Acclaimed artist in residence at UCT

18 August 2006
Artist-in-residence: Maike van Graan.
Artist-in-residence: Maike van Graan.

For the next few weeks, the School of Drama will benefit from the expertise of award-winning playwright Mike van Graan as its artist-in-residence.

The annual residency provides for an external practitioner in the performing arts to work in the department while exposing students and staff to their knowledge and experience.

Van Graan is well known for his string of successful plays, including Some Mothers' Sons; Green Man Flashing and Two to Tango.

A UCT alumnus with an honours degree in drama and a higher diploma in education, he is a familiar figure in South Africa's cultural politics. Calling himself a "cultural activist", he has served as a consultant in arts and culture through his company, Article 27, which provides services such as event management and researching arts policy for clients like the Western Cape government.

This year, however, Van Graan has been writing and producing plays full time thanks to a successful run of his works at various festivals.

His work deals mostly with contemporary political and social issues in South Africa.

"For me, South Africa is far more fascinating to write about now than it was prior to 1994," he says. "Then, we all knew what the story was - it was us against them; blacks against whites. We knew who the good guys were and who were the bad guys, and we always knew how the story was going to end, whereas now in contemporary South Africa there is amazing room for the writer to explore moral complexity, the contradictions between the behaviour of human beings. Everyone has the potential to be good or bad."

Van Graan says that writing today is about posing the questions and raising the debate, and these are the kinds of issues that he raises in his work.

During his residency, Van Graan will conduct lectures with staff and students on his experience in the performing arts industry and how this could influence the drama department and its teaching.

He will also write a play that will be performed by the students as part of their programme next year.

"They want a comedy satire about modern South Africa, one that will deal with issues ranging from environmental themes; the collapse of the public sector in terms of their experience; crime, which is a major concern for them, as well as the apathy of the youth."

A very broad undertaking it seems, but Van Graan is pleased with the challenge.

"It's useful for me as a writer from a different generation to hear what young people are concerned about and how they feel about the country."

Van Graan will also deliver a public lecture later this week titled From Protest Theatre to the Theatre of Conformity, focusing on his work in the context of contemporary South African society (see Campus Highlights).

"It's really nice for me to have the opportunity to be in a residency and write a new play while having access to the university's resources, and to interact with people in the area and talk about my work.

"Many of them have seen my plays around the country and it will be beneficial for me to hear from them what I need to do in developing my work."

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