May 11, 2010
First preview for Sizwe Banzi is Dead is less than forty-eight hours away. Playwright Athol Fugard recounts a previous opening night of the play in a South African township:
The venue was St. Stephen’s Hall in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, and the occasion was our first public performance of Sizwe Banzi is Dead in a black township in South Africa. Date: September 1974. The play was already nearly two years old, but it was only after its West End run that we felt sufficiently protected by its overseas success to risk the hazards involved in a township performance. Up until then its life in South Africa had been restricted to private performances before invited audiences… circumstances which theoretically made us safe from censorship and police interference. I say theoretically because even under those circumstances there had been incidents. The last one had been just prior to our departure for London. Half an hour before a performance at The Space Theatre in Cape Town we found ourselves confronted by the Security Police and a warning that if we proceeded with the show we would be charged under the Group Areas Act. They claimed the performance would constitute ‘...occupation of a building in an area which had been zoned strictly for whites.’
As far as openings go, I would say that Court Theatre has it easy, except that most of us theater people actively dream of putting up work that invites censorship and police interference.