|From the stage to the screen|
Guardian National Correspondent
Published: Jun 08, 2012
Noted dramatist of such complex plays as “Diary of Souls” and “No Seeds in Babylon”, Dr. Ian Strachan is leaving the stage for the screen in his new creative move, the TV soap opera “Gippie’s Kingdom”.
Set to premiere on June 13 at 8:30 p.m. on ZNS, the soap is a first for local Bahamian television channels that feature few locally-made shows. Though it wrapped up production in only 19 days in the summer of last year, the project itself has been in the making since 2007.
“I was on sabbatical to write a novel but I ended up writing a TV series,” said Strachan. “It was a challenge that I guess I wanted to accept. As a playwright especially, you get to interact with the audience immediately, so it’s not that hard of a transition – the scenes just have to be shorter and you have to get right to the core conflict.”
While exploring different ways to get “Gippie’s Kingdom” filmed, Strachan approached his former student Travon Patton, who agreed to partner on the venture, becoming its producer and director of photography. The production was a learning experience for Strachan in navigating the differences between stage and screen.
“I found that it was necessary to not really care as much about the language,” said Strachan. “When you’re staging a play, you want the actors to give the audience the actual words because it’s all one piece, all one design; every line is important.”
“But in this process what was more important was the nature of the conflict and the goal of every scene. So I gave the actors a lot more leeway to approximate the lines. I was able to just not care if they messed up the line – which I would never let them get away with if it was a play.”
Nevertheless, “Gippie’s Kingdom” is faithful to the thought-provoking subject matter Strachan always explores in his work, presenting plots that for the sake of storytelling have pure entertainment appeal, yet also delve into serious social issues surrounding Bahamian life and identity.
The eight-episode first season follows the story of widower Gippie and his four children – Everett Jr., Monique, Everena and Evan – as they face their own battles against the backdrop of modern Bahamian society. The series opens with Everett Jr. being shot, setting the pace for a core mystery that drives the series through to its climactic resolution.
“There are lots of different plot lines – some of them are about humor and some of them are more serious,” said Strachan. “I can’t imagine writing anything for the stage or for the scene that doesn’t have humor. Maybe that’s because of my experience as a student of Shakespeare, but you need that break from that intensity.”
“If you look at the work of our artists in the history of the country, the writers have been the most aggressive, the most anti-establishment, the most challenging to the status quo and the most brutally honest about where we are as a country, and where we need to go,” he added. “So although I’m using the popular form of the soap; I am going to bring my politics to it.”
Indeed, like in his plays, Strachan strikes a necessary balance between humor and sobering drama, finding opportunities to both entertain and educate. In this way “Gippie’s Kingdom” becomes a vehicle to address social concerns such as the Haitian-Bahamian dynamic and its resulting prejudices.
In one plot line for example, Gippie’s “outside child” Evan suddenly refuses to speak anything but Creole. Such a move proves problematic socially and academically and can provide moments of humor in the series, yet it’s soon revealed the move is one of protest – his guardian has been deported.
Evan is but one three-dimensional character in the cast that presents a complex understanding of Bahamian identity rooted in Bahamian society – one that can strike a chord with its Bahamian viewers.
“I don’t create characters who model right action to send a message – I create characters who are in situations that we all understand and recognize and who hopefully respond in ways that we come to understand and hopefully create some critical sensibility about,” said Strachan.
“Some people may applaud when characters do things that I think are wrong. I hope they don’t, but I’m not going to make the character do what I feel is right just because I feel it’s right,” he continued.
“People express prejudice because some of us are prejudiced. My hope is that balanced with the prejudice you see some characters present is the fact that you have arrived at a more intimate knowledge of the character who is the victim of that prejudice and that you begin to see that prejudice from that perspective. That humanizes that person and challenges you.”
Indeed the show is set to challenge its viewers when it premieres next week. Already Strachan is writing the second season, setting “Gippie’s Kingdom” up to be a well-thought-out smash that creates some much-needed national dialogue through entertainment media.
“I’m prepared for anything. I would not be surprised if there were some outcry about some of this subject matter, about some of the language or some of the violence,” said Strachan. “It deals with gang violence and the crime wave that we have – people get shot, people get hurt, people fight.”
“It’s interesting that when it’s Bahamians saying these things and doing these things, we seem to react more conservatively than we do when the very same things are done at the very same time by foreign media,” he pointed out. “I believe that’s because it’s more powerful – it’s in our voice – and we fear it more somehow than we do if it’s foreign. There’s a distance we’re able to maintain if it’s not us.”
Be sure not to miss out on the premiere of Gippie’s Kingdom on ZNS this Wednesday, June 13, at 8:30 p.m.. Following episodes premiere the same time every week and repeat on Sundays at 10 p.m.
Visit www.gippieskingdom.com for more information and exclusive interviews with the cast, and be sure to check out their Facebook page.