In The Island, two black prisoners, John and Winston, are men whose political stands against the state have caused them to be incarcerated, sentenced without determinable end in Robben Island prison. They are dressed in shorts 'to look like the boys their keepers would make them.' But clearly the authorities wish them to be far, far less than boys, for the prisoners are treated with extreme brutality and are given the sorts of tasks meant to reduce them from men to beasts, to annihilate the last shreds of their humanity.
Nov 23, 2016 Download The Island By Athol Fugard Pdf free. Winston is the active rebel, - and John, the intellectual, is trying to persuade him to play Antigone in a condensed - two- character version of Sophocles’ play. He doesn’t want the other prisoners to laugh at him for being dressed as a woman, wearing a mop for a wig.
Their humanity, however, remains intact and it does so because the two men continue to act as humans...
THE story of 'The Island,' a South African prison drama, suggests that symbolic resistance to oppression can play a role in giving birth to freedom itself.
The play's persuasiveness derives from the circumstances of its creation. 'The Island' was written and performed in South Africa in 1973 in response to the country's racist apartheid laws. The white South African dramatist Athol Fugard had begun a theater company, the Serpent Players, to encourage theatrical collaboration between black and white artists. Together with the black actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona, he wrote a two-character play based on the experiences of an actor they knew who had been sent to Robben Island, the notorious prison where political dissidents, including Nelson Mandela, were held.
In 1974, 'The Island' was presented on Broadway in repertory with another drama by the three men, 'Sizwe Banzi Is Dead,' both directed by Mr. Fugard. Mr. Kani and Mr. Ntshona shared the 1975 Tony Award for best actor for their work in the two plays. Now, nearly 30 years later, the performers, who are both 60 and who spent time in jail under apartheid, will reprise their original roles in a production of 'The Island' that begins performances on Tuesday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater.
This version was conceived in 1999 when the eminent English director Peter Brook was presenting his play 'The Man Who' in Johannesburg at the Market Theater, which is renowned for its daring theatrical depictions of race relations during apartheid. Mr. Kani, who is the Market's artistic director, asked Mr. Brook to help him and Mr. Ntshona restage 'The Island' for a production by the Market Theater. The men worked on it at Mr. Brook's theater in Paris, Les Bouffes du Nord, and since then it has toured to Europe and America as Mr. Kani's schedule allows. It is being presented in Brooklyn by the Market Theater and the Royal National Theater in London.
Speaking recently by telephone from Johannesburg, Mr. Kani recalled the conditions that inspired the play. 'Athol was directing a production of 'Antigone' by Sophocles with a black actor named Shark, who could never remember his lines. I was the prompter, and Athol arranged for me to be a soldier onstage so I could whisper his lines to him during the show, but Shark was arrested before it opened. Then we heard he was doing a one-man version of 'Antigone' in prison during lunch hour, and we wondered how he did it, because we knew he could never get the lines right.'
'At that time, it was forbidden to mention that Robben Island even existed, so we knew it would be illegal,' Mr. Kani said about 'The Island.' 'But we wanted to make a play about prison because we all knew so many people who were in jail, including my brother.' Mr. Kani's brother Xolile was killed by the police in the 1980's.
According to Mr. Fugard, performing 'Antigone' in South Africa was just as dangerous as performing 'The Island.' ' 'Antigone' is the most powerful political play ever written,' Mr. Fugard said by telephone from what he calls his 'home away from home' in San Diego. 'It is the first play that raised the issue of standing up and being counted in a situation that involved oppression and injustice. The entire time we were working on it, the government was harassing us, barging into rehearsals and confiscating manuscripts. Several members of the group were arrested and sent to Robben Island on trumped-up charges.'
The central action of 'The Island' is the effort by two prisoners to stage 'Antigone' as a form of protest in prison. The story of a grieving woman forbidden to give her brother an honorable burial, the play has always resonated with political dissidents, as has Antigone's choice to sacrifice her life in a challenge to the unjust laws of Thebes. 'The Island' works on three different levels that heighten its universality: Antigone's burial of her brother defies the repressive state, just as the characters in 'The Island' denounce apartheid by performing 'Antigone' for their guards and fellow inmates on Robben Island, at the same time that Mr. Kani, Mr. Ntshona and Mr. Fugard were risking arrest by staging a play that challenged the government.
Mr. Fugard remarked on the parallels to another performance of the play in a different time and place. 'During the German occupation of France,' he said, 'Jean Anouilh produced a version of 'Antigone' in Paris. In an exact parallel to the situation on Robben Island, the first five rows of German jackbooted officers admired what they thought was a straightforward piece of classical culture, but the French audience behind them knew what it was about.' Speaking of the actor Shark's performance of 'Antigone' at Robben Island, Mr. Fugard continued, 'the Boers were in the first row and enjoyed it, but the prisoners were the ones who got the real message.'
Now that apartheid no longer exists in South Africa, Mr. Fugard said, 'The Island' has 'become a much more general statement about the question of political prisoners.'
In London (where the current production was presented at the Royal National Theater in 2000 and again at the Old Vic in 2002), Mr. Fugard said: 'The press made the point that the play had not dated because it was about political prisoners and, God knows, there are enough of them in the world at this time. You can talk about Guantanamo Bay or about what Saddam Hussein does to prisoners on his side but there is resonance on both sides of the fence.'
Putting on theater in prison may seem inconsequential. But seeing Mr. Kani and Mr. Ntshona perform 'The Island' in 2001 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington made me recall informal performances I had seen in a South African jail where I was briefly held after observing a protest demonstration in Johannesburg in 1992.
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Like the characters in 'The Island,' the several hundred black men I shared a cell with refused to be dehumanized by the squalor of their conditions. First, they sang, joining their voices in rough and vital renditions of protest songs they had grown up with. Then they danced, hopping to the relentless beat of a step known as the Toyi Toyi. In a recent documentary film about the significance of South African protest music, 'Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony,' a white former South African police officer recalls the fear he felt when he saw throngs of black demonstrators dancing this simple step. In jail in South Africa, I sensed that the officers who guarded us also felt intimidated by the performance they saw through the bars.
It was a demonstration of solidarity that unified the prisoners into what seemed like a single organism of shared opposition to the system that gave the guards their jobs, their power and their identities. Even if they did not hear the scatological insults directed against them, or pretended not to hear, the guards could not help but know that the rhythms of protest were undiminished by conditions meant to silence them.
As the only white man in the cell, I was surprised to be invited to join in and exhilarated by the energy of people whose actions were animated by unwavering faith in the justice of their cause.
After hours of song and dance, one exhausted man asked if we could take a break. A voice in the crowd shouted back: 'Why should we be quiet? We can do anything we want. We're in jail!' The man yelled 'We're in jail!' as if it were a cry of emancipation. The men had used songs, dances and jokes to transform the prison into a place of freedom. Outside the jail, the invisible bars of apartheid restricted their every move, but inside they could do whatever they wanted, and what they wanted was to proclaim their right to be free. It was so intoxicating that when the guards asked if I wanted to leave the cell, I declined. Why would anyone want to leave a celebration like that to enter a grim world of soldiers with guns and drooling police dogs?
When Mr. Mandela was freed from Robben Island and saw thousands dancing and singing protest songs in front of the presidential palace in Pretoria, he called it a tidal wave of democracy. Two years later, he danced the Toyi Toyi to celebrate his election to the presidency of South Africa.
The artists who created 'The Island' and the prisoners who inspired it understood that theater alone was not going to change their world. But Mr. Kani, Mr. Ntshona and Mr. Fugard built a haven in the theater for freedom that could not yet be achieved in the society at large. In jails, in theaters and on the streets, black South Africans expressed their opposition to tyranny with a sense of inevitability that transformed their collective performances into a self-fulfilling prophecy of freedom, willing their liberation into existence by performing as if it had never been in doubt.