Tag Archives: 80th birthday

US Premiere of Athol Fugard’s ‘The Blue Iris’ at the Fountain

Continuing its 12-year relationship with Athol FugardThe Fountain Theatre celebrates the master playwright’s 80th birthday with theU.S. premiere of his newest play. Directed by Stephen Sachs and starring Morlan Higgins, Julanne Chidi Hill and Jacqueline SchultzThe Blue Iris opens at the Fountain on August 24, with low-priced previews beginning August 18.

Described by Time magazine as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world,” Athol Fugard celebrated his 80th birthday on June 11, but the prolific writer shows no signs of slowing down. On June 28, The Blue Iris premiered at The National Arts Festival in his native South Africa to rave reviews. “Vintage Fugard… riveting theatre that will evoke whispering echoes in the heart long after the show has ended,” wrote Cue magazine.

The Blue Iris is set in Fugard’s beloved and desolate South African desert, the Karoo. In a burnt-out farmhouse, a widowed farmer, Robert Hannay (Higgins) and his housekeeper, Rieta (Hill) sort through the fire-ravaged debris of their lives. The discovery of a miraculously undamaged painting of a flower – a blue iris – created by Hannay’s deceased wife (Schultz) unlocks long-forgotten memories and hidden secrets. Fugard digs deep into the human heart, and the result is a love story full of tender, soul-touching and surprising revelations.

“We should be going into people`s lives, their souls, their ways of life. Everything I have written is an attempt to share secrets with you,” says the playwright.

The Blue Iris is achingly beautiful, a heartfelt play that brings to life the tender honesty and deep complexity of human relationships,” avers Sachs. “We cherish Athol’s 12-year friendship and artistic association at the Fountain, and we’re thrilled to celebrate his 80th birthday with this remarkable work.”

Athol Fugard

The author of over 30 plays and recipient of countless accolades including the Academy Award, Obie Award, and Tony Award, Athol Fugard is best known for his plays about the frustrations of life in contemporary South Africa and the psychological barriers created by apartheid. Widely acclaimed around the world, his plays include Boesman and Lena (Obie Award, Best Foreign Play), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Tony Award, Best Play), A Lesson from Aloes (New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Play), the semiautobiographical Master Harold…and the Boys (Writers Guild Award, Outstanding Achievement) and The Road to Mecca (New York Drama Critics Circle Citation, Best Foreign Play, London Evening Standard Award, Best Play). The first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors and workers, some of his works, such as Blood Knot, were initially banned in South Africa. In his first two post-apartheid plays, Valley Song (1995) and The Captain’s Tiger (1998), Fugard addressed more personal concerns, but in Sorrows and Rejoicings(2001) he focused on the complex racial dynamics of South Africa’s new era. In 2005 his novel, Tsotsi (1980), was adapted for the screen, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2011, Mr. Fugard was honored with a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. Even though this prolific playwright, novelist, actor, director and teacher now lives and works in San Diego, he continues to be inspired by the dynamics in his land of birth.

Athol Fugard’s ‘The Road to Mecca’ (LA Premiere, Fountain Theatre, 2000) starring Priscilla Pointer and Jacqueline Schultz

The Fountain Theatre’s special relationship with Fugard began when co-founder/co-artistic director Stephen Sachs directed the L.A. premiere of Fugard’s The Road to Mecca in 2000. Fugard was so impressed that he offered the company world premiere rights to an as-yet-unwritten new work. When Sachs directed the world premiere of Exits and Entrances in 2004, it received recognition for Best Production and Best Director from both the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (garnering a total of five awards) and the Ovations (receiving a total of three awards). Mr. Sachs went on to direct acclaimed regional productions of Exits and Entrances around the country, an Off-Broadway production at Primary Stages, and the UK premiere at the 2007 International Edinburgh Festival. Since then, he has directed premieres of Fugard’s plays at the Fountain including the American premiere of Victory (two LADCC awards and four LA Weeklynominations, and named “Best of 2008” by the Los Angeles Times); the West Coast premiere of Coming Home (three LA Weeklyawards including “Ensemble” and “Direction,” LADCC award for “Lead Performance”)and the U.S. premiere of The Train Driver (three LA Weekly awards)Athol Fugard has stated that he “considers The Fountain Theatre his artistic home on the West Coast.”

Set design for The Blue Iris  is by Jeff McLaughlin; sound design is by Peter Bayne; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; the dialect coach is JB Blanc; the production stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce.

Morlan Higgins

Morlan Higgins starred in Fountain Theatre productions of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, Victory and The Train Driver, as well as inShining City by Conor McPherson (LA Weekly Award), After the Fall (Ovation award for Best Production) and The Boys in the Band. Other credits: Forgiveness (Black Dahlia Theatre), King Lear (Antaeus), Dealing with Clair, Water Children, Mad Forest, The Birthday Party (The Matrix Theatre Company); Dylan (Skylight Theatre); Equus (Pasadena Playhouse), A Skull in Connemara (Theatre Tribe),Hughie (Eugene O’Neill Foundation at Tao House); and numerous other plays on local stages. Morlan has received multiple Ovation, LADCC, LA Weekly, Back Stage Garland, Drama-Logue, and Ticketholders Awards. He was nominated for the Lucille Lortell Off-Broadway Actor of the Year Award for his performance in Exits and Entrances at Primary Stages in NYC, He was nominated for a Carbonell Award for E and E at Florida Stage and received a New Jersey Tony for E and E at New Jersey Rep. He is also the recipient of Santa Barbara Indie Awards for Hughie and Victory at SBT. Morlan also plays Celtic music in the local band Staggering Jack.

Julanne Chidi Hill

Julanne Chidi Hill is a graduate of the prestigious SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film and was classically trained at Oxford University where she studied extensively with John Barton (Royal Shakespeare Company) and Katie Mitchell (Royal National Theatre). She has worked at the McCarter Theatre, Seattle Rep, Mark Taper Forum, Stages 52, McCadden Stages Theatre, Ebony Rep and Kirk Douglas Theatre, and she most recently appeared at the Celebration Theatre in the Ovation award-winning Women of Brewster Place. Television credits include guest-starring on the Jerry Bruckheimer drama The Whole Truth (ABC) and FX series The Shield, and recurring roles on NBC’s My Name is Earl and Showtime’s Weeds. Feature films: Crank: High Voltage (as “Dark Chocolate”), Barbershop 2, and alongside Tom Everett Scott and Lee Tergesen in 2nd Take, directed by John Suits.

Jacqueline Schultz

Jacqueline Schultz was last seen in the critically acclaimed production of Park Your Car in Harvard Yard at International City Theatre. She costarred in the West Coast premiere of String of Pearls at both North Hollywood’s Road Theatre Company and the Santa Barbara Theatre, appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse in the world premiere of Open Window, and starred in the critically acclaimed L.A. premiere of Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives at the Fountain (Best Actress nomination, NAACP Theatre Award), later reprising her role for the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Other leading roles at the Fountain: After the Fall (Ovation Award for Best Production),The Road to MeccaThe Night of the Iguana; The Darker Face of the Earth; Fighting Over Beverley (LA Weekly Award); Duet for One(Ovation Award nomination, Best Actress); Ashes (Drama-Logue Award); The Golden Gate (Drama-Logue Award); and Orpheus Descending. Other theater credits include To Kill a Mockingbird and Awake and Sing! (International City Theatre) and Sorrows and Rejoicings (Mark Taper Forum). She has appeared at the Kennedy Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre (NY) and the Mark Taper Forum’s New Works Festival. TV credits include The Practice, ER, My Wife and Kids, 7th HeavenCrossing JordanJudging Amy, the HBO movie Tyson, and many more.

Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. Fountain productions have won more than 200 awards for production, performance and design, with more Ovation nominations and awards than any other intimate theater in the history of the awards—and the only intimate theater to win the Ovation for Best Production five times. Fountain projects have been seen in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Florida, New Jersey, Minneapolis and Edinburgh. Highlights include a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, written by Stephen Sachs, set to open in London this fall and optioned for New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sweet Nothing in My Ear, also by Sachs, into a TV movie. The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for demonstrating years of artistic excellence and “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

Happy Birthday to our dear friend, Athol Fugard!

by Theresa Smith

Playwright Athol Fugard

TO CELEBRATE his 80th birthday on Monday, June 11th, , much lauded South African playwright Athol Fugard wants nothing more than a family braai.

Speaking on the weekend by telephone from San Diego, California where he lives with his wife, poet Sheila Fugard, close to their novelist daughter Lisa Fugard, he said he wanted a quiet occasion. This is a far cry from the 80th birthday he imagined for himself thirty years ago when he plotted a birthday party to which he’d invite all the characters in his plays.

“When I was 50 years old there was a manageable gang of people,” he joked. To date he has written more than 20 plays, four film scripts, two memoirs and two books and received awards and nominations including the Tony, Obie, Evening Standard, Drama Desk, and Audie Awards.

US premiere of  Fugard’s “The Train Driver” (Fountain Theatre, 2010) starring Adolphus Ward and Morlan Higgins.

He was honoured with the 2005 South African Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for his “excellent contribution and achievement in theatre” and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He scoffs at descriptions such as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world” saying it is the worst possible thing to call a writer. “I’m always trying to make people write and think and feel and use their hearts,” he said, describing his life’s work.

Fugard has never considered retiring, writing it is simply what he does.

“I have a great abiding passion for theatre, it’s consumed my whole life. I’m as passionate about theatre as I talk to you now as I was 50 years ago.” Born in Port Elizabeth in 1932, Fugard studied Philosophy and Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town in 1952, but dropped out in 1953 to hitchhike around North Africa and then travel around east Asia in a steamer ship.

“Exits and Entrances” (World Premiere, Fountain Theatre, 2004) starring Morlan Higgins and William Dennis Hurley

His writing has ranged from stories about specific people to protest theatre, but he has always draws inspiration from real South Africans. He helped to form the Serpent Players in Port Elizabeth in the early 1960s specifically because he was asked to use his voice by black residents of New Brighton: “In working with them I realised that they didn’t want to do plays for entertainment, they wanted to do plays because they were suffocating with silence. The silence in the country was awful.”

“It was with Blood Knot that I discovered my own voice and I knew that I could tell certain stories in a way that nobody else could do it. Once a writer has discovered that, there’s no holding them back.”

It was the 1967 BBC TV production of Blood Knot that led to the confiscation of Fugard’s passport and partially due to international protest on his behalf this was lifted in 1971 when he flew to England to direct Boesman and Lena. The bulk his work since then was performed outside of South Africa, but his post-apartheid work has seen him return home more frequently.

While he spends a great deal of time not living in this country he still regards it as his spiritual home. He has just returned to San Diego after several months in Cape Town working on his latest play, The Blue Iris, which will debut at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown later this month and then return to The Fugard Theatre. Fugard describes himself as deeply incensed by the recent controversy surround Bret Murray’s The Spear painting.

“What really worries me is that I don’t think people recognise it for what it was. They know it was a big controversy for the day, but it’s past. We are going to look back on the moment as a warning that we were given about the future we’re going into if we don’t do something radical.

“We have to realise that we have a government in power that is prepared to assault our most cherished freedom. They’re trying to do it to the arts and to the media. The bully tactics they used, the whole demonstration of brute force that they displayed, that they [government] were going to shut them [Goodman Gallery] down regardless of what… that you will not use your voice, you will not speak up, you will not speak out. That moment, we will look back on and recognise as significant.”

“The Road to Mecca” (LA Premiere, Fountain Theatre, 2000) with Priscilla Pointer and Robert Symonds

While he sees similarities with the situation under apartheid, Fugard says a significant difference is that back then there was a sense of community amongst artist that all were in opposition to apartheid. This is in contrast to the fragmented response from the contemporary artistic community.

“It’s so false, almost as if there’s a perception that we’re being disloyal to the ANC if we speak up. You mustn’t be careful about what you say, have the freedom to say anything you like. That sense should never be constricted by loyalty to a political party.”

When questioned about what he would do next Fugard mused aloud in Afrikaans, “Wat is my verpligting?” (What is my duty?). The final word for me is that my country has taught me two of the biggest debts you can have. My country has taught me how to hate and how to love.”

“How do you repay your country for your soul? Met trane of met woorde? (With tears or words?).”

Theresa Smith writes for Independent Online, South Africa. 

Note: The Fountain Theatre enjoys a long term friendship and collaboration with Athol Fugard, producing the premieres of his new plays since 2000. To celebrate and honor Athol’s 80th birthday, The Fountain Theatre will present the US Premiere of his newest play, The Blue Iris, this August, 2012. Stay tuned for details!