Directing Thesis Interview: 'The View'

BY Luz Lorenzana Twigg, July 29, 2021

For his thesis production, Keenan Tyler Oliphant ‘21 brings a new perspective to South African playwright Philip Rademeyer’s play The View.

In mounting The View as a black queer South African director, Keenan hopes to deepen the play’s conversation about queerness and humanity with an American audience.

Why did you decide to do this particular production for your thesis project?


Keenan Tyler Oliphant: I’ve always wanted to do something that was a conversation between here and home (South Africa). I have had no real interest in regenerating South African work for an American audience but rather am interested in seeing a conversation between the two spaces. Phillip Rademeyer’s 2012 play The View is an exceptional piece of writing that poses incredible questions about what it means to be human, what it means to exist while mourning a broken world. I first saw it when I was twenty-one and have remained perplexed by it in such a haunting way that when it came time for me to decide on a work, it just kept pushing forward into my consciousness. I’m hoping that the multiple social and political narratives of this moment weave into the narrative of the piece and offer the same beautiful perplexion it gave me then.



What was the most exciting part about this project?


KTO: The most exciting part has been the exploration of Black Queerness as the foundation of this particular production. Phillip hadn’t written the work for a particular body, so I have been really excited to explore the ways in which centering Black Queerness as the philosophical basis of the production weaves into the existing language and narrative to create something new. Really exploring how the histories and narratives encoded and experienced through the intersection of Queerness and Blackness can become narrative outside of content or context has been a really exciting extension of my artistic practice. 



What was the biggest challenge?


KTO: The COVID protocols have, of course, been a challenge to say the least. They inspired an experiment with media but also have led to many “in-the-moment” learning curves. The inclusion of film challenged my skills directorially because we entered into such an unknown medium. The work exists as neither/both film and theatre and therefore there is not a definite set of techniques to rely on besides one’s storytelling eye and intuition. The rest is learnt. That is both exciting but also frustrating at moments when something doesn’t work or function in the way you expected. 



What has been a crucial lesson from your training?


KTO: Crucial is an interesting word to use in relation to training. There are numerous technical lessons from the training. However, I think perhaps the most crucial in terms of training comes from our feedback sessions with our professors. Mine, in summation, is the discovery that my vulnerability is a space of active creation and that by inviting it into the work you invite a real potential of discovering something new and surprising. 

Tell us something that you found surprising about the process of putting up this production?


KTO: How much weight the touching of skin really holds. I obviously thought about it during isolation and quarantine but to experience its absence in performance is to discover its power. 



What is your philosophy for directing?


KTO: I hesitate to define my thoughts as philosophy. I have a resistance to definition even though my thoughts are sometimes articulated in definitive language. So maybe not a philosophy but a belief:  creating theatre and performance is an ancient ritual that extends beyond language and time and I try to remember that every time I start rehearsing and/or working. 



Where do you see yourself in five years?


KTO: Hopefully healthy, still making art somewhere and being embarrassed at how serious I sound when talking about directing, (lol).



Keenan Tyler Oliphant '21 is a theatre-maker and Director from Cape Town, South Africa. Keenan’s work is in the lineage of the communal theatre-making and storytelling traditions of South Africa. As a theatre-maker, he recalls his traditional Southern African storytelling lineage by simultaneously exchanging with histories and futures to create spaces of healing, investigation, mourning, and celebration through performance. Keenan endeavors to create work that is powerful in its relation to contemporary experience, and that challenges social and political conventions while engaging with performance as a ritual expression of the spiritual and the erotic. He is a founding member of Mixing Bowl Productions, an underground music theatre company which focuses on the promotion of alternate and contemporary music theatre works. Keenan was a part of the New Ohio Producers Club 2020, a member of the Clubbed Thumb Directing Fellowship 2020/21 and a Drama League 2021 Fellow. He has also served as second assistant director to Rachel Chavkin (Moby Dick A.R.T Cambridge 2019), Raja Feather Kelly (We’re Gonna Die Second Stage Theater New York 2020) and is Associate Director for the Bengson’s work in progress OHIO (St Ann’s Warehouse Workshop April 2021).