A Conversation with Bikiya Graham-Douglas

The 3rd annual Cape Town Fringe Festival kicked off on September 22nd and we were invited to watch some of the shows. The Cape Town Fringe Festival is a 2 week event that takes place in the heart of Cape Town and showcases work from South Africa’s emerging and established theatremakers.

This past weekend I saw Bikiya Graham-Douglas in Wait, directed by Kenneth Uphopho, which tells the story of one woman’s journey in life and the challenges she faces because she is a woman and wants to get an education. Bikiya is an actress, producer, business woman and founder of Beeta Universal Arts Foundation (BUAF) hailing from Nigeria.

While Sarafina Magazine is an online publication that celebrates South African women in the arts, given the important subject matter that is discussed in Wait, there was never a question in my mind as to whether Bikiya should be interviewed or not.

I sat down with her after her one of performances to chat about the show.

I was wondering if you could tell us in your own words about the show?

Wait is a story that every woman at some point has been through regardless of her ethnicity or where she is raised. Every single woman at some point has been told ‘oh no you can’t do that because you are a girl.’ Or ‘No you need to be thinking about getting married’ which is normal for progressioning life but I think a lot of times, when people tell you the same thing over and over again, you start to believe it. I think that happens with a lot of women where they feel like they can only do so much because one day ‘I’m going to get married and then my life takes a completely different course.’ Wait tells you that doesn’t have to be the case. Wait highlights that an education is everything for any woman regardless of where she is from. I brought that context to Africa because we have a history where there are many communities in Africa where the girl child does not have access to an education. She is not allowed to go to school. When we think about it as they say ‘when you educate a woman, you educate a nation’ it’s very important. It’s very integral for a girl to be educated and Wait brings to the forefront the scenarios that girls have gone through and are still going through. I remember when I performed Wait in Lagos, there was a lady there who worked with the government and she was really high up and she said to me ‘this is my story. My elder sisters are not educated because in my community girls were not allowed to go to school. Thanks for telling my story, that I defied everything and look where I am today.’ It’s a story about education being key and it is integral for the girl child but the girl child must be willing to get educated. It works hand in hand for that access to begin for the girl child and for her to take on the opportunities that she sees and flies with it never letting anyone stand in the way of the possibilities that she can do in her life.

That’s beautiful. I think maybe another way of phrasing it is instead of saying ‘the girl should be willing’ is that ‘she should know she is worthy of that.’ I think that’s why the show is so important.

Yes that’s it. She should know and from a young age she should constantly be told of her worth and her importance to not just her family but to society.

What was it like creating this piece?

It was a very enlightening and empowering process for me. A lot of people might not believe that it was a man who wrote it. When I was approached to be the youth ambassador for the Africa conference in Dublin in 2015. They said they would love me to present a piece being that I was an actress. The theme was around education and so I called a good friend of mine, Oladipo Agboluaje, who is a playwright and I said to him ‘this is what I am thinking and I think it would be good for us to personalise it. Not just come up with figures but let people feel like they are in the shoes of this girl.’ When I started doing some research I started finding out that what I was going to speak about was still a reality and it was really shocking for me and it made me realize that it’s very important. There are still millions of girls across Africa who don’t have access to education. Then I thought about society today and I think about African women who have excelled and you read their stories and the challenges that they went through but they overcame all of that and they ended up at the top. I thought it would be good for us to tell that story in its entirety and celebrate the ones who have been able to get through it and that would inspire many young people. It was a very enlightening process for me and I won’t lie to you, sometimes I did cry because you read some stories and you see that this is actually a reality and there are some people going through it. It’s frightening but it’s the reality and I just thought we cannot speak about it enough. Being able to put my voice to such an important cause, I was very excited and I am really humbled that I am the one telling this story. It’s something that we need to constantly have conversations about.

Bikiya Graham Douglas in Wait. Photo Credit: Olumide Adeyeye Peters

I think adding music to it adds to it and hits you as an audience member on an entirely different level because I feel like when you are watching something on stage it is so easy to put up that wall and not let it affect you until you get home but when you see someone sing, and watching you when your voice would shake or your eyes would start to light up, it’s just so powerful.

That you very much. One of the songs, when she is leaving home, is actually written by a man too. His name is Timi Dakolo, he is a recording artist in Nigeria and he is a very good friend of mine. When we put the piece together the director actually came up with the song and said ‘I think the song would be very apt.’ So I had a listen to it and it just really makes sense and really helps us tell this beautiful story. So I called him and I asked him and he let us use the song. The one I sing at the endAfrican womenis by a Ghanaian woman named Becca and she is someone who is very pro women and for strong women and African women getting educated and so it just synced with the message that I was trying to tell already. It is beautiful to sing. 

What was your biggest challenge with this piece?

I’ll speak relative to the Cape Town Fringe Festival, being that I was coming from Nigeria,  it was a process of filling out our application forms and I wasn’t sure if we were going to be selected and then we were selected and only given a few weeks to prepare. And funding of course is always a challenge so I had to make some decisions. I was like its going to be a ‘3-D or an information technology reimagined play’ in the sense that we are going to have to rehearse over the internet. I had my musical director and my director in Nigeria but they could not come with me so I was lucky that I was able to contact The Waterstone Theatre College through a lady named Elvina Ibru, she is like my older sister in Nigeria in the industry and it was just really difficult for us to coordinate because everything was done through the internet. It’s not the same as being in the same room and rehearsing with them and I wish I could have had even more time and we could have developed many things together. That was a challenge but when I touched down in Cape Town and we started working together, everything just fell into place. It’s just grown from strength to strength. I was able to find backup singers who synced very well with my voice and Waterstone has been amazing to me and made the challenge easier. Another thing that has been the biggest challenge is questioning if people will really like it and see it. As an artist you always ask yourself those questions and just the response from a lot of people has been very encouraging and reaffirming the belief in the story of Wait for me.

What do you hope audiences take away from this show?

I hope people will go away with a new respect for the importance of the woman to society and the importance for her to be educated and how from you giving her all of the opportunities she deserves from a young age, she could just be the president tomorrow. I want people to go away thinking that could be my mother, that could be my sister, that could be my daughter, and we are meant to feel ‘that could be me.’ I want them to leave with a new sense of respect and a collective responsibility for the girl child to be included and be educated, especially in Africa. And of course to be entertained!

To round this off, what other show, besides your own, are you looking forward to seeing?

I’m looking forward to seeing Wait…Linda. I definitely want to see that one and Words Of War It’s poetry, it’s quite political and I really want to see that one too. I would also love to see some of the music and the V Monologues! I’ve actually starred in that before and I’ve heard they’ve made some changes so I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve done with it.

Thank you so much.

Thank you so much for doing this and for coming to see the show!

Wait runs until September 28th at The Cape Town Fringe Festival. The Cape Town Fringe Festival runs from September 22nd- October 8th. Tickets can be booked here,  via their app or in person at the box office located in City Hall or at any of the Fringe venues.



One thought on “A Conversation with Bikiya Graham-Douglas

  1. I think your interviews could be sold to overseas magazines so that they can include
    women from ethnic backgrounds therefore making their magazines readable to all women.

    Liked by 1 person

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