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PL AYBILL the road to mecca

the road to Mecca athol fugard }{

approximate running time: 2 hours & 25 minutes. there will be one 15 minute intermission


ARTIST NOTE: DIANA LEBLANC Easter Sunday, end of 4th week’s rehearsal. I’ve been watching David Storch, our director, meet with our costume, sound, set and lighting designers wondering about budget, consulting with stage managers, and, mainly, guiding the three cast members of The Road To Mecca; which he does with infinite courtesy and generosity. How different from my narrow focus as an actor playing Miss Helen. Learn the lines. Do some reading: topography of South Africa, history, some Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee. Learn the lines. Search my own being for Helen’s fragility, anger, resilience. Feed off talent of fellow actors. Shannon Taylor is new to me. Her Elsa is a constant challenge and her youthful beauty, a sheer delight. David Fox plays Marius, an old friend of Helen’s. Having known David and admired him for a long time, it is an easy fit and total pleasure. The large unknown is you, the audience. It will all come together when we are in the same room, breathing the same air. But each performance, new. My pulse is quickening as I write this. Thank you for being here.

DIANA LEBL ANC, Miss Helen in The Road To Mecca

• T  he

home of Helen Martins, the woman who inspired this play, still stands. It’s called The Owl House and is now a provincial heritage site in South Africa.

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Road to Mecca premiered in the United States at Yale. Fugard directed the first production. He later played the role of Marius Byleveld on stage and in the film adaptation – which he also co-directed.

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Fugard is an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver in 2005 by the government of South Africa “for his excellent contribution and achievements in the theatre.”



CAS T David Fox

Marius Byleveld

Diana Leblanc

Miss Helen

Shannon Taylor


Produc t ion David Storch


Beth Kates

Set & Lighting Designer

Martha Mann

Costume Designer

Samuel Sholdice

Sound Designer

Kelly McEvenue

Alexander Coach

Nancy Dryden

Production Stage Manager

Sarah Miller

Assistant Stage Manager

SOULPEPPER PRODUCTION Jacqueline Robertson-Cull

Stefan Dean

Wigs Running, Head of Hair & Makeup


Erika Connor

First Hand

Geoff Hughes Joanne Lamberton

Wardrobe Coordinator

Lead Wardrobe Coordinator


Barbara Nowakowski Natalie Swiercz

Coreena Cowton

Andrzej Tarasiuk Paul Boddum Scenic Painters

Greg Chambers

Props Builder

Mike Keays



s p e c i a l t h a n k s: J u u l H a a l m ay e r , Ru t h S e c or d.

The video and audio recording of this performance by any means whatsoever are strictly prohibited. The Road to Mecca is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. Originally produced by Yale Repertory Theatre. Lloyd Richards, Artistic Director. Originally produced on the New York Stage by James B. Freyberg, Max Weizenhoffer with Stephen Graham, Jujamcyn Theaters, Jonathan Farkas, Norman & David Langworthy,Maurice Rosenfield & Loise F. Rosenfield.

i l l u s t r at ion : t h e h e a ds of s tat e


“What’s the use of a little dream. A dream must be big and special. It must be the most special thing you can imagine.”


any (including the South African Secret Police) have called Athol Fugard’s writing political. His most famous works premiered under the brutal and brutalizing system of racial segregation known as apartheid. The theatre company he wrote for in the early ‘60s defied the law by having a racially mixed group of actors present plays that confronted and challenged the stark realities of South African life at the time. Still, Fugard says his real territory is emotional: “the world of secrets, with their powerful effect on human behaviour and the trauma of their revelation... they... generate all the significant action.”

The secret that drives The Road to Mecca, which premiered in 1987, is the personal artistic vision that puts Miss Helen at odds with everyone in her rural community. The character was inspired by a real woman in the Karoo region of the Eastern Cape. Helen Martins became a social outcast because of her artistic endeavours but also because of her relationship with Koos Malgas, a mixedrace man who lived and worked with her. For more than forty years, she filled her home and garden with reflective coloured glass and original sculptural works in cement that depicted animal and Biblical figures. At first her neighbours were simply put off, but when it became clear that she’d never conform to their idea of how a (white) woman should behave, they denounced what they saw as her willful blasphemy. Mecca’s Miss Helen works alone. Her fierce independence and unconventional life are challenged here by Reverend Byleveld, who cares deeply for Helen and genuinely believes that what he wants is what’s best for her. The writer is smart enough not to romanticize Miss Helen either: she’s opinionated, cantankerous, stubborn as a mule, and utterly dedicated to her personal freedom. We come to love and understand them both, as well as to consider prickly questions like: do younger people have the right to make decisions for older

people even if those decisions go against what the older people want? Is it possible to love someone and support them even when we completely disagree with them? For Fugard the play is “an attempt to understand the genius, nature and consequences of a creative energy.” It takes a huge leap to live the way Miss Helen does and she pays a heavy price for it, as Fugard himself did in the days of apartheid. Still, no matter the cost, for Fugard and for Helen the dream of Mecca remains the most special thing they can imagine.

Au t hor Biogr aph y Harold Athol Fugard was born in South Africa in 1932 to English and Afrikaner parents. He dropped out of the University of Capetown to hitchhike around Africa and sail the world. After he returned home he married Sheila Meiring, a writer, and they had a daughter, Lisa. In the ‘50s he worked as a writer and actor in Johannesburg, collaborating frequently with three of the country’s greatest actors: Zakes Mokae, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona. His first international success came with Mokae in The Blood Knot in 1961. When he returned to his hometown of Port Elizabeth, he helped found the Serpent Players – a group named for the former snake pit in which they sometimes performed. Everyone including Fugard was a “workerplayer,” earning their livings as clerks, teachers, and industrial workers. Sizwe Bansi is Dead and The Island (developed with Kani and Ntshona) found an international audience in the ‘70s. Other global successes include A Lesson from Aloes (1978), Master Harold... and the Boys (1982), and My Children! My Africa! (1989). In 2005, a film adaptation of his novel Tsotsi won an Academy Award. Currently Fugard is a professor at the University of California at San Diego. He claims he’s the last writer on earth who writes in longhand: his technology of choice is paper and fountain pen.

Tidbits & Background Notes by Paula Wing


416 866 8666 Young Centre for the Performing Arts Toronto Distillery Historic District

Soulpepper is an active member of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (pact), the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts (tapa) and Theatre Ontario, and engages, under the terms of the Canadian Theatre Agreement, professional artists who are members of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association. Scenic Artists and Set Decorators employed by Soulpepper are represented by Local 828 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. 

Do stay in touch, and please pass the pepper!

The Road to Mecca Playbill  

Playbill for Soulpepper's 2014 production of Athol Fugard's, The Road to Mecca. Directed by David Storch.

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