Musings on Photography

The Road to Mecca

Posted in art is a verb, process by Paul Butzi on January 22, 2009


Last night, I got to go to the Seattle Rep and see the opening night performance The Road to Mecca, by Athol Fugard. God, I love live theatre. This Athol Fugard fellow, he can write just fine. Add in a great cast and great direction, and you’ve got what we saw last night.

Fugard, a South African, is famous for his plays treating racial issues and apartheid. The Road to Mecca is somewhat different. It’s not a single issue play, and it does brush up against racial issues in a tangential way. But for me, the interesting issue that the play treats is this: what happens to an artist when they reach that stage in their life when they stop making art?

The impetus for Fugard writing the play was the story of Helen Martins. Martins was an Afrikaner who created Owl House, decorating her home and her yard with incredible sculptures and mosaics. At the end of her life, her eyesight failing and after a period of a year and a half during which she created no new work, Martins committed suicide.

Fugard said:

I have lived my life and written my plays with the sense of having kept appointments with certain things. This was one of those appointments I suddenly realized I had to keep. I had to use the story of Helen Martins because it was time for me to understand the genesis, the nature, and the consequences of creative energy.


What am I going to do with myself if I can’t write anymore? What am I going to do with myself if suddenly the appointment book is empty — if it doesn’t come? This is a real dilemma, because I have fashioned my life around the fact that I’m a storyteller. I tell stories in the form of plays. There’s nothing else in my life.


What would happen to me if the stories stopped coming? The Road to Mecca showed Helen Martins’s fear of darkness and her discovery of the miracle that lighting a candle means. Her life gave me the opportunity to use that symbol of what creative energy tries to do, light a candle. What happens when there are no more candles left to light? Athol Fugard the man could go on a lot longer than Athol Fugard the playwright. Writing that play helped me to confront that possibility. I hope to die in harness. I’ll make sure of that by giving myself three more plays and two more prose works to write. I’ve planned them out. That will look after me for few years to come. But anyway, this exploration of self was part of The Road to Mecca.

Fugard has written 11 plays since he wrote The Road to Mecca. His latest play, Coming Home, premiered last night at Long Wharf Theater in New Haven. Apparently Fugard’s health is fragile and he may not be able to travel to see the Long Wharf production.

2 Responses

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  1. Amy Stoller said, on January 23, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Thought you’d like to know that Mr. Fugard was able to see Coming Home late in previews. He said he was very pleased with it, which was gratifying to everyone who worked so hard on it.

  2. Chris Klug said, on January 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    When I was a professional lighting designer, the nest design I ever did was a production of Boesman and Lena. I felt privileged to get the chance to do that work.

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