Athol Fugard biography




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I don't want to concern myself with the past. I lived in it too long

Athol Fugard was born in Middelburg, South Africa in 1932. His full name is Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard and as a child he was known as Hally before he decided he wanted to be called Athol.

He is white with English and Afrikaner parents. He was brought up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa with English as his mother tongue. He describes himself as an Afrikaner writing in English.

Athol Fugard parents
Fugard's parents (from Falls the Shadow)

Athol Fugard as a child
The child Athol Fugard with mother and sister.  The photo comes from the book Cousins.

The young Athol Fugard
The child Athol Fugard (from Falls the Shadow)

Fugard went to the University of Cape Town but dropped out just before the exams to hitchhike through Africa. He then became a deck hand on a ship and sailed the world.

After some acting experience he started writing plays, almost always set in South Africa and steeped in the politics of the day (apartheid and now post-apartheid). However the politics never affects his insight into people. Like Tennessee Williams, Fugard creates characters with strengths and weaknesses which make them unable to fit into what society requires. And like Williams the plays often have dominant women.

Fugard says "[my] real territory as a dramatist is the world of secrets with their powerful effect on human behaviour and the trauma of their revelation. Whether it is the radiant secret in Miss Helen's heart or the withering one in Boesman's or the dark and destructive one in Gladys, they are the dynamos that generate all the significant action in my plays".

Zakes Mokae in Outbreak

Fugard started working in the late 1950´s with a group of actors in Johannesburg, including Zakes Mokae, who were influenced by Strasburg's method acting. Fugard wrote his first play No Good Friday and later his first international success The Blood Knot (which lead to his passport being withdrawn). These plays were performed in The Rehearsal Room.

In the early 1960´s 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 CapeTown.

John Kani and Winston Ntshona

The Statement Plays with John Kani and Winston Ntshona were developed here.

Fugard has worked with Johannesburg's Market Theatre (below) together with Barney Simon.

Market Theatre

Fugard’s plays have been regularly premiered in fringe theatres in South Africa, London (The Royal Court Theatre) and New York.

Some of his plays are grouped together. Sometimes this is based on the subject matter (the Port Elizabeth plays), sometimes it is based on a period and style (the Statement Plays).

But no category is complete, and there is overlap (The Township and The Statement Plays) and some plays do not easily fit into any categories. Stephen Grey uses alternative categories: Apprenticeship (up to 1957), Social Realism (1958 to1961), Chamber Theatre (1961 to 1970), Improvised Theatre (1966-1973) and Poetic Symbolism (1975 onwards).

Athol Fugard Athol Fugard Athol Fugard

What's the use of a little dream. A dream must be big and special. It must be the most special thing you can imagine (Valley Song)

In an interview with Sue Fox (Sunday Times 17 June 1988) Fugard says "I need my own space, and need to be able to get up at 6am and listen to the sound of the garden... After some exercise an a breakfast of South Africa muesli... I work from 8am until 1pm.  Word processors, typewriters and ballpoints don't work for me.  I'm a sensualist writer who need a fountain pen and paper".

Fugard was married to poet and novelist Sheila Meiring Fugard, but divorced.  They had a daughter, Lisa Fugard who is also a novelist.

Sheila Fugard - click for link   Lisa Fugard - click for source

Fugard remarried Paula Fourie- she wrote the first Act of his play The Shadow of the Hummingbird.

I saw him acting in Valley Song and I remember his obvious intelligence and humanity, and his stagecraft in guiding a less experienced, though good, young actress. If you have a chance of seeing him on stage, go for it.

Athol Fugard I never read reviews and so they don't bother me


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