Athol Fugard

Athol Fugard was born in 1932 in Middelburg in the Karoo. An internationally acclaimed playwright director and occasional actor, for over half a century he has written almost forty soul-searing plays with roles for all South Africans which have moved audiences in South Africa and around the world to laughter and tears as they reflected the inhumanity of apartheid. His plays champion truth and a fundamental universal humanity. In 2011 he received the ultimate recognition from the world’s most prestigious theatre community – a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre. He is also the author of four books and several screenplays. Many of his works have been turned into films with director Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi, based on his 1980 short story of the same name, won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – South Africa’s first Academy award in this category.

Fugard lives in the Cape Winelands with his wife Paula and dog Jakkals. He is still writing.

The Fugard Theatre is proud to bear his name and honours him by providing a crucible of creativity and beacon of humanity for all South Africans regardless of race, colour, gender or creed.

Athol Fugard in The Shadow of the Hummingbird
Athol Fugard directs Sean Taylor and Owen Sejake in The Train Driver

The below speech was written and delivered by Fugard’s friend and long time colleague Mannie Manim, when he was awarded the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees Life Time Achievement Award in 2019, for the 25th anniversary of the festival.

First I would like to commend Kunste Onbeperk and Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees for honouring Athol Fugard with this award.

It was in the 1950’s when I started in the theatre. I was still at school and needed to earn some money. I got a job as an usher and stagehand at the Brooke Theatre in De Villiers Street, just down the road from the Johannesburg Railway station.

I was always looking for ways to earn extra money and I used to volunteer to work shows on Sunday nights, Chamber music concerts, piano recitals , Dan Hill and Nico Carstens Shell Music Hall, and then one night there was to be a play it was a fundraiser organised by Benni Bonnacorsi for a playwright and his group of actors who rehearsed in Dorkay House and the show was to be NO GOOD FRIDAY.

The shows that I worked on at the Brooke Theatre were all commercial comedies and musicals usually English in origin with la di da accents and I quickly learnt how to make cucumber sandwiches cutting the crusts off and arranging imitation whiskey and sodas and gin and tonics.

So when I pulled up the curtain that Sunday you can imagine my surprise when a black company with one white man Athol Fugard

speaking SA English like I heard around the streets where I lived in Jeppe took to the stage and performed.

Seeing that play and meeting that company was to change the way I saw and understood Theatre for the rest of my life and helped me understand that when a great story teller like Athol told our stories it could be the most powerful Theatre in the world.

A few years later I went to see THE BLOODKNOT at the Little Theatre at the YMCA in Braamfontein with Athol and Zakes Mokae.

Also during this time I went to see Athol and Molly Seftel in HELLO AND GOODBYE at the Library Theatre directed by Barney Simon

Fast forward to Grahamstown in the 60’s and Francois Swart and I sneaking into the back of the Rhodes Theatre to watch Athol and Yvonne Bryceland doing a dress rehearsal of BOESMAN AND LENA at what was to become an early manifestation of the Grahamstown Festival. We were running PACT Drama at the time and invited Athol to bring his play and also PEOPLE ARE LIVING THERE to Johannesburg and Pretoria. At Athol’s request we also toured the surrounding townships with both plays.I was starting to have dreams of a theatre that could present all the plays of our country with all the people of our country to all of our people.
Then followed ORESTES with Yvonne Bryceland, Wilson Dunster and Val Donald Bell.

I took leave to give myself space to think and drove from the furthest point North in SA to the furthest point South. On the way I stopped for a week to see Athol in Skoenmakerskop near PE to discuss my ideas. One of his responses was to introduce me to John Kani and Winston Ntshona. That was a baptism of fire.  In addition all he did was to encourage me.

A little while later I went to the opening of the Space Theatre in Cape Town and was invited to light STATEMENTS AFTER AN ARREST UNDER THE IMMORALITY ACT. This was the beginning of a sequence of lighting every first production of Athol’s plays in South Africa which has been unbroken since then until today. I returned to Pretoria knowing that I needed to start my plans for a theatre in earnest.

Athol was invited to take a new play which was to be DIMETOS with Carel Trichardt, Yvonne Bryceland , Wilson Dunster and Vanessa Cooke to the Edinburgh Festival and he asked me to produce and light it in SA.

Then the miracle of The Market Theatre happened and from our opening he offered me every new play that he wrote and that started a series of world premieres that were held at the Market and that Peter Hall then director of the British National Theatre would invite to perform there… The first one was A LESSON FROM ALOES featuring Marius Weyers , Shelagh Holliday and Bill Curry. I asked Athol who he was going to use to do the play at the National Theatre and he said without hesitation ’ our cast of course’. From that moment I realised that Athol was as proud and confident of what our company produced onstage as he would be of any great West End world stars. It was the beginning of a relationship that would last for decades and established The Market’s international reputation.

Thanks to the great work of Athol as writer and director.

By now Athol had his plays performing all over the world and he was being heralded as the most performed English playwright in the world other than William Shakespeare.

He has been awarded many many Doctorates at Universities in the USA, South Africa, and the UK ,

He has won awards for his work in SA and all over the world including a special Tony Life Time Achievement Award in New York and the prestigious Praemium Imperiale prize for theatre, a global arts prize awarded annually by the Japan Art Association.

He is also a fellow of the Royal Society for Literature (London) and a member of the American Academy.

He has written around forty plays and several books. and thank heavens he is still writing.

As extraordinary and gifted as Athol is as a writer and director he is as a human being. When he speaks to you and I have also seen him do this with perfect strangers he makes you feel that you are the most important person in the world to him at that moment.

What a blessing it has been for me to share so many experiences with a true giant of the Theatre that I love so dearly.

It is a privilege for me on behalf of the Kunste Onbeperk on the 25th Anniversary of the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees to present this award for lifetime achievement to Athol Harold Lannigan Fugard

 

Mannie Manim, 2019

Plays by Athol Fugard

In chronological order of first production and/or publication:

  • Klaas and the Devil (1956)
  • The Cell (1957)
  • No-Good Friday (1958)
  • Nongogo (1959)
  • The Blood Knot (1961); later revised as Blood Knot (1987)
  • Hello and Goodbye (1965)
  • The Coat (1966)
  • People Are Living There (1968)
  • The Last Bus (1969)
  • Boesman and Lena (1969)
  • Friday’s Bread on Monday (1970)
  • Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (1972)*
  • The Island (1972)*
  • Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (1972)
  • Dimetos (1975)
  • Orestes (1978)
  • A Lesson from Aloes (1978)
  • The Drummer (1980)
  • “Master Harold”…and the Boys (1982)
  • The Road to Mecca (1984)
  • A Place with the Pigs: a personal parable (1987)
  • My Children! My Africa! (1989)
  • My Life (1992)
  • Playland (1993)
  • Valley Song (1996)
  • The Captain’s Tiger: a memoir for the stage (1997)
  • Sorrows and Rejoicings (2001)
  • Exits and Entrances (2004)
  • Booitjie and the Oubaas (2006)
  • Victory (2007)
  • Coming Home (2009)
  • Have You Seen Us (2009)
  • The Train Driver (2010)
  • The Bird Watchers (2011)
  • The Blue Iris (2012)
  • The Shadow of the Hummingbird (2014)
  • The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek (2016)

* (developed with John Kani and Winston Ntshona in workshops)