South African playwright Mike van Graan: commerce and engagement

April 2007 -

"My newest play is about the world cup football that will be held here in 2010. That involves so much money that we will never earn back."

Mike van Graan is a born culture politician who has grown into an activist in the past twenty years. He has always written for the stage. Van Graan has received numerous awards and is the figurehead of contemporary critical theater in South Africa.

"Society here has changed enormously since 1994. Art has been given the room to look for contradiction and to utilize style tools like irony." The stage is lively in South Africa. "But many productions focus on what people want. I get my themes in the street: violence, abuse of power, crime and corruption. I started producing my own stage texts in the past few years. I find the actors, rent the theaters and attract the audience. It is an enormous risk, but it is the only way to get my work performed due to the lack of subsidies. Because I want to reach as many people as possible, I also organize performances at markets, in churches and in schools."

What is special about Van Graan is that he is an independent producer, which means he must be commercial, but he combines this with engagement. "Colleague writers have disappointed me. Many are afraid to be critical because they are afraid to be called racist. I despise self-censuring like that. Criticism helps to build a democracy."

South Africa's theatrical sector is polarized, according to Van Graan. "Many white theater makers perform in Afrikaans, to white audiences only. But there are also white Africans who make plays in English for a more varied audience. Their casts are both black and white. So are mine. I could never create a piece that does not reflect reality."