VERY HUMBLED: Athol Fugard as Oupa in his play The Shadow of the Hummingbird, on at the Fugard Theatre. He has won the Praemium Imperiale prize. Photo: Jesse Kramer

Leila Samodien

SOUTH AFRICAN playwright Athol Fugard has scooped a major international arts prize amid his return to the stage after 15 years.

It was announced yesterday that he was to be awarded the Praemium Imperiale prize for theatre or film, one of five categories for which it is awarded.

Speaking after the announcement, Fugard said he was “giddy” and “very humbled”.

The award coincides with his return to the stage as an actor in his play The Shadow of the Hummingbird, which premiered in the US. It has since come to South Africa and is running at the Fugard Theatre where the premiere took place last night following previews that have run since last Thursday.

“I’m fine now but for the first few shows I was terrified,” said Fugard. “I thought to myself, ‘I’ve forgotten everything about being an actor!’.”

According to the Praemium Imperiale website, it is a global arts prize awarded annually by the Japan Art Association. Laureates receive an honorarium of 15 million yen (R1.5m), a diploma and medal presented by honorary patron of the association Prince Hitachi in Tokyo on October 15.

Fugard said he would be attending the ceremony with his life partner Paula Fourie, who wrote an introductory scene for The Shadow of the Hummingbird.

He said it would go to Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, after which he would settle down for three months at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study where he planned on writing a new play.

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