hand 60 days ago. I felt truly about what to say or do next.

Cameron, in his infinite wisdom said “Well. That won’t work.”

Quietly, the back of my head fell off.

“Don’t worry, I get it sorted by the time we open.”

We open tomorrow. What’s he going to do? Reshoot the whole thing overnight? Also, telling someone who constantly worries “don’t worry” isn’t much of an offering. All I do is worry, so what am I supposed to do?

Now it’s opening night. For the first time in my life, stress has made me physically sick. I am still capable of performing, although I feel like I’ve lost weight since the dress rehearsal.

The theatre has over half the seats pre-sold, and less than half an hour before the show starts, there’s a line up outside the Guild to get in. People are standing outside Queen Street, the very cursed street that ruined our sketch that now they have to suffer through.

For the wild ride this show has been, from conception to creation, I am glad I got to experience it before I go. As I stand in the wings, part of me wishes I could let go of my resentment against Cameron, a close friend and collaborator, for not carrying the weight of the show the same way I did.

Before we go on, I approach him to clear the air. We congratulate each other, and I work the nerve to ask him “why didn’t you worry like I worried so much?”

Much like how he calmly gazed at the kitchen table, he looked at me thoughtfully. “I didn’t have to.”

I realize in that moment how much of the stress I had taken on of this show. It effected my focus, my health, and nearly cost me a friend. I took on some much of the work that Cameron was left with the creative freedom to bring the life to the show.

“I’m sorry about the video, but I did fix it.”

How. How on Earth could he have fixed this monstrosity of a sketch?

The show begins, and everything is going great. The rest of the cast and I watch on bated breath how the video sketch could have possibly been resolved.

Cameron reedited the sketch to be an old-timey silent movie, complete with title cards providing the dialogue. Overnight he transformed a bad execution of a good sketch, to an exemplary execution of what became a great sketch. The crowds loves it, and they stand as we took our final bows.

When the show closed, I remember why we created the show in the first place: not to have a show, but so we could create a show together. Perhaps we will again someday. As busy as I am with work and life and everything in between, sketch comedy is always on the shelf for me – like a book borrowed from an old friend that I haven’t finished yet, and in my mind, I know the time will come that I pick it up again.

Everything came together at the last minute for this show probably because it was conceived at the last minute. The last thing that slid into place at the eleventh hour was the most vital component: trust. Trusting in a collaborator’s process and respecting differences in work styles can give way to tremendous achievements but trust also means knowing when and how to communicate with one another – especially when they’re your friend.

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