Athol Fugard

(b. 1932) South African dramatist

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1932– )

South Africa's leading dramatist, who was inspired by the resilience of the oppressed during the apartheid years.

Born in the semi-desert Karroo region of Cape Province, Fugard grew up in Port Elizabeth and subsequently studied French literature and social anthropology at the University of Cape Town. Before turning to journalism he worked as a member of the crew on a steamer. After marrying the actress Sheila Meirling, he moved to Johannesburg and worked as a court clerk, observing offenders against the apartheid pass laws being punished at the rate of thirty an hour. This experience was to inform his most famous play, Sizwe Bansi is Dead (1972). Fugard's first play, No-Good Friday (1958), was a commentary on black township life, premiered in the multiracial ghetto of Sophiatown.

The poverty of Fugard's surroundings imposed an austerity on his stagecraft that has remained characteristic of his style. Another feature of his technique has been collaboration with actors, notably through improvisation. Moving to London in 1959, Fugard and his wife scraped a living by working as office cleaners but returned to South Africa the following year after the massacre of seventy-two people demonstrating in Johannesburg against the pass laws. Most of Fugard's work has been inspired by, and is a protest against, apartheid but it has found a wide audience outside his native country. The Blood Knot (1961) was the first of his plays to be performed in the USA and was chosen as best play of the year by the New York Times. Acting in many of his own plays, Fugard founded The Space experimental theatre in Cape Town in 1972, the year in which his play Boesman and Lena was filmed and won an Obie Award.

Subjects: Theatre — Literature.

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