ATHOL FUGARD Biography - Writers


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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.                                                         
the child Athol Fugard with mother and sister. The photo comes from the book               
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           
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".                                           
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The Blood Knot (which lead to his passport being withdrawn).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.                                                       
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.                                                                               
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).                                                           
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".