David McGraw serves as Fulbright Specialist with South African State Theatre
An assistant professor and program coordinator for the arts administration interdisciplinary major, McGraw earned one of the first Fulbright Specialist Grants in the field of stage/theater management.
Assistant Professor of Performing Arts David McGraw spent two weeks in May and June working with the South African State Theatre as one of the first Fulbright Specialists in the field of stage/theater management.
McGraw was selected for the prestigious Fulbright Specialist Grant program that pairs academics and professionals from the United States with host institutions around the globe for project-based exchange programs. Fulbright Specialists typically spend a total of two to six weeks with their host institutions or organizations through the program.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Congress established the program in 1946 “to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” The Fulbright Program in 2017 expanded the range of fields from which it draws participants to include stage/theater management, an area of expertise for McGraw, who is the program coordinator for Elon’s arts administration interdisciplinary major.
McGraw’s project, “Share Your Journey, Set My Journey,” is a collaboration with the South African State Theatre in Pretoria as the theater company prepares for a U.S. tour of its production of “Freedom: The Musical.” The musical, based on actual events in 2015, follows a fictional South African college student, Phindile, who helps lead the #FeesMustFall demonstrations while dealing with an abusive relationship. Directed by award-winning playwright Aubrey Sekhabi, the production has a cast of 47 and a 13-piece band.
McGraw arrived in South Africa during the company’s production the musical, which premiered last summer. Has been working with the company to guide them as they plan for a U.S. tour of the production, likely in spring 2021. During his two weeks with the theater company, he worked with the marketing team to share how productions are typically marketed in the U.S. and he led workshops on technical production topics and grantwriting for U.S. organizations.
McGraw said he has been impressed by the South African State Theatre’s complex in Pretoria, which opened in the early 1980s, and its ability to host large-scale productions. “I am just amazed at the show they are able to present,” McGraw said of the facilities and the production.
McGraw said the company also does a fantastic job of “continuing the experience once the curtain comes down. Many productions conclude when the curtain closes and attendees head for the exits, but the South African State Theatre makes a point of having the cast and crew engage with the audience after the conclusion of the performance.
“Here, they make much more of an effort to make it a conversation within the space,” McGraw said. “It allows the performers and the company to get much more feedback than they might in the United States, where typically your schedule ends as soon as the applause is done.”
McGraw is hoping that funding will allow members of the South African State Theatre to attend the Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference in New York in January, where McGraw will be able to reconnect with them, and he hopes to return to South Africa for another two-week stretch within the next year to continue his work with the group.
Following his time working with the South African State Theatre, McGraw traveled to the University of Cape Town to work with researcher Ronel Jordaan there on developing a comprehensive survey of South African theater workers. Such a survey would replicate a national survey McGraw has conducted in the United States since 2006 focused on stage managers and theater workers to gather data about demographics, income, technical techniques, job satisfaction and a host of other topics.