Tuesday, October 26, 2010
playland | artistic director's notes
With a handful of exceptions, Athol Fugard’s plays are inspired by specific people, incidents, or images. Some real world event sparks his curiosity, and he explores it by writing a play.
Playland began with a photograph. Two men stand in the back of a truck, lowering a naked body into a pit. In the bottom of the pit, more bodies.
Of course, an avalanche of other, larger events also impelled the writing of this play. In September 1989 – three months before the events of Playland – F.W. de Klerk became president of South Africa, and when parliament opened on February 2, 1990, he announced his intentions to dismantle apartheid. Nine days later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
Fugard’s play debuted in Johannesburg in July 1992. In July 1995, after five years of negotiations and violent opposition, the African National Congress was elected as the country’s new government, and President Nelson Mandela initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate gross human rights violations and heal the wounds of apartheid.
In a sense, Playland anticipates the nation’s experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If it were only a history lesson, a snapshot of a moment in history, a response to political events in a distant country, it would not carry the power that it does. But as well as being a response to an historical turning point, Playland is a response to a specific photograph, a hidden and horrific event that plays itself out in two very particular lives.
The more specific a story, the more likely it is to become universal. The movements of history, the story of a nation, may inspire dread or awe, but the movements of the human heart, the stories of individuals, reach us in a more personal place. The story of apartheid’s end may interest us, and should not be forgotten. But the story of Martinus and Gideon has the power to shake us, twenty years later. We see ourselves in their circumstances, and their stories resonate with so terribly many others that continue to happen, over and over again.