Athol Fugard had his passport withdrawn by the apartheid government after his play ‘Blood Knot’ was critically acclaimed. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Celebrated playwright says he will receive award in honour of his audiences and theatre colleagues.
Celebrated dramatist Athol Fugard has been awarded a Special Tony award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre by the American Theatre Wing. The ceremony will take place in New York in June. Reacting to the news, Fugard said: “I am absolutely bewildered and humbled by this award. Theatre is a collaborative art and it is the efforts of many more people than just myself who have made this award possible.”
“When I accept this award I will very definitely acknowledge the fact that it is the audiences that have seen my plays, the directors and producers that have put them on stage, the actors that have acted in them and the designers and technical staff who gave them life that should be on the stage accepting the award with me.” The playwright was born Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard in Middelburg, Eastern Cape, in 1932 and grew up in Port Elizabeth. It is said as a child he was known as “Hally” before he decided he wanted to be called Athol.
Legend has it that Fugard dropped out of the University of Cape Town just before his exams to hitchhike through Africa. He wrote his first plays “No Good Friday” and then “The Blood Knot” – which was an international success, the result of which led to his passport being withdrawn.
In the early 1960s, Fugard returned to Port Elizabeth and worked with The Serpent Players. Their first performance was in the former snake pit of a zoo, hence the name. Fugard played opposite Yvonne Bryceland in “Boesman and Lena” in 1969 and their friendship led to working with Bryceland and her husband Brian Astbury’s Space Theatre in Cape Town.
The “Statement Plays” with John Kani and Winston Ntshona were developed there. Fugard also worked with Johannesburg’s Market Theatre together with Barney Simon. His plays have been regularly premiered in fringe theatres in South Africa, London (The Royal Court Theatre) and New York.
Fugard will be in South Africa to direct the world premiere of his latest theatrical offering, “The Birdwatchers”, at the Fugard Theatre in District Six in June. The production is produced by Eric Abraham and the Fugard Theatre.
About the play he said: “The Birdwatchers” was suggested by and is indebted to two defining friendships from my early years in theatre in South Africa, namely those with Barney Simon and Yvonne Bryceland.
“It celebrates the memorable hours we spent watching birds and talking in the shade of the umGwenya tree (wild plum) at my home in the Eastern Cape. Although the characters in the play are a playwright, a director and an actress, the work itself is entirely fictional.”