I came across a programme this week on NPR, which celebrates one of my favourite playwrights Athol Fugard. At the age 82, the legendary South African is still actively writing and directing new plays. Born in 1932, he grew up under white rule and for decades, Fugard worked tirelessly, both in South Africa and in exile, to illuminate the injustices of apartheid in his plays. Following the elections in 1994, which saw Nelson Mandela becoming president, Fugard says:
I sincerely believed that I was going to be South Africa’s first literary redundancy, but as it is, South Africa caught me by surprise again and just said, ‘No, you’ve got to keep writing, man. There are still stories to tell.’ And, possibly, at this moment in our history, the stories that need telling are more urgent than any of the stories that needed telling during the apartheid years.”
Classed as one of the most important playwrights of the 20th Century, he has been prolific in his output and I have written about him here before in the post Mandela, Apartheid And The Theatre Of The Fight. The reason for the NPR broadcast (embedded below) is the off Broadway opening of his new play The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek which is, in part, based on the story of farm labourer Nukain Mabuza, who had spent about 15 years, in the late 1960s and ’70s, painting vivid, highly patterned designs on the boulders and stones in arid terrain of the eastern South Africa.
In the video, Fugard talks about his inspirations for the play that has received decent reviews, with Variety saying that it is thoughtful and poignant and that it places the powerful symbol of man’s dignity in a modern day context. There is also an excellent article in The New York Times by Roslyn Sulcas, Athol Fugard Tells of a Great Outsider Artist.
Fugard’s work fascinates me because he manages to tell universal tales through an African context. His work is always being staged and as I write, there are productions of My Children! My Africa on in London and Los Angeles, People are Living There is being performed on his own turf in South Africa and in the US, as well as The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, there is a production of The Island on in Virginia. He writes beautifully, more often than not for small casts, and if you don’t know his work, I highly recommend at least reading some and definitely seeing some when you get the opportunity.