Tag Archives: The Road to Mecca

West Coast Premiere of a new play by Athol Fugard at the Fountain Theatre

Painted Rocks_graphic_medThe Fountain Theatre continues its 15-year relationship with master playwright Athol Fugard, presenting the West Coast premiere of his newest play. Directed by Simon Levy, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek  opens on November 7 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

Both Fugard and the Fountain come full circle with Painted Rocks, a play inspired by the work of real-life outsider artist Nukain Mabuza. In 1972, a personal encounter with outsider artist Helen Martins, a reclusive and ostracized figure in a small, ultra-conservative Afrikaans community who had created an extraordinary collection of statues in her back yard, led to Fugard’s celebrated play, The Road to Mecca. And it was the Fountain’s Los Angeles premiere of that play in 2000, directed by Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, that introduced the playwright to the theater he would come to call his “artistic home on the West Coast.”

“Forty years later [after my encounter with Helen Martins], I became aware of another outsider artist worthy of the same attention, working in completely different circumstances and also with a different medium,” wrote Fugard on the website of South Africa’s Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, where he is currently an artist-in-residence. “The environment of present-day South Africa made me realize the true potential of Nukain’s story, and that, even though he worked on the fringes, it can in fact not be fully realized without taking on the realities of his existence in apartheid South Africa.”

In the play, the aging Nukain (Thomas Silcott) has spent his life transforming the rocks at Revolver Creek into a vibrant garden of painted flowers. Faced with the presence of the final unpainted rock — and at the insistence of his young companion, Bokkie (Philip Solomon) — he is forced to confront his legacy as an artist and a black man in 1980s South Africa. When the landowner’s wife (Suanne Spoke) arrives to demand he stop painting, the deep racial conflict of the country is viscerally exposed. Twenty years later, in what has become the new South Africa, the man called Bokkie as a child (Gilbert Glenn Brown) returns to restore Mabuza’s lifework.

“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,” Fugard said in an interview with NPR.

“At the heart of Athol’s beautiful new play is the issue of seeing and being seen – as an artist, as a man, especially as a black man,” says Levy. “It’s an on-going, universal problem that Athol has spent his life exploring and exposing and humanizing. To be seen for who you really are, and to be loved and honored for that. It’s a beautiful message, and one we need to hear over and over again.”

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The author of over 30 plays and recipient of countless accolades including an Academy Award, Obie and the 2011 Special Tony Award for Lifetime in the Theatre, Athol Fugard is best known for his plays about the frustrations of life in contemporary South Africa and the psychological barriers created by apartheid. Widely acclaimed around the world, his plays include Boesman and Lena (Obie Award, Best Foreign Play), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Tony Award, Best Play), A Lesson from Aloes (New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Play), the semiautobiographical Master Harold…and the Boys (Writers Guild Award, Outstanding Achievement) and The Road to Mecca(New York Drama Critics Circle Citation, Best Foreign Play, London Evening Standard Award, Best Play). The first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors and workers, some of his works, such as Blood Knot, were initially banned in South Africa. In his first two post-apartheid plays, Valley Song (1995) and The Captain’s Tiger (1998), Fugard addressed more personal concerns, but in Sorrows and Rejoicings (2001) he focused on the complex racial dynamics of South Africa’s new era. In 2005 his novel, Tsotsi (1980), was adapted for the screen, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

When Fugard saw the Fountain’s Los Angeles premiere of The Road to Mecca in 2000, he was so impressed that he offered the company world premiere rights to an as-yet-unwritten new work. In 2004, Stephen Sachs directed the world premiere of Exits and Entrances. The production garnered production and direction awards from both the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and the Ovations, and Sachs went on to direct acclaimed regional productions around the country, including an off-Broadway production at Primary Stages and the UK premiere at the 2007 International Edinburgh Festival. Since then, the Fountain has produced four premieres of Fugard’s plays including the American premiere of Victory (two LADCC awards and four LA Weekly nominations, and named “Best of 2008” by the Los Angeles Times);the West Coast premiere of Coming Home (three LA Weekly awards including “Ensemble” and “Direction,” LADCC award for “Lead Performance”); the U.S. premiere of The Train Driver (three LA Weekly awards); and the U.S. premiere of The Blue Iris (LA Weekly Award nomination for best ensemble).

The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek premiered to critical acclaim at the Signature Theatre in New York City earlier this year. The New York Times called it “tender and ruminative” and Newsday wrote, “Fugard stamps indelible human faces on faraway reports of the world’s news.”

Set design for the Fountain Theatre production of The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; lighting design is by Jennifer Edwards; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; props are by Dillon Nelson; dialect coach is Nike Doukas; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; production stage manager is Rita Cofield; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.

Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored with the 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the Fountain play Bakersfield Mist in London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid; the sold-out Forever Flamenco gala concert at the 1200-seat John Anson Ford Amphitheatre; and the last six Fountain productions consecutively highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times. The Fountain has been honored with six Awards of Excellence from the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

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Fugard and the Fountain

Morlan Higgins and Julanne Chidi Hill in “The Blue Iris”

Back in the year 2000, legendary South African playwright Athol Fugard was residing in Del Mar, teaching playwriting, acting and directing at UC San Diego — while continuing to turn out the prolific body of work that had earned him worldwide acclaim.

He heard from friends of his, whose opinions he respected, that the Fountain Theatre in LA had mounted a very good production of his 1984 play, The Road to Mecca. With trepidation, Fugard traveled to the Fountain to see what this director named Stephen Sachs had done to his work.

Six Fugard/Fountain Theatre collaborations later, the Fountain is now presenting the US premiere of Fugard’s latest work. The Blue Iris, helmed by Sachs, opens Friday, in celebration of the master playwright’s 80th birthday and his ongoing collaboration with the Fountain.

Athol Fugard

In a telephone interview from New York, Fugard admits, “I’ve always been wary of seeing plays of mine that I myself hadn’t directed.  Eventually I went to the Fountain and saw this marvelous production, staged by Stephen.  I met Stephen and I met the cast of that production and found myself saying to Stephen, ‘I want my next play to be done in your theater.’  I loved the feel of it.  Everything about it felt right — the theater, the size of the space, the atmosphere.  It was perfect for my sorts of plays.  So, when my next play was ready, I brought it to Stephen.”

Sachs has his own memory of his first encounter with Fugard in 2000. “I was told he never goes to see productions of his plays that other people do.  Well, I learned he was coming. Of course, I was excited and terrified. I didn’t tell the actors that Athol was there.  After the performance, during the applause, I want backstage quickly and told the actors, ‘There’s someone I want you to meet.’ The actors came out and I said, ‘I would like you all to meet Athol Fugard.’ And they all screamed. Of course, we were all so happy when he told us he loved our production.  We all went out afterwards. And we just kept corresponding after that. When Fugard was directing Sorrows and Rejoicings at the Mark Taper [in 2002], I kept saying to him, ‘If you’re ever looking for a small, intimate, artistic home to develop a new work, away from a larger theatrical institution, where you can just work quietly in a nurturing environment, the Fountain is yours’.”

One day in 2004, Fugard sent Sachs an e-mail with a file attached to it. The e-mail message read, “Attached to this file is my new play and I want you to direct it.”  The play was Exits and Entrances, which went on to garner three Ovation Awards and a slew of LADCC, LA Weekly and Backstage honors.

Julanne Chidi Hill and Morlan Higgins

Fugard’s newest work, The Blue Iris, recently premiered in Cape Town and has since moved to Johannesburg.  It is a three-character play in one act, which Fugard takes time to carefully explain.

“The inspiration for this play came from two directions. It is set in the Karoo, a semi-desert area in the heart of South Africa, where several of my plays have been set. One of the features of this rather small area is a very beautiful mountain.  I’ve climbed that mountain several times, often with a friend. It is quite a stiff climb but a good one, not dangerous really. We always used to park our car at the foot of the mountain at a lovely old farmhouse, which was owned by a very cordial farmer. He became a friend of ours.  When we would come down from our climb, he was always  there waiting for us with something to drink or to eat.  It was a great relationship. But on this one occasion when I went with my friend to climb the mountain, we arrived at this farmhouse to find it had been totally destroyed by a fire, which was started by a lightning strike. This wonderful man and his wife were living in a little tent outside the house, just trying to salvage what they could.

Jacqueline Schultz and Julanne Chidi Hill

“The second image which inspired this play came from a farmer’s wife, totally unrelated to the first farmer I mentioned. She was a wonderful painter of wild flowers, of botanically accurate wild flowers. These weren’t only pretty paintings, these were botanical drawings that helped you identify the flower — the seed capsule, the root structure, everything. It was a fusion of those two images that finally brought me to writing The Blue Iris.  There were a lot of complex personal issues that came into the play as well. I had a sense of how we men can get so absorbed in our own egos, our own personalities, never fully realizing what damage we do to others on the way.”

Fugard pauses in his discourse and chuckles. “I don’t think I properly understand the play yet, myself. I mean that. We writers quite often don’t know what we’ve written about.  There have been many times that I haven’t known what the full resonances are of the story that I’ve told.   It has often been only when I have been in the rehearsal room directing actors, helping them to understand the characters that they in turn helped me to understand what I had written.”

Stephen Sachs and Morlan Higgins.

“I received The Blue Iris a few months ago,” Sachs continues. “I knew about the play for a few years.  I know that Athol was working on it, developing it. I knew that he was going to present the world premiere in South Africa, which is pretty much his way of working now. They’ve named a theater after him, the Fugard Theatre.  I am honored to be doing it here at the Fountain.  My cast includes two Fugard regulars here at the Fountain, Morlan Higgins and Jacqueline Schultz.  Julanne Chidi Hill is new to the Fountain.  She’s a discovery.

“This work has some classic Fugard themes in it – the search for hope, the struggle with loss and the fight for dignity.  It is a love story and very much about finding the courage and strength to move forward in what sometimes can seem like bleak and painful circumstances. It is a profoundly human story about these three individuals who live together in this house: this man Robert, who was a farmer, his wife Sally, who is deceased, and their housekeeper Rita.

“The play begins after the house has been burned to the ground by a fire and Robert and Rita are sifting through the debris. She wants to move on and take Robert with her. While going through the debris, they discover a painting of a blue iris that his wife Sally had done. Finding that painting triggers memory and forces Robert to look at the truth of the reality of his marriage to Sally.”

Fugard will not be at the Fountain for its debut. “I’ve been here in New York for a whole year directing plays, currently The Train Driver. This is also a play that Stephen Sachs has done. This is its New York premiere. I will be coming to see Blue Iris.  I am leaving New York this coming Sunday and flying down to San Diego.  I’m going to give myself a bit of a rest first and then come up to Los Angeles to see Stephen’s production.  I am not going to tell him the date because I don’t want any fuss or bother when I come to see it. I am just going to quietly slip into the theater.”

Julanne Chidi Hill and Morlan Higgins

As for the future, Fugard wants to keep it simple. “I do not multi-track. I work on one play at a time, like a good alcoholic goes one day at a time. My home now is in Del Mar.  My plans for the immediate future are to go back to South Africa in September to direct a new play that I haven’t got a title for yet, because I am still putting the finishing touches to it.  I’ll decide on a title a little bit later on. I will always premiere my work in South Africa. And I’ll probably always think of the Fountain as the next possibility.”

— Julio Martinez, writes for LA Stage Times

The Blue IrisFountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave, LA 90029. Opens Aug 24. Plays Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm. Through Sep 16.   323-663-1525.www.fountaintheatre.com/perform.html

***All photos by Ed Krieger

US Premiere of Athol Fugard’s ‘The Blue Iris’ at the Fountain

Continuing its 12-year relationship with Athol FugardThe Fountain Theatre celebrates the master playwright’s 80th birthday with theU.S. premiere of his newest play. Directed by Stephen Sachs and starring Morlan Higgins, Julanne Chidi Hill and Jacqueline SchultzThe Blue Iris opens at the Fountain on August 24, with low-priced previews beginning August 18.

Described by Time magazine as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world,” Athol Fugard celebrated his 80th birthday on June 11, but the prolific writer shows no signs of slowing down. On June 28, The Blue Iris premiered at The National Arts Festival in his native South Africa to rave reviews. “Vintage Fugard… riveting theatre that will evoke whispering echoes in the heart long after the show has ended,” wrote Cue magazine.

The Blue Iris is set in Fugard’s beloved and desolate South African desert, the Karoo. In a burnt-out farmhouse, a widowed farmer, Robert Hannay (Higgins) and his housekeeper, Rieta (Hill) sort through the fire-ravaged debris of their lives. The discovery of a miraculously undamaged painting of a flower – a blue iris – created by Hannay’s deceased wife (Schultz) unlocks long-forgotten memories and hidden secrets. Fugard digs deep into the human heart, and the result is a love story full of tender, soul-touching and surprising revelations.

“We should be going into people`s lives, their souls, their ways of life. Everything I have written is an attempt to share secrets with you,” says the playwright.

The Blue Iris is achingly beautiful, a heartfelt play that brings to life the tender honesty and deep complexity of human relationships,” avers Sachs. “We cherish Athol’s 12-year friendship and artistic association at the Fountain, and we’re thrilled to celebrate his 80th birthday with this remarkable work.”

Athol Fugard

The author of over 30 plays and recipient of countless accolades including the Academy Award, Obie Award, and Tony Award, Athol Fugard is best known for his plays about the frustrations of life in contemporary South Africa and the psychological barriers created by apartheid. Widely acclaimed around the world, his plays include Boesman and Lena (Obie Award, Best Foreign Play), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Tony Award, Best Play), A Lesson from Aloes (New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Play), the semiautobiographical Master Harold…and the Boys (Writers Guild Award, Outstanding Achievement) and The Road to Mecca (New York Drama Critics Circle Citation, Best Foreign Play, London Evening Standard Award, Best Play). The first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors and workers, some of his works, such as Blood Knot, were initially banned in South Africa. In his first two post-apartheid plays, Valley Song (1995) and The Captain’s Tiger (1998), Fugard addressed more personal concerns, but in Sorrows and Rejoicings(2001) he focused on the complex racial dynamics of South Africa’s new era. In 2005 his novel, Tsotsi (1980), was adapted for the screen, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2011, Mr. Fugard was honored with a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. Even though this prolific playwright, novelist, actor, director and teacher now lives and works in San Diego, he continues to be inspired by the dynamics in his land of birth.

Athol Fugard’s ‘The Road to Mecca’ (LA Premiere, Fountain Theatre, 2000) starring Priscilla Pointer and Jacqueline Schultz

The Fountain Theatre’s special relationship with Fugard began when co-founder/co-artistic director Stephen Sachs directed the L.A. premiere of Fugard’s The Road to Mecca in 2000. Fugard was so impressed that he offered the company world premiere rights to an as-yet-unwritten new work. When Sachs directed the world premiere of Exits and Entrances in 2004, it received recognition for Best Production and Best Director from both the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (garnering a total of five awards) and the Ovations (receiving a total of three awards). Mr. Sachs went on to direct acclaimed regional productions of Exits and Entrances around the country, an Off-Broadway production at Primary Stages, and the UK premiere at the 2007 International Edinburgh Festival. Since then, he has directed premieres of Fugard’s plays at the Fountain including the American premiere of Victory (two LADCC awards and four LA Weeklynominations, and named “Best of 2008” by the Los Angeles Times); the West Coast premiere of Coming Home (three LA Weeklyawards including “Ensemble” and “Direction,” LADCC award for “Lead Performance”)and the U.S. premiere of The Train Driver (three LA Weekly awards)Athol Fugard has stated that he “considers The Fountain Theatre his artistic home on the West Coast.”

Set design for The Blue Iris  is by Jeff McLaughlin; sound design is by Peter Bayne; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; the dialect coach is JB Blanc; the production stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce.

Morlan Higgins

Morlan Higgins starred in Fountain Theatre productions of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, Victory and The Train Driver, as well as inShining City by Conor McPherson (LA Weekly Award), After the Fall (Ovation award for Best Production) and The Boys in the Band. Other credits: Forgiveness (Black Dahlia Theatre), King Lear (Antaeus), Dealing with Clair, Water Children, Mad Forest, The Birthday Party (The Matrix Theatre Company); Dylan (Skylight Theatre); Equus (Pasadena Playhouse), A Skull in Connemara (Theatre Tribe),Hughie (Eugene O’Neill Foundation at Tao House); and numerous other plays on local stages. Morlan has received multiple Ovation, LADCC, LA Weekly, Back Stage Garland, Drama-Logue, and Ticketholders Awards. He was nominated for the Lucille Lortell Off-Broadway Actor of the Year Award for his performance in Exits and Entrances at Primary Stages in NYC, He was nominated for a Carbonell Award for E and E at Florida Stage and received a New Jersey Tony for E and E at New Jersey Rep. He is also the recipient of Santa Barbara Indie Awards for Hughie and Victory at SBT. Morlan also plays Celtic music in the local band Staggering Jack.

Julanne Chidi Hill

Julanne Chidi Hill is a graduate of the prestigious SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film and was classically trained at Oxford University where she studied extensively with John Barton (Royal Shakespeare Company) and Katie Mitchell (Royal National Theatre). She has worked at the McCarter Theatre, Seattle Rep, Mark Taper Forum, Stages 52, McCadden Stages Theatre, Ebony Rep and Kirk Douglas Theatre, and she most recently appeared at the Celebration Theatre in the Ovation award-winning Women of Brewster Place. Television credits include guest-starring on the Jerry Bruckheimer drama The Whole Truth (ABC) and FX series The Shield, and recurring roles on NBC’s My Name is Earl and Showtime’s Weeds. Feature films: Crank: High Voltage (as “Dark Chocolate”), Barbershop 2, and alongside Tom Everett Scott and Lee Tergesen in 2nd Take, directed by John Suits.

Jacqueline Schultz

Jacqueline Schultz was last seen in the critically acclaimed production of Park Your Car in Harvard Yard at International City Theatre. She costarred in the West Coast premiere of String of Pearls at both North Hollywood’s Road Theatre Company and the Santa Barbara Theatre, appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse in the world premiere of Open Window, and starred in the critically acclaimed L.A. premiere of Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives at the Fountain (Best Actress nomination, NAACP Theatre Award), later reprising her role for the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Other leading roles at the Fountain: After the Fall (Ovation Award for Best Production),The Road to MeccaThe Night of the Iguana; The Darker Face of the Earth; Fighting Over Beverley (LA Weekly Award); Duet for One(Ovation Award nomination, Best Actress); Ashes (Drama-Logue Award); The Golden Gate (Drama-Logue Award); and Orpheus Descending. Other theater credits include To Kill a Mockingbird and Awake and Sing! (International City Theatre) and Sorrows and Rejoicings (Mark Taper Forum). She has appeared at the Kennedy Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre (NY) and the Mark Taper Forum’s New Works Festival. TV credits include The Practice, ER, My Wife and Kids, 7th HeavenCrossing JordanJudging Amy, the HBO movie Tyson, and many more.

Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. Fountain productions have won more than 200 awards for production, performance and design, with more Ovation nominations and awards than any other intimate theater in the history of the awards—and the only intimate theater to win the Ovation for Best Production five times. Fountain projects have been seen in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Florida, New Jersey, Minneapolis and Edinburgh. Highlights include a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, written by Stephen Sachs, set to open in London this fall and optioned for New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sweet Nothing in My Ear, also by Sachs, into a TV movie. The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for demonstrating years of artistic excellence and “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

Happy Birthday to our dear friend, Athol Fugard!

by Theresa Smith

Playwright Athol Fugard

TO CELEBRATE his 80th birthday on Monday, June 11th, , much lauded South African playwright Athol Fugard wants nothing more than a family braai.

Speaking on the weekend by telephone from San Diego, California where he lives with his wife, poet Sheila Fugard, close to their novelist daughter Lisa Fugard, he said he wanted a quiet occasion. This is a far cry from the 80th birthday he imagined for himself thirty years ago when he plotted a birthday party to which he’d invite all the characters in his plays.

“When I was 50 years old there was a manageable gang of people,” he joked. To date he has written more than 20 plays, four film scripts, two memoirs and two books and received awards and nominations including the Tony, Obie, Evening Standard, Drama Desk, and Audie Awards.

US premiere of  Fugard’s “The Train Driver” (Fountain Theatre, 2010) starring Adolphus Ward and Morlan Higgins.

He was honoured with the 2005 South African Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his “excellent contribution and achievement in theatre” and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He scoffs at descriptions such as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world” saying it is the worst possible thing to call a writer. “I’m always trying to make people write and think and feel and use their hearts,” he said, describing his life’s work.

Fugard has never considered retiring, writing it is simply what he does.

“I have a great abiding passion for theatre, it’s consumed my whole life. I’m as passionate about theatre as I talk to you now as I was 50 years ago.” Born in Port Elizabeth in 1932, Fugard studied Philosophy and Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town in 1952, but dropped out in 1953 to hitchhike around North Africa and then travel around east Asia in a steamer ship.

“Exits and Entrances” (World Premiere, Fountain Theatre, 2004) starring Morlan Higgins and William Dennis Hurley

His writing has ranged from stories about specific people to protest theatre, but he has always draws inspiration from real South Africans. He helped to form the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth in the early 1960s specifically because he was asked to use his voice by black residents of New Brighton: “In working with them I realised that they didn’t want to do plays for entertainment, they wanted to do plays because they were suffocating with silence. The silence in the country was awful.”

“It was with Blood Knot that I discovered my own voice and I knew that I could tell certain stories in a way that nobody else could do it. Once a writer has discovered that, there’s no holding them back.”

It was the 1967 BBC TV production of Blood Knot that led to the confiscation of Fugard’s passport and partially due to international protest on his behalf this was lifted in 1971 when he flew to England to direct Boesman and Lena. The bulk his work since then was performed outside of South Africa, but his post-apartheid work has seen him return home more frequently.

While he spends a great deal of time not living in this country he still regards it as his spiritual home. He has just returned to San Diego after several months in Cape Town working on his latest play, The Blue Iris, which will debut at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown later this month and then return to The Fugard Theatre. Fugard describes himself as deeply incensed by the recent controversy surround Bret Murray’s The Spear painting.

“What really worries me is that I don’t think people recognise it for what it was. They know it was a big controversy for the day, but it’s past. We are going to look back on the moment as a warning that we were given about the future we’re going into if we don’t do something radical.

“We have to realise that we have a government in power that is prepared to assault our most cherished freedom. They’re trying to do it to the arts and to the media. The bully tactics they used, the whole demonstration of brute force that they displayed, that they [government] were going to shut them [Goodman Gallery] down regardless of what… that you will not use your voice, you will not speak up, you will not speak out. That moment, we will look back on and recognise as significant.”

“The Road to Mecca” (LA Premiere, Fountain Theatre, 2000) with Priscilla Pointer and Robert Symonds

While he sees similarities with the situation under apartheid, Fugard says a significant difference is that back then there was a sense of community amongst artist that all were in opposition to apartheid. This is in contrast to the fragmented response from the contemporary artistic community.

“It’s so false, almost as if there’s a perception that we’re being disloyal to the ANC if we speak up. You mustn’t be careful about what you say, have the freedom to say anything you like. That sense should never be constricted by loyalty to a political party.”

When questioned about what he would do next Fugard mused aloud in Afrikaans, “Wat is my verpligting?” (What is my duty?). The final word for me is that my country has taught me two of the biggest debts you can have. My country has taught me how to hate and how to love.”

“How do you repay your country for your soul? Met trane of met woorde? (With tears or words?).”

Theresa Smith writes for Independent Online, South Africa. 

Note: The Fountain Theatre enjoys a long term friendship and collaboration with Athol Fugard, producing the premieres of his new plays since 2000. To celebrate and honor Athol’s 80th birthday, The Fountain Theatre will present the US Premiere of his newest play, The Blue Iris, this August, 2012. Stay tuned for details!

Athol Fugard Turns 80 in 2012

Athol Fugard on the "Road to Mecca" set in NY.

Playwright Athol Fugard calls the Fountain Theatre his “artistic home” on the West Coast. For twelve years, the Fountain has produced five premieres of his new plays. The Fountain’s world premiere production of Fugard’s Exits and Entrances toured the country, was produced Off-Broadway at Primary Stages in NYC, and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

This June, Athol turns 80 years old.  He is being honored with four major New York productions.

First comes The Road to Mecca, which opened last night at the Roundabout Theater Company’s American Airlines Theater. It was the Fountain’s Los Angeles premiere of The Road to Mecca in 2000 that first caught Athol’s eye to our theatre.

Fugard makes it a general rule not to see a production of his plays that he had not directed.

“What do I say if I don’t like it? So a friend of mine and I drove to Los Angeles, and we slipped in, and I had one of the happiest experiences of my theater career,” he said. “It was a beautiful and truthful production.”

An artistic alliance and friendship between Fugard and the Fountain was formed. It remains to this day.

Rosemary Harris stars in the Roundabout production as Miss Helen, an Afrikaner widow who earns the mistrust of her village when she begins filling her yard with ambitious, whimsical sculptures after the death of her husband.

The Signature Theater Company in New York, which dedicates its entire season to the work of single playwright, has selected Athol Fugard for its inaugural season in its new home on West 42nd Street. The Fugard plays are Blood Knot, My Children! My Africa!, and The Train Driver.

Athol at the Fountain Theatre for rehearsals of "The Train Driver" (2010) with actor Adolphus Ward.

Blood Knot, the 1961 play that vaulted Athol Fugard into international prominence, features two young South African men, one black and one white, grappling over what the world owes them. The Train Driver, which Mr. Fugard wrote in 2010 and had its US premiere at the Fountain, features two older South African men, one black and one white, grappling over what they owe the world.

Written in 1989 shortly before the end of apartheid, My Children! My Africa! presents an honest and unflinching portrait of a country on the brink of revolution, and is a testament to the power and potential of youth, hope, and ideas.

Fugard, whose efforts toward the abolition of apartheid and the creation of a multiracial theater resulted in banned plays and a revoked passport, is not finished chronicling South Africa’s tumultuous past and future. He recently finished a one-act play that he plans to perform with his 8-year-old grandson. And the draft of a new play is nestled alongside his iPad and a neat pile of English- and Afrikaans-language books by Pablo Neruda, Breyten Breytenbach, Ted Hughes and Antjie Krog.

“That’s glorious, isn’t it?” he said. “Everything is exactly in place.”

His recent thoughts on Mecca and Train Driver:

Priscilla Pointer and Jacqueline Schultz in "The Road to Mecca" (2000)

THE ROAD TO MECCA (Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles Premiere, 2000) starring Priscilla Pointer, Jacqueline Schultz and Robert Symonds. 

“Something that has always intrigued me, as I think it does any sort of artist of any description, is the nature, genesis and consequences of a creative energy. Where did it come from? How does it work? And what prices do you pay for having it? Because there are consequences. Sometimes it’s a marvelous thing, and sometimes it’s a curse. And sometimes it’s both. And sometimes the discovery of what your life should really be about comes to you very late. I’m an alcoholic — I don’t try to keep that a secret — and I wrote this play when I’d just decided I was going to stop drinking. There’s a line in the play when Miss Helen says, ‘I’ve reached the end of my journey.’ The other night, at the first preview [in New York], I suddenly realized: ‘Wow, you’re reaching the end of your journey. You wrote this play for yourself.’ And it turns out to be the story of this moment in my life, because in a way I’m not far away from the moment that all my candles are going to be blown out. So there we are.”

Adolphus Ward and Morlan Higgins in "The Train Driver" (2010)

THE TRAIN DRIVER (Fountain Theatre, 2010, West Coast Premiere) starring Morlan Higgins and Adolphus Ward:

“The graveyards of the unnamed in South Africa stretch seemingly to infinity. And as you walk among them, from time to time you find that somebody has thought to put a bottle filled with seashells on the ground.

“That is where my idea of Simon [the caretaker] comes from. Although these are nameless people that he buries, he’s trying to do what I’ve tried to do in my writing. You can’t give them a name, but you can say, ‘Here lies a human being.’ That’s all you can say about them. ‘Here lies a bubble of dreams and hopes that came to nothing.’”

For 80 years, the life and brilliant writing of Athol Fugard has certainly come to something deeply meaningful to other human beings around the world.