Profile: Ian Strachan

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Ian Strachan in Track Road's 2001 play "The Hold Up" (photo by Derek Smith)

How long have you been involved in Theatre?
For about 20 years.  But before I was involved in “theatre” I was involved in “drama,” through church and school.  I adapted and directed and starred in a Tolstoy play when I was a teenager and performed it for church at C. W. Sawyer Primary.

What inspired you to become involved?
My mother was a playwright (though not a nationally recognized one) and I was inspired by her I believe. So I was writing short plays since Junior High.  I remember dramatizing scenes of the Bible for my Religious Knowledge Class at CH Reeves.  Scenes like “Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors.”

In what capacity(ies) do you participate in Theatre?
I have done it all.  Directing is by far the hardest.  I can write a play much more easily than direct one.  In writing I have only myself to coax, to discipline and to engage.  Once a story takes hold of me the scenes just come.  Directing is an entirely different animal.  Particularly directing in The Bahamas when you have no money to spend.

Can you list the productions that you have participated in over the years? 
I have written seven plays.
Pa and the Preacher (1990),
The Mysterious Mister Maphusa
(1990),
No Seeds in Babylon
(1991),
Fatal Passage (1992),
Black Crab’s Tragedy  (1998),
Diary of Souls (1999),
The Devil and Jacinta (2009)  (also called The Devil on the Cross).

I have directed nine plays for national audiences.  My own work:
No Seeds in Babylon.
1997,
Black Crab’s Tragedy. 1998,
Diary of Souls.
 1999,
The Devil and Jacinta, 2009
Pa and the Preacher 2010.

And the original work of other Bahamian playwrights:
Deon Simms’ Slaps (2000),
Charles Huggins’ The Hold Up (2001),
Nickeva Eve’s Island Sex (2002),
Ward Minnis’ The Cabinet (2011)
I produced Da Market Fire by Emille Hunt (2003).

What are some of your most memorable moments in Theatre? Good and bad.
Performing to three people in an auditorium in Freeport.  Definitely the low point of my theatre career.  Either that or the catastrophic opening ceremony of the CAC Games when the athletes stole my set before we actually put on our show. (The bad comes to mind more easily.)  High points: performing No Seeds in Edinburgh in 1991.  The staging of Fatal Passage (which coincided with the 1992 election and a hurricane).  Taking Diary of Souls to New Orleans and Barbados.  And restaging my first play, Pa and the Preacher in 2010.

How do you feel about Theatre in The Bahamas? What are its weak and strong points? How active is it? How can we make it better?
To make theatre stronger in this country we need: an endowed national theatre company; an equipped national theatre space; an endowed Dundas Centre; a Bachelors degree in Theatre or Performance at COB; a transparent national grant system for theatre projects; cash prizes for new plays.  These will go a long way.  Shakespeare in Paradise is a great thing.  I think also, the state should commit to funding quality recordings of theatrical productions (ones that they have helped fund through grants, for instance, or any production where the producers are willing to allow the public station broadcasting rights).  This will ensure that all Bahamians are exposed to this important form of cultural expression.  Theatre is the most socially relevant Bahamian art form; it should be experienced by as many Bahamians as possible.

Strachan as Pol in TRT's "Diary of Souls" (photo by Peter Ramsay)

What do you do to prepare for a part? 
It would take a while for me to reconstruct my process for you here. But I would say I try to guided by The Method.  The actor must believe in and be loyal to the character.  The actor must join the world of the character.  The actor must summon real lived emotions and experiences and manifest them.  Pay attention to detail.  If it feels like you’re “acting” then you are. Your actions and utterances, should feel real and authentic to you.  If they do, they will be real and authentic for your audience.   Be what you know.  If you intend to imitate, go beyond mastering the simple speech of a well known person.  Yes. you can talk or laugh like a certain public figure.  Good.  Can you cry like him?  Really cry?  Really feel scared like he would?  That takes a level of commitment and surrender of self that most are incapable of or unwilling to attempt.  I am not a great actor.  I hope  I am competent.  Perhaps one day I will take on a role that I feel is important enough to strive to be great in.  Probably not.

How do you prepare to direct a show? Are there any special challenges that you must overcome when directing in The Bahamas? 
Many who want to act do not want to study, prepare and be instructed.  They lack discipline.  I hate the fact that actors won’t take notes during practice.  You have to give them the same direction day after day. Acting is a craft and a discipline.  There is natural talent, or a natural disposition which makes it easier for you to be successful but you still need to listen to instruction, advice or critique.  Some people lack humility and are selfish.  Such people are harder to direct.  I confess I have also been my own worst enemy because I cast some people sometimes who don’t have any facility for acting the part; I do it because I want a warm body.  But truly, they cause me such grief that I’d be better off hunting for the right person.  

 The director’s job is also harder if he doesn’t have the right support; if he must be his own stage manager, his own set builder, his own producer, his own marketing man, if he must be one of the actors.    Each of these takes you one more step away from being optimally effective at directing. 

What does it take to write a play?
Your questions are unreasonable!  I’d be here for days answering this.  The dramatist must ask the question: why do I want to tell this story?  Is this the story for this time, or a story for all time?  As for that last question, both have their place. Most of all, though, what is the conflict?  Who are the contestants in the struggle?  Why should someone care who wins this particular struggle?  Are you always complicating, deepening, tightening the conflict? If not, then cut, cut, cut.  Always remember, the degree to which things are getting more and more effed up is the degree to which your audience is interested in your play.

Any advice for those who want to get involved in Theatre in any capacity?
Try out for a part.  If you don’t get a part, volunteer to work on a show in any capacity where help is needed.  Be positive, friendly, generous, and remain focused on the job at hand.  People underestimate how important concentration and focus are in theatre, whether you are on stage or off. 

Who were your mentors in Theatre?
Shakepeare. Senorita Strachan.  James Catalyn.  Winston Saunders. Philip Burrows.  Nicolette Bethel.  Wole Soyinka. Derek Walcott. Amiri Baraka.  Stanislavksi. Harold Clurman. Brecht. Artaud. Beckett.  August Wilson.

How do you see your future in Bahamian Theatre?
Every time I direct I swear it’s my last time.  So this is not a good question for a man like me.  Right now I feel like theatre is either an irresistible whore or a syphilitic prince charming.  Take your pick.

What is your favorite Bahamian play?
Horse and Father’s Day: Bahamian. Caribbean: Dream on Monkey Mountain.  African: Death and the King’s Horseman or Lion and the Jewel.  Euro-American: Chalk Circle and Threepenny Opera. Shakespeare: Tempest, Merchant, Othello.

In your years as an actor, director and writer have you seen the government support the arts in a tangible way?
I have received government support. Yes.  The government helped fund my documentary.   The government has granted me lower rates on rental facilities.  The government has supported a children’s summer drama workshop I was involved with.  They can and have helped.  They can do more also.

What role, if any, should the government play in not just theatre but the arts as a whole?
See above.

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