This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the death of Steven Biko, a South African Anti-apartheid activist, African nationalist and socialist who was at the forefront of the grassroots anti-apartheid campaign known as the Black Consciousness Movement during the late 1960s and ’70s. The musical depicting Biko’s life, entitled “Biko Rising,” will have a 2-day run at the Castillo Theatre, located at 543 West 42nd Street in Manhattan on Saturday, June 17 at 7pm and on Sunday, June 18 at 2pm.
As a student studying medicine in 1966, Biko rose to a senior position in the National Union of South African Students opposing the apartheid system of racial segregation and white minority rule. He felt Black people had to organize and focus on ridding themselves of this system of racial inferiority. Due to his writings and the positions he held, Biko became an enemy of the State and was arrested on several occasions. During one such incarceration Steve Biko was tortured and beaten while in police custody and subsequently died of his injuries on September 12, 1977.
I spoke with playwright Rudolph Shaw who has written a play entitled BIKO RISING to commemorate the 40 years that have passed since Biko’s death. Born in Guyana, Mr Shaw is a playwright, actor, singer, reviewer, and Audelco Pioneer in Theater Award winner. As well as currently serving as the Executive/Artistic Director of the Caribbean American Repertory Theatre in New York. Mr. Shaw was encouraged to read the works of Steven Biko and bring him to the living stage and that is what Mr. Shaw has done.
“I was attracted to the stage early on. I used to put on Penny concerts wherein my family and I recited poetry. I eventually studied dancing. I studied ballot, jazz, etc., with Alvin Ailey when I was 19 and 20 and performed with the Ron Roach Caribbean Ensemble and I was also associated with Olatunji African Dance Company. I also studied voice. A friend mentioned that I should not only focus on acting but be a triple threat and learn dancing, acting and singing. I studied with a Jewish cantor who taught people to sing opera, then I studied voice with Catherine Wallace, et al.” claimed Shaw.
Shaw has a BA degree in Theater and English, a MA degree in Criminal Justice, a MA degree in Dramatherapy and PhD credits in Educational Theatre. He also traveled as a Good Will Ambassador as part of the United Nation Singers, traveling to and singing in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Holland and Germany. Also in Jamaica in the Caribbean where they raised money for cancer.
“The Original piece I wrote was entitled “Steve Who Biko,” because most people did not seem to know who Steve Biko was. They would say “Steve Who?” One day while at the UN I began chatting with a South African gentleman who told me he was related to Steve Biko through marriage. He said even though Denzel Washington did a movie on Biko, I should write my own version. He informed me about Biko’s childhood. He also told me to buy Biko’s book. I read the book and found it powerful. One thing that fascinated me when reading Biko’s book was that he seemed to have predicted his own death. I presented my drama at a library where it went over well. However, the people said they wanted more in depth info.
“I was told about a former director of the Biko Foundation, Mandla Mbothwe. I eventually connected with him and he invited me to visit ARTSCAPE where he was the artistic director. While in Cape Town he and I decided to further develop the play into a project to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Biko’s assassination in 2017 which we called Biko Rising. This new writing was to give Biko a new voice in the light of Black Lives Matter and depict the struggles Blacks still face. While alive, Biko spoke about Black consciousness and facing fear and how fear is often instilled in order to control. So the purpose is get rid of fear as best one can so people can pursue their objectives with a positive attitude. This is the goal of Biko Rising.”
“Biko Rising” can be an inspiration to us all. Get your tickets by calling the Castillo Theatre Box office at 212-941-1234.