01 June 2020 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Stephen Collett
Prof Nico Luwes at the 2019 June Chancellor's Dinner.

It is a double honour for Prof Nico Luwes, emeritus professor at the University of the Free State (UFS), who received both the Gerhard Beukes Prize and the Medal of Honour for Drama from the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. Not only is the prize a great honour, but also the fact that Prof Luwes could attend the Afrikaans class of the same Prof Gerhard Beukes as a student at the UFS.

“For this very reason – and because it was unexpected – it is really a great honour for which I am deeply grateful,” says Prof Luwes, who is currently working in the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts.  Prof Luwes is a leading figure in local and national theatre circles and has written many plays. “I was able to realise myself at the UFS for so many years. I am also grateful that the university and the Department of Drama and its staff have given me and fellow artists so many opportunities to create in our excellent theatres.”

Prof Luwes retired as Head of Department at the end of 2019 and is currently a research fellow in the same department. He is also working on a PhD in creative writing in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French at the UFS, under the guidance of Prof Henning Pieterse. “I am also cleaning up two novels that will hopefully be published this year,” he says.

Prof Luwes part of several theatre initiatives 
Over the years, Prof Luwes has been involved in various initiatives for the well-being and survival of the theatre industry, such as the Sanlam theatre initiative and the UFS Department of Drama and Theatre Arts’ Free State Theatre Acts. “The Sanlam theatre initiative was devised by me and Rudie van Rensburg. The project has been able to boost the careers of professional playwrights and students for years.” Drama and Theatre Arts students from the UFS dominated the Sanlam project “with many awards for plays and producing”. 

The Free State Theatre Acts (FACTS) was launched with great financial support from the Lottery and has kept theatre going and created jobs in the Free State for many years. 

The therapeutic function of theatre
For Prof Luwes, theatre is the barometer of a people’s soul. He refers to the therapeutic function of theatre as “the surgeon who reveals and cuts out evil, the court jester who mocks the ridiculous and falsehoods, the comfort of the heart that proves that we are all created with weaknesses, but can also taste the joys of life and the beauty thereof.”  

He summarises it as the thoughts of the man in the street being conceived, experienced, and recreated by theatre artists on behalf of those who are unable to express and realise it themselves.  Prof Luwes’ advice to emerging playwrights is simple: “Write about your experiences and feelings and never try to write like someone else. Trust your intuition and be willing to place your name and thinking on the altar of other people’s opinions in public.” 

The Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns announced its awards on 21 May 2020. The official presentation will take place at a later stage. 

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