First rehearsal: The Shadow of the Hummingbird

Athol Fugard chats with members of the Long Wharf Theatre staff at first rehearsal
Athol Fugard chats with members of the Long Wharf Theatre staff at first rehearsal

One of the traditions of first rehearsal at Long Wharf Theatre is that everyone in the company, from the leading performer to the rawest intern, introduces themselves and says what their role is in the institution. No one expects the actors and visiting artists to remember everyone, but it a statement of communal purpose. We are all in this process together.

Athol Fugard, a South African who can be counted as one of the most important playwrights working in the English language, really doesn’t need to introduce himself to the group. But tradition calls, and his simple statement set the tone for the entire process: “I’m Athol Fugard, and I’m home.”

Fugard continues his collaboration with Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein on his newest play, The Shadow of the Hummingbird. The play, a story about the relationship between a grandfather and his beloved grandson, makes Fugard’s return to the stage in over a decade.

“I have no reason to be alive. I have made many many mistakes in the past and it is something of a miracle that I am standing here, ready to do some work,” Fugard said.

The play is a deeply personal one for the 81-year-old playwright and actor. It is inspired by his relationship with his own grandson, his only grandchild. He looked to his young co-stars Aidan and Dermot McMillan and promised them that doing the play would be a great experience. “I’m looking forward to a good time with you guys,” he said.

One of the main reasons Fugard feels like he has a home is because of his relationship with Edelstein. “We met for the first time down in San Diego and we were walking, and I was telling him about Have You Seen Us? (a previous play of Fugard’s Long Wharf Theatre produced.) His response to that piece of writing left me in no doubt that this man understood why, for 60, 70 years cause I started when I was a kid, put pen to paper. When you find someone like that, because putting pen to paper is the only thing I know how to do … Gordon understood that and that is a big big find in any writer’s life,” he said.

The theme of the play is a simple one. “The last moment of the play has some of the most important words in the English language – love. Every form of it, from the intimate moment, to the moment we share admiration or joy at being alive, nature, people, anything, that’s what’s the play’s about, ultimately,” Fugard said.

Steve Scarpa

 

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