As the winners of the various categories basked in Fleur du Cap’s glow and the spectators and commentators prepared their annual dissection of the event I happily kept working on my own projects. Every year people question the issue of representation. It’s not new. It’s not edgy. It’s not journalism. It remains the stubborn, flatulent elephant in the room that we all know is there. It doesn’t only hang around in the auditorium where the FdCs are being held. It’s at the opening night of Maynardville, it’s in the wings waiting for it’s cue in the majority of productions and also sitting in the audience at most shows.
By far the most articulate of the commentary so far has been Mike van Graan’s defence of the awards. He uses good solid numbers to peel away the first layer of blame that Lara Foot’s speech unleashed. But he could have gone further.
In digging past the FdC panel he showed us the disproportionately white industry – “how can the FdCs show transformation when they must reflect this?” he argues. He raises an example of a mostly white company, the Mechanicals, as something that could offer great experience and training for young black actors. He raises questions about why there are so few. And then he doesn’t deign to do any of that research that made the rest of his article so compelling. He doesn’t ask them to comment on why, he doesn’t propose a theory and look at the available evidence.
Mike van Graan’s article is a successful attempt to exonerate Distell and the FdC awards. He is right. They are not to blame. So he looks around and vaguely gestures at the “theatre managements and independent theatre-makers” who need to be more inclusive, at “the Cape Town’s theatre sector” who need to rise to the challenge, and at “the people of colour across the theatre industry” who need to participate and have opportunities created for them.
In the end, despite Mr van Graan’s well reasoned and researched opinions, he can only cast the blame over everyone. I would appreciate if in the final paragraph he at least had the good grace not to refer to the Cape Town theatre industry as ‘it’ and instead owned up to his conclusion with ‘we’.