Fugard shares tricks of the writing trade with SU students
Celebrated playwright Athol Fugard has been “hiding” in Stellenbosch for months. But on Friday (28 October) he crept out of his hiding place to share stories about his youth, his love of writing and his passion for the theatre with a group of Stellenbosch University (SU) students in the Neelsie Cinema.
Fugard, who stays in America but was born in the Eastern Cape and is considered South Africa’s biggest playwright, has been a fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) for the past few months. At the talk, he revealed that he is busy writing his first Afrikaans play while at STIAS.
The talk – organised at short notice by the SRC and students from Listen, Live and Learn (LLL) – took the form of a question-and-answer session. After a short introduction by Dr Greg Ricks, Senior Fellow for Multicultural Education and Training at SU, Fugard said that he had not prepared a formal speech, because he had wanted the students to ask questions.
“I see myself as a South African bastard; half English, half Afrikaans” His mother was a Potgieter who supported their Port Elizabeth household because his English father was disabled and an alcoholic, said the writer about his childhood.
Fugard wrote several protest plays during the Apartheid years, and Friday he referred mostly to Master Harold and the Boys, a play based on his childhood relationship with a black worker, Sam, in their house. The second film version of this play was released last year with Freddie Highmore in the role of Hally. (Fugard’s full name is Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard.)
On a question about why he chose theatre as medium for his writing, Fugard, who is also an actor, answered: “I didn’t choose theatre; it chose me. Theatre challenges one; there is interaction between actor and audience. Good theatre touches the heart and mind. One can say much in theatre without delivering a speech.”
About the art of writing, Fugard said that the only energy he has ever used for writing is love. “How do I prepare to write? I leave all negativity at the door, and all I take to the table is love. It is part of the tools of the craft.”
Fugard told of how the late Afrikaans writer Jan Rabie told him many years ago that he writes in translation – that his English (as has often been said about Herman Charles Bosman’s writing) sounds like Afrikaans translated into English. “That is why I am now writing my first play in Afrikaans at STIAS. Translation is actually betrayal.”
He told the group of students that they are the future of South Africa. “And that is why I am proud to be a South African. You give me hope, and what else does one have but hope. You should guard against injustice. Years ago, one would never have seen a hall full of students from diverse cultures as today.”
Later he said: “Creativity is the nearest one could come to being a god – to create something that can change lives.
Fugard will be staying in Stellenbosch until December, and will then leave for New York, where he will be directing his play, The Blood Knot.
The playwright received an honorary doctorate from SU in 2006.