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“Theatre can play a more prophetic role in our society”: An interview with Mike van Graan

Mike van Graan is one of the leading contemporary playwrights in South
Africa. He is Associate Professor of Drama at the University of Cape
Town, a Technical Expert for UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the
Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and
serves on the Boards of the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival and PEN
South Africa. Currently, he is a Richard von Weizsaecker Fellow of the
Robert Bosch Academy, and is based in Berlin until the second quarter of
2017. He has been involved in numerous artistic projects and in the
management of arts centres, conferences, festivals and institutions. He is
also an artist engaged in the monitoring and promotion of freedom of
expression, research and the distribution of information within and on
behalf of African creative players. He received his undergraduate
education at the University of Cape Town majoring in English and Drama.
In 1986, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Honors degree at the same
university with a thesis on international models of political theatre and
how they relate to the development of political theatre in South Africa. He wrote his first play in 1991 (The Dogs Must
Be Crazy). Since then, he has written and has had staged a large number of plays (a total of 27), all characterized
by his deep concern for social justice. Racism, discrimination, humanism, migration, environment, exploitation,
freedom, apartheid, xenophobia, corruption, are among the topics he constantly explores. He is currently involved in
a multinational project which triggered our conversation.
Mike, let me start with the project you are currently involved in. It looks very interesting and also
challenging. How did it all start?
Ibsen International, a Norwegian theatre company led by Inger Buresund has been working in China for a number of
years. They had a project, “New Text – New Stage,” to promote the creation of new dramatic texts, and the
production of these. Last year (2015), they decided to concentrate on the theme of migration, given its current
international importance. They invited eight playwrights from different continents (Europe, Asia, North America and
Africa) to an initial meeting in Beijing, followed by further meetings in Shanghai and Guangzhou over a period of
nine months, in which we playwrights developed our respective texts. Scenes were translated into Chinese and
international directors (from Hong Kong, Norway and Germany) were invited to work with Chinese actors to present
these excerpts to a Chinese audience.
So, the project itself is an international one, with eight different playwrights interpreting the theme of migration
according to her/his experience and insights. The idea is that these texts will now be produced by different theatres
over the next year or so, and then all these productions will be featured at the Shanghai International Theatre
Festival in October 2017. The Market Theatre—South Africa’s premiere producing house of new South African work
—will be staging my production, When Swallows Cry, in January 2017, and we hope to tour it extensively after that.

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critical-stages.org-Theatre can play a more prophetic role in our society An interview with Mike van Graan


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