Blog

Romulus Linney – Losing One Of Our Own

Playwright Romulus Linney passed away yesterday. Like Tennessee Williams, he too was a writer’s writer. Romulus wrote every day. And for 42 of those days he wrote at the Hermitage. One of the plays he worked on while with us was Love Drunk, mentioned in today’s New York Times obituary to which we have a link below.

Romulus Linney listens to playwright Dennis Green read from his work in the Hermitage House

When playwright Tennessee Williams died at age 71 in 1983 reporter Mike Wallace delivered a most moving tribute to him in a radio eulogy. In this essay, Wallace described a writer (Williams) whose greatest gifts had long ago been exhausted but in spite of all that had happened to him, in spite of repeated public failure and public rejection, he described a writer who got up every morning, and wrote. Every morning. He was a writer’s writer. Writing wasn’t what Tennessee Williams did, it was who he was.

Playwright Romulus Linney died yesterday. Like Tennessee Williams, he too was a writer’s writer. Romulus wrote every day. And for 42 of those days he wrote at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. One of the plays he worked on while with us was Love Drunk, mentioned in today’s New York Times obituary to which we have a link below.

In the spring of 1990, Romulus Linney gave me one of my seminal theatrical experiences – one of the three or four experiences in the theatre, which I will never forget. It was at the Humana Festival of New Plays, produced by Actors Theatre of Louisville in Louisville, KY. The play was simply named “2.” It was the story of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s number 2 man, and it was set during the Nuremburg Trials. Florida Studio Theater subsequently produced the play in 1997.

My experience seeing “2” was transformational – I had never seen a play affect an audience, and felt a play affect me in quite the same way. At the end of the play, the audience finds itself in a very different place, from the place it expected to be. The play transforms from an artifact of history – the tale of what happened to a certain (monstrous) person at a certain time in history, to a visceral connection between the audience and the monster we have seen on stage. And the connection is made in a stunning, theatrical moment at play’s end. Breathtaking. When I asked him about the play during his Hermitage residency, he gave the credit to his Louisville actor, William Duff-Griffin. He said something like “When you have someone like Bill Griffin in the role, you just get out of the way.”

Generosity of spirit was characteristic of this southern gentleman. He was a committed believer in artist communities, and a former board member of Yaddo, where he often went to write. “Artist communities, writer’s colonies, save lives,” he told more than one Sarasota County audience, “they saved mine.” At a low point in his young career, he went to Yaddo, an artist community in Saratoga Springs, NY, where he found the encouragement of fellow writers restored his confidence and resolve. It fed him what he needed to go on. So he did.

Romulus was an unpretentious man with unlimited intellectual gifts, and down-to-earth tastes. He loved diner food. While at the Hermitage, he was a regular at the Hungry Hound Café, a hole-in-the-wall hidden in a strip mall in Englewood, Fl. As far as I know, once he found it, he took every evening meal there. He took everyone else he could get to go with him, too. When he left the Hermitage for the last time, we gave him a Hungry Hound T-shirt.

The generosity, which defined Romulus at the Hermitage, was most evident with how he interacted with some of the younger artists who shared their time with him. Both composers and painters sat at his feet, anxiously seeking his opinion and advice, which he gave honestly but with care.

When asked about his creative process, we would say with the twinge of a southern lilt, “I tell my subconscious that I plan to be at my desk at 8am, and I invite it to meet me there.”

As his New York Times obituary observes, Romulus never achieved the household recognition of a Neil Simon or a David Mamet. His one Broadway play closed in five days. But he was universally admired by his peers for his craftsmanship, scholarship, and his prodigious ability to mine the deep humanity of his characters. He loved history and used it often to write about his time.

“When this is all over, my writing will add up to the sum total of me,” he said in an interview quoted in the Times. “The choices I make with my writing have a lot to do with myself as an unfolding personality, so that in the end your writing is really your destiny. It’s a question of finding that central thing that’s yours to say and yours alone.”

Like Tennessee Williams, writing wasn’t what he did, it was who he was. He was a talent of our time, and his loss is shared by us all.

The full New York Times obituary can be found at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/arts/16linney.html?ref=arts

Interview with Carol Ponder

Here is a link to an interview of Carol Ponder conducted by Jennifer Walker on January 5th. Carol discusses her project, her work, and she even sings on the interview. If you want to get excited about the program, click on the link. Carol Ponder on ARTS TALK 96.5 FM

Singer/Story-teller Carol Ponder will be presenting a special program at the Historic Asolo Theater on January 13th at 7:30pm. Last week Carol was interviewed by Jennifer Walker for her program “Arts Talk” on WSLR 96.5 FM. Learn everything you want to know about the program with this link to the interview. It’s excellent. Carol Ponder on ARTS TALK 96.5 FM

Theater Icon Oskar Eustis to Speak at Greenfield Prize Celebration 2011

Hermitage Artist Retreat is pleased to announce that the keynote speaker for the next Greenfield Prize Celebration will be Oskar Eustis, Tony Award-winning artistic director of The Public Theater, NYC.



Hermitage Artist Retreat is pleased to announce that the keynote speaker for the next Greenfield Prize Celebration will be Oskar Eustis, Tony Award-winning artistic director of The Public Theater, NYC. This year’s presentation of the $30,000 Greenfield Prize will be in drama and be awarded to an American playwright on Sunday, March 27, at 6:00 pm at Michael’s on East, Sarasota, FL. It has become the tradition of the Greenfield Prize Celebration that a major national arts figure give the keynote address at the event. Past speakers have been Pulitzer Prize winning composer David Lang and renowned American painter James Rosenquist.

“I can’t think of a better person to represent the field of drama than Oskar Eustis,” commented Bruce E. Rodgers, executive director of Hermitage Artist Retreat, which administers the prize. “Throughout his impressive career, Oskar has worked at some of the most respected regional theaters with some of the best playwrights and actors in the business. He has also been dedicated to the development of new plays as both a director and a producer. He was on our inaugural jury for the first Greenfield Prize in drama, given to Craig Lucas. The work premiered in 2010 at the Asolo Rep. Having accomplished artists such as Oskar Eustis involved with the Greenfield Prize and the Hermitage Artist Retreat is what helps us gain national respect and recognition for what we do. We couldn’t be more pleased to have Oskar back with us when we present the second Greenfield Prize in drama.”

Oskar Eustis has worked as a director, dramaturg, and artistic director for theaters around the country. From 1981 through 1986 he was resident director and dramaturg at the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco, and Artistic Director until 1989, when he moved to the L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum as Associate Artistic Director until 1994. Mr. Eustis then served as Artistic Director at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island, for 11 years. In 2005 he took the helm at New York’s Public Theater. Among the most famous of his produced works was the commission and world premieres of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches (Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director) and Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika. In 2009, Oskar Eustis was the lead producer on the Tony award-winning revival of Hair on Broadway.

According to Eustis, “The Greenfield Prize has, in a very short time, established itself as an important badge of excellence in the American arts. I am honored to speak at the 2011 award celebration, and delighted to participate in supporting the vision and courage of American artists.”

For more information on the Greenfield Prize or to place your reservation for the March 27th event, visit the website at www.greenfieldprize.org.

Thank You from a Grateful Artful Lobster

While we’re not through balancing the books on the Artful Lobster, it’s clear that many thousands of dollars were raised that will allow us to continue supporting world-class, mid-career writers, painters, poets, playwrights, and other primary creators.

Mother Nature set the quality standard; the temperate Gulf breezes, the azure water, miles of pristine beach, and wheeling gulls and osprey fishing for their meal. Michael’s on East stepped up with mounds of delicious lobster, ribs, chicken, chowder, corn and all the trimmings. Hermitage artists Christopher Still, Andrew McKenna Lee, Robert Blake and Fellows Sabrina Small and Meg Pierce shared their work and made it clear why they were Hermitage artists. Scott Blum and Los Rumberos provided just the right music, MC and auctioneer Cliff Roless kept the program rolling, and event chair Debbi Benedict and her committee had it all well organized. None of these events happen without a team of volunteers and our Friends of the Hermitage led by Connie Ellis are the very best. The Lemon Bay Garden Club came out before the event to help us spruce up out campus. And our media sponsors, Sarasota Magazine and Scene Magazine helped make sure that everyone knew about it in the first place. We thank them as well.

In the end, the event was a great success. While we’re not through balancing the books on the Artful Lobster, it’s clear that many thousands of dollars were raised that will allow us to continue supporting world-class, mid-career writers, painters, poets, playwrights, and other primary creators, and then sharing them with our Gulf Coast communities in free programs for children, adults, and seniors. These funds will also help us preserve these magnificent historic buildings and protect the native ecology that we all love and enjoy so much.

The support we enjoy for our work is humbling, and it inspires us to make certain the investment in the Hermitage Artist Retreat made by individuals, foundations, corporations, and County and national government is leveraged and returned to the community in the unique benefits only we can provide.

Thank you.

Honoree Lesley Edwards and her mother, Annette Dignam Photo by Cliff Roles, courtesy of Scene Magazine


Event Chair Debbi Benedict with Hermitage President Caroline Andrus
Photo by Cliff Roles, courtesy of Scene Magazine

Hermitage Artist Shows in New Jersey

We are proud that Hermitage Fellow Barbara Ellmann, an artist who worked at the Hermitage in Encaustics (pigment infused wax) has opened a show featuring work she completed during her Hermitage residency.

We are proud that Hermitage Fellow Barbara Ellmann, an artist who worked this past year at the Hermitage has opened an exhibition featuring work she completed during her Hermitage residency. Entitled “WHAT I SAW: Paintings from the Hermitage, Gulf Coast, Florida” the show opened on November 12, and will continue to December 18th in the Tomasulo Gallery in the MacKay Library of the Cranford campus of Union County College, New Jersey.

Read all about the exhibition in New Jersey Today

Greenfield Prize winner Sanford Biggers from Brazil to Switzerland

If you are in NYC, see Sanford’s art at the Rubin Museum of Art in Grains of Emptiness: Buddhism-Inspired Contemporary Art.

After two months of filming a new project in Salvador da Bahia, Greenfield Prize winner Sanford Biggers went to Lucern, Switzerland to install Creation/Dissipation at the Kunstmuseum Luzern. Soon after, he had the honor of presenting the keynote speech/performance at the 5th Annual Buddhist Film Festival.

Tom Sleigh at Historic Asolo on Thursday

The Hermitage Artist Retreat, in partnership with the Historic Asolo Theater of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are bringing you the chance to meet an extraordinary American poet and writer. Tom Sleigh will read from his work and talk about his incredible life as a writer at the Historic Asolo on Thursday, November 11 at 7:30 pm.

The Hermitage Artist Retreat, in partnership with the Historic Asolo Theater of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are bringing you the chance to meet an extraordinary American poet and writer. Tom Sleigh will read from his work and talk about his incredible life as a writer at the Historic Asolo on Thursday, November 11 at 7:30 pm. Call the Historic Asolo Theater at 941.360.7399 for reservations.

Tom wrote us this note about his life:
You could say that my life has resembled a double feature, plus the newsreel.

When I was a kid, the first feature was of me going to the movies every night because my parents owned a drive-in movie theater out in east Texas, red clay and piney woods country. My mother worked the snackbar, my father the projector. That was my first experience of poetry: enormous shadows on a screen, voices coming from the grille of the metal speaker like voices from other worlds.

The second feature was about a man who travelled to some of those worlds—like San Cristobal de Las Casas in southern Mexico, where I worked with the anthropologist and photographer, Gertrude Blom. At Na Balom—which means in Mayan the House of the Jaguar—I worked with the Lacandon Indians, the tribe most like the ancient Maya. And let’s not forget the newsreel: in the last few years, I’ve been to Lebanon and Syria, as well as to Kenya, where I’ve seen the lives of Palestinian and Somali refugees up close.

Throughout both features and “the newsy” as we used to call it, I’ve tried to write as closely to the bone as I could: Marilyn Monroe getting a massage, the greenish haze of teargas, cats lounging on tanks, a Somali poet singing a song for me. And more ordinary moments: the experience of finding my father’s Army records when he went to flight school, the way my mother’s dog looks at her sometimes, the sound of kids yelling their heads off as they splash naked in a pond.

Tom is the author of more than half a dozen volumes of poetry. Space Walk (2007) won the 2008 Kingsley Tufts Award, a prize worth $100,000, and earned Sleigh considerable critical acclaim. Referring to this collection, poet Philip Levine noted, “Sleigh’s reviewers use words such as ‘adept,’ ‘elegant,’ and ‘classical.’ Reading his new book, I find all those terms beside the point, even though not one is inaccurate. I am struck by the human dramas that are enacted in these poems, the deep encounters that often shatter the participants and occasionally restore them. What delights me most is seeing a poet of his accomplishments and his large and well-earned reputation suddenly veer into a new arena of both our daily and our mythical lives. For the writer, such daring may be its own reward; for the reader, it is thrilling to overhear a writer pushing into greatness.” Sleigh has also received the Shelley Award from the Poetry Society of America, an Individual Writer’s Award from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, a Guggenheim grant, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and an Academy Award from the Academy of American Poets.

Ringling Museum/Hermitage Partnership

The Hermitage is proud of a new partnership with the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. This extensive agreement will bring Hermitage artists to the grounds of the Museum as resident artists staying in the newly restored Ringling Cottage new the Ca d’ Zan mansion. The residency will be known as the Gulf Coast Community Foundation/Hermitage Residency at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is pleased to announce a partnership with The John and
Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which will establish a residency for a Hermitage Fellow
on the museum grounds. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation/Hermitage Residency at
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is named to commemorate the Gulf Coast
Community Foundation’s financial support in the renovation of the Ringling Cottage
wherein the residency will be housed. As with all Hermitage Fellows, the artist or artists
will have up to six weeks time to work in this prestigious location. Also, as with all
Hermitage Fellows, the artist(s) will present two community “give-back” programs.
“When The Ringling Museum contacted us about this possibility, we were very
excited,” remarked Executive Director Bruce E. Rodgers. “Our campus on Manasota Key
has five buildings and about the same number of work spaces. This gives us the
opportunity to expand our live/work space without any capital investment. It also allows
us to accommodate another world-class artist who we will be able to share with the
community.”

Unlike the artists invited to the Manasota campus that may or may not be working
on a specific project, it is expected that the Gulf Coast Community
Foundation/Hermitage Residency at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art will
be offered to artists working on projects that can benefit by living and working on the
Museum grounds. Those projects might be directly related to Ringling collections,
exhibitions, and programs, or there may be a tangential connection as to studies in
history, social sciences, architecture, etc. There are many reasons to be inspired by the
setting of The Ringling Museum campus.

“This is a remarkable situation between three organizations that collectively
understand the important contribution that art makes to our lives,” commented Dwight
Currie, Interim Deputy Director of Collections, Exhibitions and Programs for The
Ringling Museum. “While it is our mission to preserve and enhance an appreciation of
art, we are not often actively involved in its creation. The new partnership with the
Hermitage affords us that role. And it goes without saying how much we appreciate the
generous support of our donors and organizations like the Gulf Coast Community
Foundation who make it possible for us to provide our services to the community. The
Museum is proud to join these two outstanding organizations in creating this
opportunity.”

The first Gulf Coast Community Foundation/Hermitage Resident will be the
writer Steve Kuusisto. Kuusisto is a past Hermitage Fellow. He is a writer who writes
about experiencing life as someone with a disability; he has been blind since birth.
During his residency from January 17 to February 27, 2011, he will be adding to his ongoing
research into the relationship between the circus and people with disabilities. As
part of the residency program, the public is invited to attend a presentation to be given by
Kuusisto on Saturday, February 19, 2011 in the Circus Museum.

“The museum and all of its resources are very unique assets which we can now
offer to our renowned group of artists,” Rodgers continued. “Our selection committee has
been charged with submitting names of artists who will benefit from this type of
experience, which will be quite different from being on the Manasota Key campus. We
are very excited to be adding this unique artistic experience to our program.”

Andrew McKenna Lee at the Historic Asolo

Described as “full of imagination and technical expertise,” Andrew McKenna Lee’s music is an integral synthesis of contrasting elements from a variety of styles and influences.

Andrew McKenna Lee

The Hermitage Artist Retreat, in partnership with the Historic Asolo Theater of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are bringing you the chance to meet an extraordinary contemporary composer and guitar virtuoso. Andrew McKenna Lee will perform at the Historic Asolo on Thursday, November 4 at 7:30 pm.

Described as “full of imagination and technical expertise,” Andrew McKenna Lee’s music is an integral synthesis of contrasting elements from a variety of styles and influences. A native of Charleston, SC, he began his musical studies on the guitar at age twelve and soon after went on to pursue composition. In recent years, his music has been performed by such ensembles as the Brentano String Quartet, the New Jersey Symphony, American Composers Orchestra, the Swedish percussion ensemble Kroumata, and the American chamber sextet eighth blackbird.

After completing undergraduate work in composition at Carnegie Mellon University, Andrew went on to obtain a Master’s degree in 2000 from the Manhattan School of Music. His primary teachers have been Leonardo Balada, Richard Danielpour, and Steven Mackey. He has received awards and fellowships from ASCAP, the New York Youth Symphony, Princeton University, the South Carolina Arts Council, the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, the Aspen Music Festival, Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Hermitage Artist Retreat, the American Music Center, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in composition at Princeton University, and is a member of the New York based composers collective, Random Access Music.

You can learn more about Andrew including hearing some of his music by visiting his web page at www.AndrewMcKennaLee.com.

Executive Director on RIAF Panel

t was great fun to sit on a panel with four really smart people talking about art and its making. Many common themes criss-crossed among the many different points of view and experiences the panel brought to the program. The discussion took place in the Historic Asolo Theatre on the campus of the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota.

Photo: Jay Handelman
It was great fun to sit on a panel with four really smart people talking about art and its making. Many common themes criss-crossed among the many different points of view and experiences the panel brought to the program. The discussion took place in the Historic Asolo Theatre on the campus of the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota. The museum is in the middle of the Ringling International Arts Festival (RIAF) this weekend with over 100 international artists in theater, dance, music as well as performances in strange and wonderful combinations of those disciplines. The Festival is produced in collaboration with the Baryshnikov Center in New York City who curates the programming with the Museum. Congratulations to the Ringling Museum for creating this wonderful festival – yet another reason why Sarasota is such a great place to live, work, and visit.

By the way, in this picture did you notice how everyone is looking one direction and and I’m looking the other? For some reason this is not unusual for me. I can’t explain it. Thanks to Jay Handelman, critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, for the picture. I stole if from his blog about the event which can be read at: Handelman Blog