Remarkable People

ID #5243

Athol Fugard 2 The Apartheid Years, Middelburg, Eastern Cape, South Africa

In 1958 Fugard organized a multi-racial theatre in which he wrote, directed, and acted in several plays including “No-Good Friday” (1958) and “Nongogo” (1959), in which he and Zakes Mokae performed.

Returning to Port Elizabeth in the early 1960’s, he started The Circle Players, which derives its name from The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht. In 1961, Fugard and Mokae starred as the brothers Morris and Zachariah in the première of his play “The Blood Knot”. In 1962, Fugard supported the Anti-Apartheid Movement’s boycott of South African theatres due to their segregated audiences, leading to government restrictions and surveillance by the secret police. Instead, Lucille Lortel produced “The Blood Knot” in New York in 1964 which launched Fugard's American career.

In the 1960s Fugard formed the Serpent Players whose name derives from their first venue, formerly a snake pit at Johannesburg zoo. Their plays utilized minimalist sets and props improvised from whatever materials were available. They were often staged in black areas for a night, after which the cast would move to the next venue. Audiences consisted of poor migrant labourers and residents of hostels in the townships

Their work on the Caucasian Chalk Circle and, a year later, on Antigone led to the creation, in 1966, of what is South Africa's most distinctive Lehrstück --“The Coat”. Based on an incident at one of the trials involving the Serpent Players, “The Coat” dramatized the choices facing a woman whose husband, convicted of anti-apartheid activity, left her a coat with instructions to use it.

Work on “The Coat” led indirectly to the Serpent Players' most famous productions, “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” (1972) and “The Island” (1973). He developed these plays for the Serpent Players with John Kani and Winston Ntshona, publishing them in 1974 with his own play “Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act” (1972). The authorities considered the title of “The Island” too controversial. So an alternative title “The Hodoshe Span” (Hodoshe being slang for a prison work gang) was used.

“Blood Knot” was filmed by BBC Television in 1967 and starred the Jamaican actor Charles Hyatt as Zachariah with Fugard as Morris. Less than pleased with Fugard, the government confiscated his passport. Four years later, as a result of international protest, his travel restrictions were eased in 1971, allowing him to fly to England to direct “Boesman and Lena”. “Master Harold and the Boys”, written in 1982, incorporates "strong autobiographical matter"; nonetheless "… it is fiction, not memoir"

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Last update: 2014-05-14 16:50
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.3

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