00:07 Matthias Jochmann
Hi, you are listening to Record of Change.
My name is Matthias and I am your host for this episode.
Record of Change listens to 8 individuals located across the world about how their lives are being twisted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
we listen to our interviewees at several points in time as we are eager to learn about how their lives are changing.
Today I am talking to you from Bonn in Germany, where the month of November is a month of lockdown.
we will listen to Mike van Graan, located in Cape Town, currently lockdown level 1, to hear how his
life and work as a playwright and advocate for cultural practitioners has been going in the past weeks.
in our first season, mike had already shared, how he's building up the STAND foundation which aims at making the South African theater
scene more self-reliant Mike and I first met in 2015 in Southern China for a theater workshop, we both were kind of used to travel a lot.
So, today I am also curious, whether he's still enjoying this new pace of life without flying around the globe.
Thank you for your time again.
01:22 Mike van Graan
, I'm in a little bit of a writing retreat at the moment.
So I had to do some, some writing of a preparation for television series thing,, but otherwise all good.
How's it going on your side?
How's fatherhood then.
01:40 Matthias Jochmann
Fatherhood is good.
how is your novel going?
01:46 Mike van Graan
Well, it's funny because I had an email from my supervisor yesterday.
Because the novel is kind of part of my supposed PhD with university of Pretoria.
And I had to report to him this morning that actually it's not going.
Lockdown has not been very conducive to working on the novel.
I just haven't been in space, you know, both, I suppose, psychologically and emotionally to work on the novel.
There've been other things to kind of challenge and occupy one.
but yeah, I mean, it's still very much there and I'm kind of hoping that it's something I'll get down to when our summer holidays happen in about six weeks time.
So it's still, it's still very much part.
it might not, you know, the whole thought of it would be part of a PhD is not particularly attractive or is not the thing that stimulates me most.
it's that I always going to want to write the novel.
So , it is something that I'll do at some point.
02:46 Matthias Jochmann
You say you're still very busy.
you told me you were very busy already some weeks ago when we talked first in August.
so your life has remained as busy as before with many zooms and many online works.
03:00 Mike van Graan
So, we had just launched the Stand foundation.
Then I was also at that time working with something called African no filter.
And then I was also doing work with the festival Academy.
and that required me to run things kind of online events , on a monthly basis.
So those three things, which all were kind of related to income generation were time consuming . And then of course,
with Stand taking off, and a whole bunch of projects kind of been initiated, and then in between all of that, there's
kind of, you know, the try to do some creative work and trying to, get some of the plays back on the road as well.
So, you know, I'm really not complaining as such as the nature of things in our country at the moment and in the world.
And in my life, actually, I've never really just done one thing.
I would be quite bored if I did, so I'm really not complaining.
It's just that at times he would like to have a bit more time just to, go and smell the sea air, which
I made a point of doing this week, as part of this retreat . I am kind of quite close to the scene.
So I go for a walk every morning and that's actually quite good.
04:24 Matthias Jochmann
You mentioned the STAND foundation, and yes, when we talked last time,
you were about to launch it and you said let's, let's talk again in two or three months.
So how is it going?
How's the foundation going?
04:35 Mike van Graan
So it's going really well, actually.
to date, we've initiated, about nine or 10 projects.
, so first of all, you know, when we, in way initiated, it was because of COVID-19 conditions and because of the
situation that many people in the dance and theater community particularly found themselves, which is that dance and
theater live by virtue of live audiences and live audiences are deemed to be the primary vectors of the Corona virus.
So dance and theater will always going to be closed down the longest in terms of sectors of society and the economy opening up.
And secondly, most dance and theater practitioners make their livings as independent contractors rather than as employees.
So the amount of funding kind of made available for the dance and theater sector by government
to support the sector, many dance and theater practitioners were not eligible for it.
So a lot of the emphasis, that led to the merchants of the STAND foundation, was about, how do we help the dance and theater sector?
both now, but also kind of in the medium to longterm post COVID.
because it would appear that dance and theater are always going to be in need of some kind of subsidy.
And the state couldn't really be dependent upon.
But I think, we also then made a decision than rather simply be an artist relief kind of agency or initiative, we would try to
initiate projects and provide work for people within the sector so that they were earning a living as it were through their craft.
So a lot of the projects were kind of geared towards that.
And one of the projects was, a women's standup comedy project.
So there aren't very many women stand up comics in our country.
Stand-up comedy is quite big, but it's kind of quite male dominated.
And so we initiated this project to identify new women stand up comics and out of the applications
we received, we basically identified about eight people based on the submissions made.
And so they are going through a process now of being mentored by standup comedians.
And in fact, on this Sunday, there'll be making the pictures as it were to a live audience.
and out of that, we hoping to select at least five who will then, constitute a program that will either be made available, online or physically as well.
And through this, we hope that, these young stand-up women will be able to generate an income.
so that's the one project.
There's another project where, I had, a publication of a whole bunch of sketches from six satirical reviews, I've done kind of one handers.
And then part of promoting the book, we had kind of had this relationship between my little company at the STAND foundation.
So we invite young actors to take one of those sketches within the book and basically perform it, film it, put it online and they would win prizes.
The top three would win prizes,
but it's up to what's the work that they're actually doing.
we also are doing a project, with an organization called the association for savings and investments in South Africa, basically a financial wellness project.
So one of the major challenges that we spoke about earlier was about, the dance and theater individuals just really suffering through this time.
And so this particular agency actually provides financial literacy for people generally, and we are now partnering with
them to develop one of their programs aimed, particularly at individuals and small enterprises within the dance and theater
community and how to advise them and develop their skills with regard to financial literacy and sustainability and the like.
And then there's like a big advocacy and vision project.
So what we really need for the dance and theater sector is to take advantage of this kind of lockdown time , almost to reflect on, where are we now as a sector?
Where do we want to be in the future?
So we've come up with this, basically, a vision document that is quite comprehensive in terms of what infrastructure do we want,
what kind of level of funding and company support do we want, what levels of, of social benefits and security we want and the like,
and so that's kind of in the process now of been discussed and consulted quite broadly within the dance and theater community.
and we hope to, gather support around this document.
So it becomes a way of mobilizing the sector towards national provincial and local government kind of policymakers and the like,
we also do these monthly webinars.
So we've had two so far.
obviously everybody is doing webinars, but what we are trying to do with the ones that we should be doing is to
have, a speaker from a South African dance and theater perspective, and then to invite people from around the world.
At least three from other kinds of contexts to also engage.
so that we are kind of learning from the practice and experience elsewhere.
So the most recent one for example, was, the impact of COVID-19 on the aesthetics of dance and theater.
So not so much looking at the social and economic impact, but what are theater and dance, what are the consequences of not having audiences?
We had someone from North Macedonia and we had someone from Uganda together with two South Africans kind of discussing that.
So some very interesting things, kind of emerging out of those kinds of webinars.
we have another project kind of aimed at older folk.
who used to make their livings within the sector, but who are now in a way kind of quite isolated because of COVID-19 or because
they are in the most vulnerable categories in retirement homes and the like, and they're living by themselves or whatever.
So we want to initiate a project where we just on a weekly basis, bring them into a zoom kind of gathering.
And to be able to read with each other and maybe have a speaker.
just to Let them network, you know, outside of their retirement homes in that we are putting together at the moment.
There's another project that we are also wanting to do, which is very much around, just again, in preparation for the post COVID 19 times, doing research
into we've got nine provinces, but over the last 26 years of post apartheid, South Africa, much of the resources have been concentrated in, very few cities.
That we've inherited from at the apartheid past in a way.
And so the more marginalized provinces don't really have resources and infrastructure and alike.
So we doing research at the moment into what currently exists with regard to performance spaces.
Let's say people want to do a national tour where are the spaces available, who do they contact?
What are the rentals, what facilities are available and alike.
And how do we lobby for these spaces to become more integrated into some kind of a national circuit?
Then a final kind of protocol through regard of research is, finding out what the remuneration rates are there.
So there's never been a study done of who's earning what and the different categories of work within the dance and theater communities.
What are the weekly wages that people get paid?
What do public theaters pay versus independent theaters versus community-based structures?
these are some of the things , that we've done or are in the process of doing at the moment,
12:05 Matthias Jochmann
Oh, great work.
12:05 Mike van Graan
a long answer to your question.
12:08 Matthias Jochmann
I mean, it's super informative that you're thinking of so many angles of the theater and dance scene.
I maybe have two or three questions and Ill try to put it into one.
, before launching it, you said like you are aiming at individuals trying to, to convince them
to donate money, so that in the longterm round, you have money , to give subsidies to artists.
And I guess in the beginning, people would be maybe more positive than on a long-term run, like knowing, okay.
Now, the pandemic is going to be very long, and theaters might be shut down for very long.
So, I'm wondering would people at a certain point say, Hey, maybe I'd rather give my money to do something else.
and if I can add one more, you said how you want to find out how does theater look like?
Or how do we want to have theater to look like after COVID-19, maybe you can share some of how do you envision theater after this challenge?
13:04 Mike van Graan
. so, other theaters are beginning to open.
So the major theater in Cape town, the Baxter theater has, has just actually tonight has a big reopening, with a dance performer who
happens to be the cheapest and by the way of the STAND foundation and the, and a top musicina kind of doing a performance together.
And I went again to see an opera there over the weekend.
I mean, in the same venue.
And, and certainly in terms of how the theater is kind of now structured, you have to go through all the social distancing
protocols and, you have to have your temperature taken all the trace and tracking, kind of details one has to give.
And then in terms of the seating, the seats are ranged so that, you know, there's a space between spectators sort of things.
So, so from, from that particular kind of perspective, I think that that's going to be the reality for a while,
that people are going to need to be socially distanced from each other in terms of the actual attendance.
The actual opera, and, and performance in that, that was pretty much like old times in terms of the, obviously
if there's no social distancing, there's no mask wearing on stage, there isn't doing those kinds of things.
so in terms of the aesthetics of, COVID has impacted on the actual production.
So, you know, the basis of a whole one performance so far, that hasn't really been very evident.
I think though, what one might see , even more in the near future , you know, plays with small costs might be some kind of reaction to COVID-19.
so what we've been doing in these first two months in a way is building up some kind of a record as STAND to
show the kinds of things that we are doing so that when we go to people and say, Hey, come and support us.
Then we can show them.
These are the kinds of things that we've done so far with the money that we have raised so far.
So now come and be partners with us.
So what we are asking subscribers to do is, a couple of things and the people that we are
going to, are actually people , who also are traditional supporters of theater and dance.
So we're not going to the broader public as it were at this stage.
And we think there must be at least a hundred thousand people in our country out of 59 million who are supporters of theater and dance in our country.
I mean, that's a very tiny proportion of our actual population.
And even in terms of income and equality in our country, that's a very tiny proportion.
Of the people with disposable income.
And so our idea is that if we eventually get a hundred thousand people to be giving a donation of a hundred Rand, which in Euros would be the equivalent
of, I think maybe about five euros a month, not substantial by any means, but if you get a hundred thousand people in our country to be donating in
a year or two's time, five Euros a month, that's 500,000 euros a month, quite significant funding that one can then do with that on a monthly basis.
So our idea is that, to start off our initial aim, 10,000 people giving a hundred Rand, that will be a million Rand a month.
Which is not in the kind of theater and dance ecosystem at the moment.
So that will be an injection of new money into the ecosystem.
And what we are asking people to do is to make this very small contribution, which would be the equivalent of three cups of coffee, you know, a month, to STAND.
And not only are we asking them to do it to support theater and dance, but we will say and provide tangible benefits so
that on a weekly basis, it will be something that they'll be able to access in exchange for their hundred rand a month.
So for example, every week we will offer for 52 weeks next year, something of interest to them that only they can access as subscribers to STAND.
For example, a reading of a new play.
By the country's top playwrights, there'll be a reading, they'll be given a link and they'll be able
to see that really or even standing in a physical space in which many of those people are located.
They'll be invited to come to the theater and see that people love seeing things when they're still in development, you know,
or there's an interview with a top director or choreographer either from here or from elsewhere, or we'll put a webcam in
the rehearsal room of a ballet company and provide them with access to an hour of ballet rehearsals, and things like that.
so in a way, what we're wanting to do is to say, to supporters of theater and dance,look, this is what your funding will
support, but also these are the direct benefits that you as individuals can get, in exchange for making those contributions.
In fact, I've just been looking at my list of things to do.
That's kind of the next big thing that we're going to be initiating.
in terms of recruiting, an initial database of the alumni and personally is to get a thousand
people myself by the end of this year to make that a hundred rand contributions to STAND.
18:38 Matthias Jochmann
wow, fingers crossed
18:40 Mike van Graan
So we'll talk in January and see our success to , there's not much time to do it now before the end of the year.
I think that that there's an appetite.
It's not everybody is going to do it, but as I said, out of the big database that exists, there should be a number of people who could.
And what we are wanting to do is also identify people within the dance and theater ecosystem who have profile, who.
People are they kind of really respect and, and, and get them to become the ambassadors on behalf of STAND to also go and
raise, we get a hundred people, each of them to get a hundred, a thousand people to come on board, you know, we will do that.
And what we're also doing, Matthias, is we are offering people who are doing that outside of STAND, a financial incentive.
So if the individual within the dance and theater sector, Gets a hundred people to come on board.
They get 10% of the income that is generated for every hundred people.
After that, up to a thousand, the percentage kind of increases so that if they get a thousand people to come on board, they will get 20% of the income.
And for as long as those people continue to contribute towards STAND, the people who have done the recruiting will continue to get a monthly income as well.
So the idea is that in a way STAND also then provides a vehicle through which people
within the dance and theater sector can almost get like a passive income by virtual.
So it's like this ecosystem where in order for you as a person that doesn't have work within the sector, or might have work, but doesn't have a regular income.
You get people to contribute to STAND and then STAND basically gives you a regular income and the bigger amount
of money that has been raised through the contributors go towards dance and theater projects within the country.
So that's kind of the model.
20:36 Matthias Jochmann
That sounds amazing.
I want to share maybe one sentence.
What was the current status of theater in Germany, because we just went into, like a new kind of lockdown and,
20:45 Mike van Graan
20:46 Matthias Jochmann
all sorts of gastronomy and theaters and operas and all culture places were closed down, even though they had fantastic
hygiene concepts and so what I see in my bubbles now, people around me that are in the culture field are very, very disappointed.
And maybe starting to feel some kind of hopelessness that, they're closed down.
They're labeled under entertainment rather than education, for example.
and people start to realize, even if Germany as a rich country will get through this kind of well now, someone
has to pay the debt, which is going to be there in the end, after this, whenever this, after is coming.
So my question to you is how do people working in the cultural field in South Africa
currently look to the future or, what is the atmosphere among people and what are their hopes?
21:39 Mike van Graan
you know, we don't have the levels of subsidy that Germany has.
So in a way, our theater and dance community are much more used to having to eak out some kind of
existence through struggle, you know, find ways of doing this that's outside of dependence upon government.
It doesn't mean that people do not always continue to fight with government to get greater resources
and the like, but I think that there's now the general acceptance that government , is not our ally.
They're not our friends.
so people have found all kinds of ways of doing things.
And to some extent, STAND is an expression of that.
And when STAND was launched and people heard about it, it was just such an outpouring of incredible support from it,
from the dance and theater community, because people said, you know, this is the kind of thing that we are needing.
It shows that we can do things ourselves, and the like.
Certainly initially there was a lot of depression and you know, people who left the industry, there were people who committed suicide.
Very much again, what, what, what has happened in other parts of the world too.
But I think now that we are kind of in a lockdown level one, which is the easiest one is kind of this
reemergence of theater again, and people are doing things and people are finding ways of doing it.
You know, there's a theater down the road, which is like a more community-based space and they can only really in terms
of their space accommodate 15, but they've been doing this for the last three months they've been having 15 people.
There's been this kind of initiative of people learning skills to project their work online, and some of it quite amateurish, but then you've had others,
like more resourced, particularly in the Afrikaans arts community that are incredibly resourced that has a whole kind of channel, television channel in
Afrikaans, they kind of had, multi-camera kind of productions of particular plays, and they'd been filming this to almost make a festival of online theater.
Not so much, in terms of, you know, there's like, theater that happens in a normal theater space in front of a live audience.
and then there's theater that kind of happens in the studio space that has been filmed without a live audience.
So then there's theater that is filmed in front of a live audience.
So which of those is more theater in a way?
And, and it's funny because, the theater that kind of happens with multi cameras in the theater space, but without an audience,
probably has much greater production values to be able to compete with the Netflix offerings that audiences now have access to.
but can you define that as theater in a way?
you know, because it's not happening in front of a live audience, but because they've got all these different camera angles the experience
for the audience was now at a distance that is mediated through a screen is, is kind of quite different to the kind of live encounter.
so I think it certainly is a time of great transition, but I think there's also this
kind of sense that, you know, what, we've been through crisis before in this country.
this country is rather constantly presents crises and challenges.
And because of that experience of having got through the previous ones, there's this kind of sense that we don't know what the
future is going to look like, but there's an element of resilience that we have based on experience that we know will get us through.
And there's a sense also that you know what we need to be doing much more together.
one of ironies of the past is that because our sector is so vulnerable, financially there's been a lot of
competition and division within the sector because everybody's chasing the limited resources that there are.
And I think there's maybe a growing understanding now that actually it's in our collective interest to be working together for
a bigger kind of vision for a bigger pie while not denying that we have independent and our own individual interests as well,
but how do we get the bigger picture to be taken care of, so that at a micro level, we all stand a better chance of surviving?
25:55 Matthias Jochmann
Very interesting, what you said about crisis.
I mean, one of our interviewees is based in Gaza, in Palestine and she said we are used to crisis.
So we, we get through this and this is not the last crisis.
I'm wondering last time we talked about like, maybe by end of the year, we could travel again.
You told me, even though you really enjoy being at home such a long time, you really miss some places, you miss going to Berlin.
if I remember correctly, I'm wondering, because I also asked myself the question just yesterday.
Would I travel now?
If I could, would you travel now?
If you could, would you feel safe in an airplane?
26:43 Mike van Graan
yeah, well, it's interesting because I kind of had my first travel in an airplane, not internationally, but even
just to Johannesburg towards the end of September . And that was the first time I was in an airplane since january of this year.
, and it's one of those ironies where, from the theater perspective, how you can actually manage people, being socially distanced, whereas
in an airplane, people are just so close to each other and you know, right next door to each other, there aren't any spaces between people.
and if you, this particular airline, if you wanted to have a space between you and the person, you
know, two people away from you, you had to pay an extra amount of money to keep that seat free.
so first of all, you know, obviously everyone is kind of masked up.
So, you know, it's like one of those things that, as I was saying earlier, if we come to accept that this might be
the future, that we are going to have to live with the pandemic, if not this one, then possibly others that arise.
And if you accept that, you know, maybe as I do, that this particular pandemic is a forerunner
of other kinds of issues that we are going to face with climate change, for example.
Then how do we deal with it?
How do we live with those things in the same way as there's no cure for HIV, but we've learned to live with it.
We know how it's conveyed.
So how do we live with it safely?
How do we live our lives and interact with each other in a way that doesn't contribute towards, that kind of epidemic, being enhanced?
And so I think similarly people are increasingly just because also people need to earn a livelihood.
So many people are now unemployed, so many people don't have an income.
And so people have to get back to be doing things.
no matter what sector they're in, and if that is the case, then you know, we going to have to learn how to deal with it.
Obviously, when it comes to, in answer to your question, traveling internationally
again, I think that I'd probably give much more thought to, is this traveling necessary?
How necessary is it in terms of what the impact is going to be?
and considering where the destination is and what are the potential risks involved?
If people are coming from Europe and they learn and they hear to go to Africa.
There's this, sanitation is a problem in that particular country or there's a particular malaria outbreak or whatever.
Would you travel to that place?
And now would we travel to Europe given that, you know, the rates of Corona viruses is just so, is just so huge.
I'd probably consider traveling to Europe with greater anticipation with greater reluctance, then traveling somewhere else in Africa, ironically at the moment.
so yeah, it's not about traveling for its own sake.
It's about traveling and context, all these things are about context, isn't it?
yeah, but what is interesting about , when I did go to Janice, we could, was to basically facilitate a three-day
workshop that I was invited to do in Alexandra, which is a township in Johannesburg that is kind of parallel to
Sandton, which is one of the richest areas in our country, but Alexandra is one of the poorest and most marginalized.
Anyway, I was invited to come and do a workshop on cultural policy and alike, like for community theater practitioners.
and I went there and I was very impressed because of the way in which they kind of handle the social distancing and the
likes .The first time they were doing something like that in this particular venue, in terms of taking venue, you know,
keeping people socially distanced, taking temperatures in the beginnin, and alike, but if you'd go through the township.
You know, it's like, there's just, it's as if there's no pandemic, no one was wearing a mask.
People were in very close proximity to each other.
It was a hive of activity as much as anytime else, just because of the nature of the living conditions as well.
There's so many people living on top of each other.
It's very difficult.
If not impossible, to conform to the social distancing that is required in order to keep safe from the virus.
And yet the level of infection in that particular area is relatively low.
So, you know, this is, comes back to the question, would I travel to Europe, so here's, the issue, here's an area in Alexandra that is incredibly cramped.
That one would think that all the factors point towards, you know, the high spread of the virus.
And yet that is not the reality.
And I kind of chose to go there to conduct this workshop because in terms of the potential impact that we'll
have, and the need for it to get people who are now marginalized as much more integrated into the mainstream.
I felt it was kind of very necessary.
I would do that again before I would consider going on an airplane to Europe where the conditions might be a little bit different with regard to the virus.
31:51 Matthias Jochmann
if I may ask one last question.
the first time we talked, I saw you were sitting in a warm coat, now you going towards summer and you told me you were, you just went for a walk every morning.
Would you already see some changes due to the pandemic?
do you see changes in your environment of how people behave, how people, prepare their homes?
32:14 Mike van Graan
Well, it's actually quite an interesting one because going for a walk this morning along the sea of the pavilion, almost no one is masked.
I mean, I go with the maks, but almost no one is massed anymore.
And it was very interesting because that's initially with a, with a lockdown level, level five, you weren't allowed outside to exercise.
And then when it was relaxed later, that became such a popular area for people to go and walk, but everyone wore a mask
, People are now much more relaxed.
We still have very high number of cases, more than 700,000 cases.
but the mortality rate has declined quite substantially.
the country has maybe become better at managing the Corona virus pandemic, you know, but at the moment I would say that with the
heat, with lockdown level one that we've been in, you know, for the last four to five weeks, there is a greater feeling of relaxation.
You can't go into a shopping mall, without a mask.
Generally, I think people are trying to play safe and at the same time, revert to some kind of pre COVID normality.
33:31 Matthias Jochmann
Thank you very much, Mike.
I'm curious to hear what has changed in January.
Hope the foundation is going well as it did so far, and, you have a good time off.
And maybe you find time to write on your novel or others.
Yeah, I'm kind of hoping that too.
Thanks for the chat and I hope you stay safe during this time, particularly the young family.
This was episode 3 of our second season with Mike van Graan from Cape Town.
Stay tuned for the following episode of Record of Change when we will listen to Dat, a Vietnames
pilot, who will share with us, how the pandemic slowed down the airline industry in Southeast Asia.
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