Chuck_Mike

“I normally work on several things at a time,” Mike said, with a hint of a Nigerian accent. “Without it, there’s nothing in the future to work on.”

The director will reprise his world-touring production of “Things Fall Apart”—a play he first produced in 1999—with an on-campus production this April at the Modlin Center for the Arts. Mike also regularly directs in the United Kingdom and, in addition to teaching, he also spearheads a humanitarian effort to bring about social change through theater.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mike left the United States in 1976 on a Fulbright grant to further his education in Nigeria for a year. He ended up staying in Nigeria to work under his mentor, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, before ultimately returning to the United States in 2005 to teach at the University of Richmond and be closer to his family.

“He was one of the reasons I stayed in Nigeria,” Mike said. “He invited me to work with him. The journey had been about trying to bridge the gap of comprehension between cultures, and I think that’s what my work has consistently been about.

“It’s taken a very humanistic swing. There’s a fundamental concern to change society for the better with performing arts. [Soyinka] was a big influence on that when I got to Nigeria.”

Mike stayed in Nigeria until the country achieved democracy, then returned to the United States with a wife and children and continued teaching at various universities. He said Nigeria is where he’ll ultimately settle.

While in Africa, Mike founded a performance studio workshop, using theatre to target social issues, such as AIDS and women’s development, as well as working for sustainable development in rural communities.

Using theater as a tool, Mike and his team helped communities unravel “what they could do about [social issues] rather than wait for anyone or any government.” In the process they helped effect social change in rural Nigeria.

“Some outstanding results came out of that,” he said. “People were paving their own roads and stopped circumcising women and started cooperatives together.

“It’s amazing to go into a place, live with people every day, listen to their stories and have them perform a play about their life and what they’re gonna do – and come back six months later and see what they’ve done about it. That was the twilight for me. I realized I was blessed that I could do that and see developments in other people’s lives.”

Mike brought that mission back to the United States, using similar tactics in local schools and classrooms where social problems exist. He helps communities—whether they’re Nigerian villages or City of Richmond high schools—look at problems more creatively in a non-threatening way.

At UR, Mike teaches a class called Theater for Social Change. He and his students use theater to confront issues on campus. In a second-level class, he takes his students out into the community.

In recent years, he worked with a group at Huguenot High School to improve communication among students, teachers and administrators. The methods are “bottom-up,” he said, the students creating bonds through their work.

“[It’s about] how we get individuals to become empowered and take hold of their own education in a way in which they become masters of their own destiny,” he said, “and not subject to it.”

In addition to teaching theater, Mike also directs international productions such as “The Meeting”—he recently finished a UK tour—and “Things Fall Apart,” coming to the Modlin Center stage April 14-17.

“Things Fall Apart” is based on the novel by Chinua Achebe with stage adaptation by Biyi Bandele. The play tells the story of an African man’s courage and the collision between African and European cultures. Originally produced by the London International Festival of Theater, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Collective Artistes, Mike is reprising his world-tour this spring.

Mike is also working on the script for a play, “Zhe,” about two androgynous Africans living in the UK with different sexual orientations, a play he said is vital for creating awareness about gender and sexual orientation. He hopes to finish it by Jan. 2012 and stage it later in the spring.

“Surrounding each piece of work I put on stage here, there’s always a socio-political-economical context,” he said.

Because of that, he hopes the performance stays with audience members after they leave. Mike often uses tactics beyond the stage to garner interest for shows, such as a mock campus protest he paired with “The Meeting,” which addresses civil rights.

“I hope that you walk out thinking about what you just saw,” he said, “and I’m hoping that all of those accoutrements will remain with you right into the dark of the evening and into the next day.”

Actors portraying Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rehearse for a production of "The Meeting," directed by Chuck Mike. Photo by Bryarly Richards.