Fugard as Director: An Interview with the Cast of 'Boesman and Lena.' (Athol Fugard Issue) (Interview)

By Barbera, Jack | Twentieth Century Literature, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

Fugard as Director: An Interview with the Cast of 'Boesman and Lena.' (Athol Fugard Issue) (Interview)


Barbera, Jack, Twentieth Century Literature


Athol Fugard has frequently directed his own work and, in America, has received Best Director Tony nominations for Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, The Island, and "Master Harold" . . . and the boys. The first production of Boesman and Lena, in South Africa in 1969, featured Athol Fugard as Boesman. The following year the play was produced Off-Broadway, but Fugard was unable to attend in any capacity, as his passport had been withdrawn by the South African Government in 1967. When the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York produced Boesman in 1977, Fugard was still unable to attend because of South African Government restrictions. He did direct the Club's revival of the play, which ran from 14 January to 22 March 1992. When I interviewed the cast of that revival, he had already returned to South Africa to work on his new play, Playland.

This interview took place on 11 March, after the evening's performance, around a small table in the lobby of the theatre. Present, besides me, were: Keith David, who played Boesman; Tsepo Mokone, who played Outa; Lynn Thigpen, who played Lena; and Sandra Lea Williams, the production stage manager. I recorded the interview and sent an edited transcript to the participants for their review and corrections.

How long was this play in rehearsal?

THIGPEN: Exactly four weeks.

Did Mr. Fugard ever work with any of you one on one, or did you always rehearse as a group?

THIGPEN: As a group.

How many hours a day would you usually meet?

WILLIAMS: Five hours.

As you worked together, were any changes made in the script?

THIGPEN: We worked on whether or not to use Afrikaans words: where to keep them, where to change them to English.

I noticed now and then you would say an Afrikaans phrase, and then say its equivalent in English. In the script that isn't done.

THIGPEN: We did that a couple of times. Elsewhere we just changed the words to English. But those were the only script changes we made.

DAVID: We only changed the Afrikaans words to make them clearer, more immediately accessible to the ear.

Were the changes initiated by Mr. Fugard, or did you suggest them?

DAVID: It was mutual.

THIGPEN: It would just happen in rehearsal. Sometimes when I said an Afrikaans word, I felt people would try to figure it out for the next two sentences. I felt I'd lose them. Athol would listen and say, "I think you're right on that one," or he would say, "I think I want to try this word here."

What particular advice can you remember Mr. Fugard giving about your characters and how to act them?

MOKONE: For me the advice was "Write your own journey." The script from time to time says my character, the old man, murmurs something in Xhosa, but doesn't say what. Actors before me who had played the role, like Bloke Modisane, had written their own journey, so I followed their example and wrote my own story.

You are South African. Do you know Xhosa, and did you speak Outa's Lines in Xhosa?

MOKONE: I spoke Xhosa. To make sure I spoke it correctly I had to get a Xhosa coach, because I'm not Xhosa by origin, I'm Sotho. I had to work with someone at the U.N. just to make sure I made the right clicking sounds.

What was it you were saying in Xhosa? What was the story, the journey, you made up for Outa?

MOKONE: When an African goes into a homestead, the first thing he does is greet: "Camako," you know, "Peace." And then I ask how they are doing. I introduce myself as Ramcwne Umcosini. Then I say, "I'm lost and looking for my kith and kin." Then I say my ankles can't carry me anymore; I've been walking through mountains, through jungles, through mud; dogs have been barking at me; and I feel I'm going to die now, because my time has come.

Mr. David, did Mr. Fugard help you with the role of Boesman?

DAVID: He told me a story about a man he had run into, who I guess was a character Boesman is based on, to some extent. …

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