Obituary: Barney Simon

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The Independent Online
Barney Simon, theatre director, writer, lyricist, copywriter: born 13 April 1932; assistant editor, New American Review 1969-70; co- founder, Artistic Director, Market Theatre 1976-95; died Johannesburg 30 June 1995.

Barney Simon was unquestionably the most significant theatre talent to have emerged in South Africa, writes Athol Fugard. There is not a single young director, writer or actor in the country I can think of who does not owe him a profound debt of gratitude. At a time when all of us in South Africa are saying "What now?" for the nation, he was the one man who would have had the capacity to answer the question. His unique vision of theatre's relationship to society was a combination of ruthless honesty and extraordinary compassion.

The founding of the Market Theatre 19 years ago goes to the root of Barney's significance at a professional level. In defiance of cross-cultural bans, Barney Simon and Mannie Manim created a venue in which young and not so young South Africans of every race and creed could get together and work. The new South Africa was blueprinted on the stages of the Market Theatre before the politicians started talking about it.

At the start of my theatre career I staged No Good Friday, my first full- length play, in little attics around Johannesburg. Barney's response to that first play forged a link between the two of us, which surged through the subsequent 37 years. We recognised in each other a kindred spirit in exploring South African stories that had not been told before and using human resources that had not been used before.

His capacity to challenge fellow artists was quite extraordinary, thanks in part to his encyclopaedic reading and his knowledge of international theatre. In 1961-65 my passport had been withdrawn, and in those years Barney could travel and brought back to me reports of the work of Peter Brook, and the directors in the United States who were the avant-garde of the time.

Barney Simon's connection to my work was the most immediate and direct, imaginable and I would be half the man and half the artist I am today if it had not been for him.