Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adapting a screenplay to a radio play to the stage

Many years ago I was commissioned to write a screenplay about the arrival of the Komagata Maru in Vancouver harbour in 1914.  I wrote the script, which I was very proud of.

My approach was to tell the story from the point of view of the Sikh who assassinated the Canadian immigration officer responsible for preventing the boat of Indian immigrants from disembarking.  I did a lot of research and discovered that fascinating characters among both the Canadians and Indian immigrants at the time and discovered the story that only I could write about these events.

At one point, Hollywood director John Irvin, (Dogs of War, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) was attached. He told me that he liked the "architecture" of my script.  (Love the Brits!)

But the producer never raised the financing and eventually went out of business.  The rights reverted back to me after seven years as per WGC rules and I was then asked to adapt the screenplay into an hour-long radio drama for CBC, which I did.  It was called Entry Denied and was broadcast internationally as part of the WorldPlay festival of radio dramas.  One of the great breakthroughs was figuring out how to replace all the big visuals of the screenplay with some kind of audio equivalent device.  What I came up with was to have a narrator read newspaper accounts from the time and thankfully, the CBC hired a researcher to dig them out of the Vancouver Province's archives and send them to me.

Realizing that it's unlikely the screenplay will ever get produced, I recently spent some time converting my radio play into a theatre piece called "The Fate of Mewa Singh."  It's essentially a combination of the original screenplay, (which suffered a dramatic reduction for radio due to the tyranny of the time slot), and the audio devices I came up with for the radio version.  It's my first attempt to write for the stage and would require a nimble cast to play multiple roles and a good director to stage the many scenes in a fluid manner, but I think it could be done and be quite theatrical despite it's roots as a screenplay and then radio drama.

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