Category Archive: 2012-2013 Season

Athol Fugard

Athol Fugard is a South African director, actor, and writer of more than thirty plays.

He is best known for creating works confronting the racial segregation of apartheid, and today continues to pen insightful plays addressing modern inequality.

Fugard grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa raised by an Irish father and Afrikaner mother. He studied Philosophy and Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town, but dropped out to hitchhike across Africa and work as a deck hand on a steamer ship.

In 1956, Fugard returned to Port Elizabeth and married actress Sheila Meiring, who nurtured his love of theatre. Together they founded The Circle Players, for which Fugard wrote his first play, Klaas and the Devil (1956). The pair then moved to Johannesburg, where Fugard took a job as a clerk at the Native Commissioner's Court. The Court dealt with black persons charged with violations of the Pass Laws that restricted their movements in apartheid South Africa, and gave a European judge the option of applying Native or Common law. Fugard was appalled by the injustices he witnessed in the court.

While working as a stage manager for South Africa's National Theatre Organization, Athol Fugard wrote Blood Knot (1961), the play that earned him international recognition. Fugard starred in the play alongside black actor Zakes Mokae, with whom Fugard would collaborate again on “Master Harold”…and the Boys (1982). As a result of the play's criticism of apartheid, the South African government withdrew Fugard's passport for four years. When he supported the Anti-Apartheid Movement's boycott of segregated theatre audiences, the government further restricted his movements and the Secret Police began surveilling his theatre company.

The second theatre company founded by Fugard was the Serpent Players, a group of all-black actors, all of whom held regular jobs in addition to working on stage. Among the troupe's members was John Kani, who would later receive an Olivier Award nomination for his performance in Fugard's My Children My Africa! and later wrote his own play dealing with post-Apartheid South Africa, Nothing but the Truth (2002). The Serpent Players moved from venue to venue with minimal set, frequently performing Fugard’s plays in black townships, employing Brechtian theatrical principles of disillusion and social critique. The company's name refers to their first venue, a former snake pit at a zoo. Fugard continued to write plays critiquing segregation, including The Coat (1966), and co-authored by John Kani and Winston Ntshona, Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972). The latter was a play about staging Sophocles’ Antigone on Robben Island prison, where Nelson Mandela was held for twenty-seven years. Meanwhile, Fugard’s plays were produced to great acclaim in America and England. In 1972 Fugard was allowed to fly to England in order to direct his play Boesman and Lena (1969).

After a long struggle, in 1990 the apartheid system was abolished officially in South Africa (although it is widely considered to have ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela became president in a democratic election). Athol Fugard directed his first movie in 1992, a film adaptation of The Road to Mecca (1984). Fugard's later plays frequently were more personal than his earlier political works. “Master Harold”…and the Boys (1982) draws heavily on his childhood in Port Elizabeth, and The Captain's Tiger: A Memoir for the Stage (1997) documents his time working on a ship in the 1950s. He also published a prose memoir, Cousins (1994).

Athol Fugard and his family now live in California, and he is an Adjunct Professor of Playwriting, Acting, and Directing at University of California San Diego. In 2010, The Fugard Theatre opened in Cape Town, debuting with Fugard's play The Train Driver (2010).

Fugard remains one of the world's most prolific and oft-produced playwrights. In 2011, Athol Fugard was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award. His richly human plays challenge his audience to confront and address social injustice.

“Are we never going to get it right?
Learn to dance like champions instead of always being just a bunch of beginners at it?”

-“Master Harold”…and the Boys (1982)

His plays include: Klaas and the Devil (1956), The Cell (1957), No-Good Friday (1959), Nongogo (1959), Blood Knot (1961), Hello and Goodbye (1965), People are Living There (1968), The Last Bus (1969) Boesman and Lena (1969), Friday's Bread on Monday (1970), Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (1972), Sizwe Banzi is Dead (1972), The Island (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 (1987), My Children! My Africa! (1989), My Life (1992), Playland (1993), Valley Song (1996), The Captain’s Tiger (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), and The Blue Iris (2012).

– Written by Kate O'Connor
Kate holds a BA in English from Stanford University and
a MA in English Literature from University of Oxford

From Adriana Baer, Artistic Director

The first Athol Fugard play I saw was “Master Harold”…and the Boys. I was in high school, the same age as Harold, and the play haunted me. What was this world that felt in some ways so familiar – the pressures of school, the complex relationship of a child to his parent – and yet was so far away from my present day life? Later that year, I saw a production of Blood Knot. Though I was in liberal Northern California, I immediately recognized the social injustice and inequality being so eloquently represented onstage. I looked around my community and saw the story of the Blood Knot brothers. In this country, we were lucky to be untouched by apartheid, but we were not free from social inequalities of race, class, gender, and age.

Inspired by Fugard’s writing, I became obsessed with South Africa, wanting to learn as much as I could about this dry and foreign place where in my lifetime, discrimination was written into law. I remembered watching Nelson Mandela receive the Nobel Peace Prize. I rented the Up Series documentaries that followed black, white, Indian, Afrikaner, and colored children throughout their daily lives. The 1990s were an exciting time to be paying attention to South Africa, and I think we were all aware that we were witnessing something big: the end of apartheid was the beginning of freedom for a nation mired in deep sadness, poverty, and imbalance.

Born in 1932 in the Eastern Cape town of Middleburg, South Africa, Fugard started writing in the 1960s. His prolific history (in which he also acted in and directed many of his own works) includes over 30 plays, many film adaptations, and a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. Fugard’s writing still energizes me to grapple with issues of social justice: education, socioeconomics, gender, age, race – they’re all in there. But as an adult, it is also Fugard’s tremendous skills as a writer that draws me again and again to these texts. He takes tiny corners of South African life and, by shining light onto them, turns them into prisms that reflect the whole of the surrounding world out to his audience. Fugard’s work does not overtly presenting doctrine and diatribe. Instead it is theater of humanity, of relationships, of the heart. In a country as political as South Africa, Fugard has said, political commitment and comment is an automatic by-product of being a truthful storyteller. His work inspires conversation, deep examination of the questions he asks, and then, real change. He is, without question, one of the greatest writers of our time.

Though rainy Portland is on the opposite side of the earth from the deserts of South Africa, I know you will find, as I have, universal truths revealed in the specificity of Fugard’s words: poetic, blunt, honest, and inspiring.

~Adriana Baer, Artistic Director

Athol Fugard online:
YouTube: Athol Fugard on My Children! My Africa!
American Theatre Magazine's November, 2012 feature on Athol Fugard and The Train Driver
Conversation with Athol Fugard at Indiana University
UCSD Burke Lecture: Athol Fugard: A Catholic Antigone: An Episode in the Life of Hildegard of Bingen
Timeline Theatre Company Athol Fugard Timeline

About South Africa and the apartheid era:
YouTube: South Africa: A Shorthand History
YouTube: RSA lecture: Sir Ken Robinson on education and education reform
YouTube: Apartheid in South Africa: Laws, History (A Documentary Film)
YouTube: Interview with the brother of student activist Steve Biko
Podcast: University of Oxford lecture series on literary censorship in apartheid South Africa by Professor Peter McDonald
Podcast: University of Oxford lecture by Professor Jean Camaroff discussing the state of post-apartheid South Africa in 2008
South African History Online
Strangers In Their Own Country: A Curriculum Guide On South Africa

Local Organizations and Conversations:
The August Wilson Red Door Project
via Oregon Humanities: White Out?: The Future of Racial Diversity in Oregon
via Oregon Humanities: Why Aren’t There More Black People In Oregon?

Other Media:
Africa Past and Present Podcasts
via KBOO: Alan Wieder speaks about the part music played in the anti-apartheid struggle

Further Reading:
Athol Fugard: His Plays, People and Politics by Alan Shelley (Oberon Books)
The Dramatic Art of Athol Fugard: From South Africa to the World by Albert Wertheim (Indiana University Press)
Cousins: A Memoir by Athol Fugard (Theatre Communications Group)
Notebooks: 1960-9177 by Athol Fugard (Theatre Communications Group)
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (published by the author, 1994)

Click here for a glossary of terms found in the plays in our season.

My Children! My Africa!

Dates of run: May 8 – May 26, 2013
Directed by: Adriana Baer
Featuring: Bobby Bermea*, Gilbert Feliciano and Chelsie Kinney

“…sensitive, deeply engaging…” – The Oregonian
“Starts with sugar, ends with meat.” – Willamette Week
Theatre, politics and Fugard  – Oregon ArtsWatch

It's 1985, the height of the student uprising against the government’s oppressive apartheid system. Passionate teacher Mr. M inspires an unlikely pairing for an English competition: brilliant black student activist Thami and privileged, down to earth white Isabel from a neighboring school. Loyalty and friendship are put to the test when external forces prove stronger than the walls of the Karoo classroom and the students loudly cry: Is this education power or is it oppression?

Design and Production: Kristeen Willis Crosser, Sara Ludeman, Olivia Murphy, Sharath Patel, Melissa Schlachtmeyer, Amanda Soden and Brent Sullivan

Supplemental Programming:

  • 5/12: “Mat Chat” Talkback with Production Team
  • 5/25: Talkback after the 2pm matinee with Alan Wieder, author of Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid and Norm Diamond, who has trained teachers in a Master of Teaching Arts program and developed social justice curricula (The Power In Our Hands and Scarves of Many Colors, both co-authored) used in Oregon high schools and throughout the country
  •  Sign interpreted performance May 23

My Children! My Africa! was the production for our inaugural Inside Out: Community and School Tour.


Click here to view the My Children! My Africa! press archive.

Click here to view the My Children! My Africa! program.

*Member Actors’ Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers.

Blood Knot

Dates of run: February 27 – March 17, 2013
Directed by: Kevin Jones
Featuring: Don Kenneth Mason* and Ben Newman* 

“Profile Theatre delivers powerful production…” – The Oregonian
“It’s scary, funny and sometimes shockingly raw…This is intimate, total theatre.” – Oregon ArtsWatch
“Bristles with energy and powerful performances” – Portland Monthly

Brothers Zach and Morris live together in a one-room shack in Port Elizabeth’s black housing slum, unable to escape until enough money is saved from Zach’s job guarding the entrance of a Whites Only park from non-white children. As light-skinned Morris tries desperately to hold on to his only family, he inadvertently creates a chasm that might never close, forcing dark-skinned Zach to ask the most dangerous question: Is love only skin deep?

Athol Fugard originated the role of Morris onstage. Upon its premiere in Johannesburg in 1961, the two-character play was immediately closed and censored by the South African government for having an interracial cast, the first South African play to do so. It was the Off-Broadway production of Blood Knot that launched Fugard’s career as a playwright with American audiences.

Design and Production: Jessica Bobillot, Kristeen Crosser, Corinne Gayle Lowenthal, Sara Ludeman, Ruth Nardecchia, Kate O'Connor, Sharath Patel, Demetri Pavlatos, Amanda Soden, David Stefani and Brent Sullivan

Supplemental Programming:

  • 3/3: Mat Chat Talkback with Production Team
  • 3/10: Talkback Featuring The August Wilson Red Door Project
  • 3/17: The Anti-Apartheid Movement in Portland and Beyond: a historical conversation hosted by Norm Diamond: Distinguished Scholar, Ohio Program in the Humanities, former President, Pacific Northwest Labor College, co-author, The Power In Our Hands with Richard Brown: photographer, citizen representative on Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training; and Elizabeth Ussher Groff: writer, former Director, Southern Africa Program of the American Friends Service Committee
  • Sign interpreted performance March 7.

 

Click here to view the Blood Knot press archive.
Click here to view the Blood Knot program.

 

*Member Actors’ Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers.

The Road to Mecca

Dates of run: January 9 – February 3, 2013
Directed by: Adriana Baer
Featuring: David Bodin, Eileen DeSandre* and Amanda Soden*

“Artistic director’s debut is radiant…” – The Oregonian
“Profile's ‘Mecca' is ultimately a rewarding trip” – Oregon ArtsWatch

Miss Helen, an eccentric widow and sculptor, lives alone in a small village in the Karoo desert. When Reverend Marius argues for moving her into an old age home for her own safety, Miss Helen questions whether to give up, give in, or go on. She summons the only person she trusts: Elsa, a young schoolteacher who loses her footing while taking aim at society’s treatment of the elderly and of those who do not conform. Birth, death, and what comes next are brought under examination as the artist courageously asks: What is true faith?

Design and Production: Kaye Blankenship, Jessica Bobillot, Kristeen Crosser, Sara Ludeman, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Sharath Patel, Demetri Pavlatos, Alan Schwanke, Amanda Soden, Brent Sullivan and D. Westerholm

Supplemental Programming:

  • 1/13: Mat Chat with Production Team
  • 1/25: Featuring Katy Liljeholm, Artistic Director of Well Arts, an arts-in-medicine nonprofit theatre company that creates and produces performances with people living with physical/mental illness and other big life changes, in conversation with senior participants from their Voices of Our Elders program
  • 1/27: Featuring Elizabeth Eckstrom, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Geriatrics at OHSU
  • Sign interpreted performance January 17.

 

Click here to view the The Road to Mecca press archive.
Click here to view the The Road to Mecca program.

*Member Actors’ Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers.

“Master Harold”…and the Boys

Dates of run: October 3 – October 28, 2012
Directed by: Jane Unger
Featuring: Sam Benedict, Bobby Bermea* and Garfield Wedderburn

“…deftly executed until the final, elegant turn.”  – The Oregonian
“… excellent revival of Fugard's brilliant play.”  – Oregon ArtsWatch

In Fugard's semi-autobiographical work, white 17-year-old Hally comes of age in his mother’s small, run down Port Elizabeth teashop during the height of apartheid. On a quiet, rainy afternoon, Willie and Sam, black waiters closer to the boy than his own father, practice for an upcoming ballroom dance competition. While Hally works on his lessons, the three friends uncover the cruel power of language by revealing dark secrets and speaking words that cannot be unsaid.

Design and Production: Jessica Bobillot, Kristeen Crosser, Ted DeChalet, Alyssa Essman, Miranda Hardy, JoAnn Johnson, Sara Ludeman, Jacklyn Maddux, Rody Ortega, Amanda Soden, David Stephani and Brent Sullivan

 

Click here to view the “Master Harold”…and the Boys press archive.
Click here to download or view the “Master Harold”…and the Boys program.

*Member Actors’ Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers.