CS Interview: Creator Katori Hall on bringing P-Valley from stage to screen
Ahed of the brilliant series debut on Starz this Sunday, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with creator and showrunner Katori Hall to discuss the upcoming drama P-Valley and her journey bringing it from the theater to the world of television.
Prior to landing at Starz as an eight-episode drama, P-Valley lived for years on stage as a theatrical production and in looking at the journey in bringing it to life on screen, Hall laughed and noted it proved to be “one of the most challenging experiences I’ve had in my entire life.”
“I had such a storied theater career and I was very comfortable in that space and so to step into this new lane required me to gather a whole new set of skills,” Hall explained. “I had to learn how to work with other people’s ideas, I had to learn how to manage an entire set, look at budgets, there’s no school for this so to be pushed into that position, it was like a rollercoaster ride. Luckily, I was surrounded by some great partners who, every step of the way, really held my hand and taught me all the things I needed to know in order to be a successful showrunnner, but it’s truly a hard job. It’s like you’re a writer and a therapist and a manager and a budgeteer, it’s a lot of hats that you’re wearing when you step into that position.”
When it came to choosing this project over her other theatrical productions, Hall found that P-Valley was just “screaming to be a TV show” following its first production in 2015 and was filled to the brim with “stories that needed to be told” and “characters that were ripe and that I knew that I could spend years telling their stories and looking at them transform over time.”
“Pussy Valley, as a play, was the only play of mine that very naturally felt like it could be a television show, so it took me about four years to develop it from the stage to the version to the TV version and a lot of it had to do with figuring out what is the story engine going to be, where we’re going to draw audiences in week after week to the show,” Hall described. “I think we embrace different plots that were inspired by the play, but we wanted to widen the world. In the play version, it was only in the strip club, but we were able to step outside of the doors in the strip club and really look at the community and talk about poverty and talk about politics in a way that was told through the lens of the dancers, of the working-class strippers.”
In planning how to expand upon the play with a story that would cover a number of socially-conscious and engaging topics, Hall called it a “fusion” of needing to conduct additional research for her world while also drawing upon her own observations about society.
“As a writer, I am always writing about politics, about racism, sexism, so the stories that kind of funneled out of those things were always stories that I had wanted to write about and it just so happen that I was able to use the story of the strip club as this amazing container to dig in deep,” Hall related. “This club is just a prism by which we are investigating the intersection of race, class and gender, so I think as an artist who embraces her blackness and her southern roots, it just felt like a natural fit between the things that I had researched that were strip club specific and the things I had been wanting to write about my entire life.”
One of the biggest goals the 39-year-old creator and showrunner had when developing her roster of characters, namely the club’s non-binary owner Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan), was to be “honest about people’s humanity” and found herself lucky to have “a lot of different relationships” with those a part of the LBGTQIA community.
“I felt it was my responsibility as a witness and someone who is an ally to make sure that people from that community were represented authentically, but also honestly,” Hall opined. “The most important thing was that they were represented in the most human way as possible, they’re just like you and me, they love, they have dreams, they have hopes, they have desires. Coming from a place of wanting to write all characters in a way that they feel like real flesh and blood human beings is something that I’m committed to and knowing that there has been a dearth of images, particularly when it comes to non-binary people in the media. In terms of Uncle Clifford, Uncle Clifford is genderfluid, but embraces the pronoun of she, so being able to articulate those very complicated choices that Uncle Clifford has made about how she has decided to express her identity, not only to herself but other people, was also something that was very important. We had a lot of conversations, not only in the writer’s room, of talking to expert in the field in terms of how do we demonstrate this identity to people who may not have their own relationships with people who are non-binary. Luckily, Nicco has been with the character for ten years, Nicco was in the stage production, Nicco was even reading drafts of the play even when I literally had only five pages before the production. Nicco Annan, as an actor, really had a strong influence as to how we ended up that Uncle Clifford felt completely grounded and did not feel like a caricature. Also Uncle Clifford is based on three living ancestors in my life, my mom, my dad and my real Uncle Clifford, so I wanted Uncle Clifford as a character to feel very equally masculine and feminine. The three living gods in my life really inspired me when it came to portraying Uncle Clifford on the page.”
Another important aspect for Hall was ensuring that the series’ depiction of its stripping scenes and characters would come from “a place of respect and empathy” rather than the “hyper-sexualized images” many have grown up watching in the media, namely when it comes to Black female bodies.
“We have to be honest about the women and what they do inside of this space, they take their clothes off sometimes in order to make money and so we had to acknowledge that this is a desire and a business, a billion-dollar business and that there’s no shame,” Hall expressed. “We came to telling this story from a place of complete and total respect and honesty and because of the long history of sexualized images, we needed to be sensitive and extremely careful when it came to filming it, so we had a lot of conversations between me, the writers and the directors about how we were going to center this story inside of the women’s experience. I always say that, ‘We’re not interested in how the women’s bodies look, we’re interested in what the women’s bodies can do’ and the focus on dancing as an athletic feat I think takes it away from this sense of exploitation and it makes it feel as though we are investigating the actual craft and expertise that goes into the world of pole dancing. I always say that this is not an exploitation project, this is a humanization project on the fact that all the women that are in the show are based off of the real women that I have met through years and years of research. We’re using these fictional characters in order to tell the truths of women who are in this business that does exist and is a business that people shouldn’t feel ashamed about participating in, even though there is this large stigma attached to it.”
Though the series is just about to get started with a one-season order, with early reviews pouring praise upon the series, Hall is hopeful that she and her writer’s room will be able to continue with another season as she is ready to burst with plans for the future.
“I have lots of thoughts in my minds about many seasons, but I’m still in the holding pattern in terms of moving forward to that, I hope, near future,” Hall laughed. “I’m actually thankful that I’m just enjoying the first part of the ride and we shall see what happens next. It’s just like going into the strip club, you just don’t know what’s gonna happen next!”
Created by Hall, the series is set down deep in the Mississippi Delta, where lies an oasis of grit and glitter in a rough patch of human existence where beauty can be hard to find. This Southern-fried, hour-long drama tells the kaleidoscopic story of a “little strip club that could” and the big characters who come through its doors — the hopeful, the lost, the broken, the ballers, the beautiful and the damned. Trap music meets film noir in this lyrical and atmospheric series that dares to ask what happens when small-town folk dream beyond the boundaries of the Piggly Wiggly and the pawnshop.
Alongside Evans, the cast for the series includes Nicco Annan (Claws), Shannon Thornton (Power), Elarica Johnson (A Discovery of Witches), J. Alphonse Nicholson (Just Mercy), Parker Sawyers (Southside with You), Brandon Gilpin (High Maintenance) and Morocco Omari (21 Bridges).
P-Valley is set to premiere on Starz on Sunday, July 12!