Indiana Daily Student

South African explores both sides of racism

Since the dawn of dramatic writing, the craft of playwriting has called upon authors to create characters and situations drawn from life. A playwright seeks to hold a mirror up to society, reflecting the often simultaneous beauty and baseness of humanity. \nSuch is the work of South African dramatist Athol Fugard, whose plays, infused with complex characters who exemplify the strength of the human spirit, explore the politics of his homeland ' apartheid.\n Fugard will visit campus Sunday through Sept. 23, holding workshops and reading selections of his work. He is the Class of 1963 Wells Professor and a guest of the Wells Scholar Program, according to a press release. On the agenda for his visit are a master's class for playwriting, directing and acting students, as well as receptions and dinners in his honor.\nEnglish professor Albert Wertheim has been instrumental to organizing Fugard's visit to IU. The release of his book, "The Dramatic Art of Athol Fugard: from South Africa to the World" will coincide with the playwright's stay in Bloomington. \nWertheim said Fugard's works are unique and profound because they explore the impact of racism on both sides of the issue.\n"(Fugard's) work demonstrates the damage racism does to both the giving and receiving end," Wertheim said. "In different ways, both the oppressed and the oppressors bear the wounding scars of racism." \nBorn in Middelburg, South Africa in 1932, Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard was raised in Port Elizabeth and studied at the University of Cape Town. But the university could not satisfy his restless creative spirit. He traveled the country during the late 1950s, working as a seaman, writing plays, acting, keeping journals and organizing a theater troupe, according to the Kennedy Center Web site, www.artsedge.kennedy-center.org.\nThis company, the Serpent Players, was composed of blacks from South African townships, and was co-founded with actor/musician Zakes Mokae. Because of stringent laws regarding how blacks and whites could interact during the early 1960s, the troupe was barred from performing their works in front of white audiences. But Fugard, Mokae and the troupe premiered Fugard's "The Blood Knot" in 1961. Although they were barred from interacting and sharing their work in the public eye because of apartheid, Fugard and Mokae portrayed brothers in the play.\nThe political unrest in South Africa during the '50s and '60s not only inspired Fugard's work, but roused concern from white politicians and artists as well, Wertheim said.\n"One of the problems during the era of apartheid was that most writers and political activists who are not white had limited access to the public or to the concerned international public," Wertheim said. "White writers had that ability (to reach the international public), and so, for better and for worse, concerned whites felt it their duty to be the voice of the blacks until those groups had their own voice."\nFugard's controversial efforts to be such a voice often pitted him against the South African government. Besides barring the patronage of his plays by white audiences, the government withdrew his passport in 1967. \nHis struggles sparked support and comment from the dramatic world, leading to a boycott of South African theater by some overseas playwrights. A letter he wrote to British playwrights caused several of them to not permit his work to be performed in South Africa, according to the Kennedy Center Web site.\nFugard's work has not only impacted audiences in South Africa, but around the world as well. Wertheim said because of opposition in his homeland, Fugard premiered many works in the United States.\n"He produced works first at Yale, then in New York, then in London before working in South Africa," Wertheim said.\n In addition to his impact on theater and society in New England, Fugard's work has found a home in Bloomington. Some of Fugard's papers have been on campus at the Lilly Library since August 1999. The Fugard papers include various drafts and production notes. \nLilly librarian Lisa Browar said of Fugard's work "(The plays) confront fundamental human truths, not the least of which is man's inhumanity to man.\n"It is a privilege to house Fugard's papers and make them available for scholarship," she said.\nIn a 1999 press release, Fugard said it is likewise a privilege for him to have his work protected and maintained at IU.\n"It is a source of great pride and satisfaction to know that my papers will be in the safe-keeping of as distinguished an institution as the Lilly Library of Indiana University," Fugard said.

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