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Release: Feb. 11, 2000

Playwright Athol Fugard to be UI Ida Beam visiting professor Feb. 28-March 1

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Playwright Athol Fugard, who was South Africa's theatrical voice of conscience during apartheid, will be an Ida Beam visiting professor at the University of Iowa Monday, Feb. 28 through Wednesday, March 1. He will present a free public lecture, "The Voice of Conscience: Antigone in Africa," at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28 in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the UI Theatre Building. Fugard will also meet with UI English and theater arts classes during his visit.

Fugard achieved worldwide fame for more than two dozen plays about the injustices and moral challenges of the apartheid system, including "Blood Knot," "Three Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act," "Sizwe Bansi is Dead," "A Lesson from Aloes" and, most prominently, "Master Harold and the Boys." Several of his plays have been performed at the UI.

He began as an actor, and in his second career as a film actor Fugard has appeared in "Gandhi," "Meetings with Remarkable Men" and "The Guest."

An article in Time magazine proclaimed him the greatest living playwright, and the National Theatre in London selected "Master Harold and the Boys" as one of the top English-language plays of the century. In 1998 the South Africa Theatre Association honored him with the Vita Award for lifetime achievement.

A South African of Afrikaner and Irish descent, Fugard gave voice to the plight of his country's black majority at a time when they were denied their own, and his plays demonstrated the human and moral toll of apartheid. Sometimes his actors would be arrested, he was the victim of on-going official harassment, and his passport was revoked for four years.

"There was a terrible conspiracy of silence in the country," Fugard told the Kennedy Center's Stagebill magazine. "It's always like that when there is a very powerful, repressive government in place. People are frightened to talk, frightened to see what is happening around them. Theater gave me the opportunity to speak about things that people didn't want to talk about or see. And, conversely, for the people who were being muddled by that oppression -- the black majority in the country -- theater was one of the only ways of expressing their anger, despair and hope. Theater was also a rallying point. It kept alive an awareness of values -- the dignity of all human beings, regardless of skin color or gender, and the value of free speech."

The moral power of his plays is credited with a significant role in forcing the peaceful end of apartheid in 1991.

Ida Beam, a native of Vinton, willed her farm to the University of Iowa Foundation in 1977. Her only university connection was a relative who graduated from the College of Medicine. With proceeds from the sale of her farm, the UI established a fund to bring top scholars in a variety of disciplines to the university for teaching, lectures and discussions.

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