By Nieu Bethesda Arts Festival Association
Dated: Sep 09, 2009

Visitors to the Fugard Festival in Nieu Bethesda from 1 to 4 October 2009 are set for a treat of rare occurrence: to enjoy the theatre of Athol Fugard in the setting that originally inspired the dramatist. Fugard Festival-goers will be able to view extracts from The Road to Mecca, by Yvonne Batista, who received the highest award and great praise from the adjudicators for her role as Helen Martins at the SA Guild of Speech and Drama Eisteddfod in Port Elizabeth last year, then visit the famed Owlhouse to soak-up the atmosphere in its Camel Yard and wonder at Martins’ use of candles, coloured glass, pictures and mirrors to light-up her home. Ten fortunate people will also be able to experience a magical candlelit evening by going on a special, once-off guided tour through the Owlhouse at night and view the magic of light Helen Martins created in “Her World”.

According to Idil Sheard, of the Nieu Bethesda Arts Festival Association, the aim of the festival is to celebrate the works of Athol Fugard and his association with the village and the Eastern Cape. She reminds that Athol Fugard is, after Nelson Mandela, one of the most famous South Africans overseas. “He was celebrated as the most important living English playwright in the world by Time magazine and many in the US believe he should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, because so much of his work has dealt with and focused the attentions of the world on the realities of and struggles against apartheid, yet in this country he is not appreciated as he is in US or even Europe. “With this festival we want to try to do a little to put that right.” Sheard points out that Fugard is proud to be known as an Eastern Cape writer rather than a political writer.

“In some of his most recent plays like Victory and Coming Home he has used issues in the new South African reality such as HIV/Aids and crime. “It is time we show that we are proud to have him as a product of the Eastern Cape and specifically of Middelburg, where he was born, Nieu Bethesda, where he has property and made the setting of six of his 37 plays, and Port Elizabeth, where he grew up, set many other plays and has property where he stays when visiting the country.”

Furthermore, she says it is highly improbable that Nieu Bethesda would exist as a tourist destination if Fugard had not written The Road to Mecca, which popularized the Owlhouse and life of Helen Martins. Sheard adds that what is also not well known is Fugard’s affinity to Afrikaans. “Fugard loves the Afrikaans language. He has said in an interview that it is the most beautiful thing that has come out of South Africa. “Very many of his characters and situations in his plays are Afrikaans. I believe this has caused him to get less recognition in this country than he should as the English audiences cannot always relate to or pick-up the finer nuances of his typical ‘Afrikaans’ stories, while the Afrikaans theatre world do not give him the recognition he deserves.”

Sheard, who has translated five of Fugard’s plays that are set in Nieu Bethesda says she is hoping people accept the Afrikaans translations as she aims to introduce Fugard to a new audience . . . in Afrikaans. “After all, six of his plays are set in Nieu Bethesda where more than 90 percent of the inhabitants are Afrikaans speaking.”

However, she is quick to point out The Fugard Festival is a celebration of more than the theatrical works of the famous dramatist. Indeed, if it’s drama, art and music that gives meaning to your existence, brightens your world, adds fun to your life, or merely tickles your fancy, then the festival is set to offer you a feast of creative fare.

Visitors to the hamlet will be able to enjoy a veritable banquet of artistic endeavours, from internationally renowned theatrical works to the images of local fine artists inspired by the Karoo and the melodies of nationally acclaimed musicians, all in the verdant spring-blossom setting of this Sneeuberg-valley village.

Nieu Bethesda Arts Festival Association is a community based organisation that promotes the Arts and Tourism thereby providing opportunities for all its people.