New Summer Events Feature Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, The Lazour Brothers, and More

The Hermitage Artist Retreat today announced new programs throughout the months of June, July, and August. Continuing its commitment to innovative year-round arts programming, these events will be presented throughout Sarasota County, from the Hermitage’s beautiful beachfront campus on Manasota Key to the heart of Sarasota’s vibrant downtown arts scene. Hermitage programs introduce world-renowned artists to Florida’s Gulf Coast community for candid and engaging conversations, open rehearsals, play readings, and film screenings. 

Fresh from her 2024 Tony Award, Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle nominations, Hermitage Fellow Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer returns to Manasota Key for “Stealing the Show: Broadway, Beach, and Beyond” on Wednesday, June 26 at 6:30pm on the Hermitage Beach. Leslie previously performed as part of the Hermitage’s 20th Anniversary Celebration alongside Andy Sandberg at the Van Wezel, then again at the 2023 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner. Kritzer is a 2024 Tony Award nomineefor her showstopping performance in Spamalot, where the New York Times noted that “she steals the show.”Broadway audiences have celebrated Kritzer for years thanks to her powerhouse voice, her pitch-perfect comic timing, and her iconic roles in Broadway’s Beetlejuice, Something Rotten!Legally Blonde, The Robber Bridegroom, and moreTV audiences have also come to know her, notably through her memorable turn as Carol Burnett on the series finale of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Now, Hermitage audiences will get to know Leslie as a gifted writer, composer, and lyricist who has been developing her own original projects right here along the inspirational shores of the Hermitage. In this special beach program, this quadruple-plus threat will share some of her own original work as well as some of Broadway’s greatest hits.

“This year’s Hermitage summer season promises to be a memorable one,” notes Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “Year-round Gulf Coast residents have been growing rapidly, and we are excited to be presenting some truly one-of-a-kind offerings throughout the summer. Pulitzer Prize winners, Tony Award nominees, and more are well worth a little summer heat!”

On Friday, June 28 at 6pm, celebrated author and Hermitage Fellow Kimberly King Parsons will read selections from her novel and dive into conversation about the writing process in Bookstore1’s intimate loft space. Her short story collection Black Light was long-listed for the National Book Award, and this Hermitage program will shed light on her highly anticipated debut novel, We Were the Universe. Parsons’ remarkable style has readers turning pages and discovering entirely new frames of mind; from trips to Oregon to acid trips, life, death, and rock ’n roll, Sarasota audiences will get to experience this exemplary writer’s work from the author herself. 

The “2024 Hermitage STARs” initiative continues into its fourteenth season with a culminating program on the Historic Hermitage campus on Friday, July 12 at 2pm. The State Teaching Artist Residencies (STARs) at the Hermitage Artist Retreat is designed to nourish the artist within Florida’s dedicated arts teachers and proudly serves educators from across the state in partnership with the Florida Alliance for Arts Education (FAAE). The STARs program is one of only a few programs in the United States that offers five educators an inspirational residency opportunity that culminates in a free public sharing with the Gulf Coast community. This public program is presented in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota and Desoto Counties as well as the Englewood YMCA. The selected teachers span multiple artistic disciplines and will be announced at a later date; this year’s STARs recipients will offer insights into their creative practice to an audience of all ages, in a program presented in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Sarasota & Desoto Counties and the Englewood YMCA.

On Thursday, July 25 at 6:30pm, Hermitage Fellows Jeffery Renard Allen and Yasi Alipour both work on paper to create narrative, but Allen uses letters while Alipour prefers lines and intricately folded patterns. In the original works created by these innovative Hermitage artists, time collapses and worlds expand; the future is present, and history is interrupted. Splitting time between New York and Johannesburg, Allen is an award-winning author of six books, including the critically acclaimed debut Song of the Shank. His latest work “Fat Time and Other Stories” is a collection of short works described by The New York Timesas a “fierce itching dazzle.” Alipour, a celebrated visual artist interested in paper, politics, and performance, explores systems of math and history in her work. Informed by her time studying at the University of Tehran, intricately folded pages take on three-dimensional presence when imbued with her intuitive and highly technical art. Hear from both artists about why they make the work they make, and what they hope an audience will see and hear when they encounter it with “Interrupted History” on the Hermitage Beach.

Hermitage programs continue into August with Hermitage Fellow Mónica Lavín and translator-collaborator D.P. Snyder for “Translation-Traducción” on the Hermitage Beach on Friday August 9 at 6:30pm presented in partnership with UnidosNow. When done right, two writers’ literary DNA recombine to create not mere reproductions but wholly new works. What is the alchemy by which this literary magic takes place? How does such an interchange enrich the work and its readers? In this age of A.I. and ever more present translation technology, these gifted writers offer audiences a chance to explore the Spanish-English literary dynamic and the deeply human activity of understanding another person’s voice as they share insight into the intimate, generous, and empathetic act of literary translation.

On Friday August 23 at 6:30pm, audiences will experience a truly dynamic duo as 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize finalists Daniel & Patrick Lazour present “The Lazour Brothers: A Lifelong Collabrotion.” Musical theater has a long history of storied collaborators: Rodgers & Hammerstein, Kander & Ebb, Ahrens & Flaherty, Pasek & Paul, and now Daniel & Patrick Lazour. The Lazour Brothers are already Jonathan Larson Grant and Richard Rodgers Award recipients, and their works have been recognized by such prestigious institutions as American Repertory Theater and Lincoln Center. Blending cultures and weaving stories as eloquently as they meld musical styles, the Lazour Brothers are two of the most innovative and evocative musical storytellers working in the American theater today. Hear selections of past and upcoming works and learn what’s next for this energetic duo on the Hermitage Beach.

Hermitage programs are free and open to the public (with a $5/person registration fee), offering Gulf Coast audiences a rare chance to engage and interact with some of the world’s leading talent. Running time for most Hermitage programs is 60-70 minutes. Due to capacity limitations, registration is required at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.

2024 Hermitage Major Theater Award Winner Chris Bush to Present Program on June 7 

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is pleased to announce “Standing at the Beach’s Edge: London to Sarasota” on Friday, June 7th at 6:30pm, presented on the Hermitage Beach. This newly added program features 2024 Hermitage Major Theater Award winner Chris Bush, an Olivier Award-winning playwright, lyricist, and theater maker based in the United Kingdom, in conversation with Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg

Bush’s impressive body of work includes the hit musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which recently won her an Olivier Award and a UK Theatre Award for Best Musical. Following sold-out runs at the National Theatre and Sheffield Theatres, the acclaimed production transferred to the West End earlier this year and has been heralded as “the most exciting new British musical in years” (WhatsOnStage) and “a moving and resonant piece of popular entertainment — magnificent and meaningful.” (The Times) Bush has also received UK Theatre Awards for her shows Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World and The Assassination of Katie Hopkins, celebrated by The Guardian as “an intelligent, thoughtful, and often wryly enjoyable look at the polarization of public debate in the age of social media.” Raised in Sheffield, England, Chris Bush currently lives in London, and this will be her first trip to Sarasota.

Earlier this year, Chris Bush was announced as the winner of the 2024 Hermitage Major Theater Award; she is the fourth recipient of this distinguished international honor. Bush will receive a cash prize of $35,000 USD, an extended residency at the Hermitage, and a workshop presentation in London in 2025. Bush was selected by an Award Committee that included Michael Grandage, Tony and Olivier-Award winning director of stage and screen, former Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, and current Artistic Director of the Michael Grandage Company; Tessa Ross, CBE and BAFTA Award-winning Co-CEO of House Productions; and Indhu Rubasingham, an Olivier Award-winning director, longtime Artistic Director of the Kiln Theatre, and newly announced as the incoming Director of the National Theatre. The Hermitage Major Theater Award is made possible with a generous multi-year gift to the Hermitage from Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation

In this newly announced Hermitage Beach program on June 7th, Gulf Coast residents can enjoy a candid conversation with a celebrated UK playwright, librettist, and lyricist whom London theatergoers can’t get enough of — Chris Bush. This rising star of the UK theater scene and recent winner of the Hermitage Major Theater Award will share thoughts about her career, making theater in the UK, and how she plans to reimagine Virginia Woolf’s iconic novel Orlando for the 21st century. In describing her intended Hermitage commission, currently titled Orlando (FL), Bush has shared: “This original play will be a story of transformation, translation, and self-determination. The play will follow Lana, a trans woman living in Orlando, Florida, whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a fantastical stranger. Orlando (FL)aspires to be a queer fantasia – a gloriously funny, angry, and defiant testament to the power of literature and the resilience of LGBTQ+ communities.”

Hermitage programs like this one are free and open to the public (with a $5/person registration fee), offering Gulf Coast audiences a rare chance to engage and interact with some of the world’s leading talent. Running time for most Hermitage programs is 60-70 minutes. Due to capacity limitations, registration is required at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Composer Raven Chacon and Acclaimed Visual Artist Diana Al-Hadid to Present “Visualizing Culture” 

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is pleased to announce “Visualizing Culture” on Thursday, May 23 at 6:30pm, presented on the Hermitage Beach. This special program features returning Hermitage Fellow and internationally acclaimed visual artist Diana Al-Hadid, whose work is currently on display at the Sarasota Art Museum as part of Impact: Contemporary Artists at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. She will be joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning Hermitage Fellow Raven Chacon, a celebrated composer, performer, and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation, alongside Candice Hopkins, a citizen of Carcross/Tagish First Nation whose curated exhibitions have traveled across the country and around the world. All three of these impressive creators will share insights into their groundbreaking processes and perspectives on the contemporary arts landscape.  

Diana Al-Hadid‘s art “is a masterclass in duality… both ancient and modern, fierce and delicate, simultaneously growing and disintegrating — reminding us there is no such thing as a fixed state.” (Vogue) ­A Syrian-born American artist, AlHadid examines the historical frameworks and perspectives that continue to shape discourse on culture and materials today. With a practice spanning sculpture, wall reliefs, and works on paper, Al-Hadid weaves together enigmatic narratives that draw inspiration from both ancient and modern civilizations. Her work is currently on view through July 7 at the Sarasota Art Museum as part ofImpact: Contemporary Artists at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, featuring ten Hermitage Fellows, including Hermitage Greenfield Prize winners Sanford Biggers and Trenton Doyle Hancock, and curated by Hermitage National Curatorial Council member Dan CameronImpact is one of two Hermitage alumni exhibitions on display at the museum, with Hermitage collaborators Anne Patterson and Patrick Harlin’s The Truth of the Night Sky on view through September 29.

As a solo performer, collaborator, and a member of Postcommodity from 2009 to 2018, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and Hermitage Fellow Raven Chacon has exhibited, performed, or had works performed at venues, museums, and galleries around the world, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Borealis Festival in Seattle, Vancouver Art Gallery, Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Adding insight and nuance to the conversation is Hermitage Fellow Candice Hopkins, whose curated exhibitions have been on view in such prestigious venues as the Venice Biennale, Toronto Biennial, and the National Gallery of Canada.          

“Visualizing Culture” is a special hour-long program being offered in addition to the Hermitage’s existing May line-up. Engaging directly with this idea through her creative expression, Diana Al-Hadid discusses her work alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Raven Chacon, whose unique graphic scores capture “a concentrated and powerful musical expression with a haunting visceral impact.” (The New York TimesCandice Hopkins bridges the visual and sonic elements of the program with her celebrated insights and personal experiences. Join these three remarkable Hermitage Fellows as they offer insight into their work as the sun sets on the Hermitage Beach. 

Hermitage programs like this one are free and open to the public (with a $5/person registration fee), offering Gulf Coast audiences a rare chance to engage and interact with some of the world’s leading talent. Running time for most Hermitage programs is 60-70 minutes. Due to capacity limitations, registration is required at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.

Playwright and Theater Maker Deepa Purohit Honored at 16th Annual Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration

The annual Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner on Sunday, April 14th honored playwright and theater maker Deepa Purohit. This was the central event of a three-day celebration, hosted by the Hermitage Artist Retreat (Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO) in partnership with the Greenfield Foundation. The gala evening was presented at Michael’s on East and featured inspiring performances from Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning star of stage and screen Rachel Bay Jones (Dear Evan Hansen, “Young Sheldon”), accompanied by Broadway veteran Randy Redd; original songs by internationally renowned composer and performer Kavita Shah;and an appearance from past Hermitage Greenfield Prize winner Angélica Negrón.The annual gala raised more than $300,000 in support of the Hermitage’s mission, in addition to the Greenfield Foundation’s increased annual gift of $175,000. The festive evening was co-chaired by Pauline Wamsler and Stephanie & Gene Jones. Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg served as master of ceremonies and announced that Asolo Repertory Theatre will be collaborating with the Hermitage as the presenting partner for the first public presentation of Deepa Purohit’s commission in Sarasota in 2026. As this year’s HGP recipient, Purohit receives a $35,000 commission, along with an extended residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize (HGP) Dinner kicked off with an energetic performance from Megha Vaid and the Indian Association of Manasota.This was followed by a welcome video from Tony Award-winning actor, director, writer, and 2024 HGP juror Ruben Santiago-Hudson. “This whole process was a wonderful confirmation that the theater is in great hands and the future is indeed very bright,” said Santiago-Hudson. “That the Hermitage is here to support these exceptional artists is truly a gift.” Andy Sandberg then took the stage as master of ceremonies and spoke about the legacy and impact of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize before introducing his longtime friend and the evening’s headliner – Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning star of stage and screen Rachel Bay Jones. Jones won over the audience with a medley of “Something Beautiful” by Ben Rector and “If I Had a Boat” by Lyle Lovett, accompanied by her long-time collaborator and Broadway veteran Randy Redd. She spoke about how inspiring the Hermitage bas been for her and Redd before earning a standing ovation with her powerful and emotional rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.”

The event carried on with a glimpse into the work from playwright and theater artist Deepa Purohit, featuring tributes from this year’s three HGP jurors Rajiv JosephDiane Paulus, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson. The evening continued with remarks from 2022 HGP recipient Angélica Negrón, who spoke about her experience at the Hermitage and offered insight into her world premiere commission. This was followed by a special appearance from internationally renowned singer and Hermitage Fellow Kavita Shah, who charmed the audience with performances of her original song “Joia” from her new album Cape Verdean Blues and “Chaki Ben,” a lullaby sung in her mother’s native language of Gujarati and dedicated to Purohit. 

Following Shah’s performance, Sandberg presented Deepa Purohit with this year’s Hermitage Greenfield Prize. “Thank you for being supporters of arts in America,” said Purohit in her acceptance speech. “It’s what we desperately need right now. This gift of time, space, and resources from the Hermitage and the Greenfield Foundation are the essentials that every artist needs to create work that comes from the soul – to create art that can weave dreams and visions into existence and then send it out into the world.” 

To close out this memorable night after an enthusiastic paddle raise, Rachel Bay Jones returned to the stage. “There’s something special about the Hermitage,” said Jones. “There are so few hours in the day that can be devoted to developing something new, often starting as just an idea or a desire. The Hermitage gives artists breath, space, and time… and something magical happens.” She went on to earn a second standing ovation for her showstopping rendition of Sondheim’s “Move On.” 

“This was truly remarkable evening and a joyful celebration of this incredible prize,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “It was an honor to celebrate Deepa Purohit, and we can’t wait to introduce her brand-new play to our Gulf Coast community. It was thrilling as well to hear unforgettable live performances from Rachel Bay Jones and original songs by Kavita Shah, along with inspiring remarks from Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Angélica Negrón, and more. We are so grateful to the Greenfield Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and all our sponsors and donors for their belief in our mission and the support of new work.”

The annual Prize Dinner anchored a series of events celebrating the impact and legacy of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize. The weekend commenced with two Saturday events on the Hermitage campus. The first was an in-depth conversation with 2024 HGP Winner Deepa Purohit, offering an introduction to her work and career, as well as insight into her plans for this new commission. Later that day, the Hermitage hosted an inspiring and enlightening sunset program with Purohit, alongside two fellow South Asian Hermitage artists and educators, Kavita Shah and Nandita Shenoy. This panel conversation, “South Asian Artists in America,” was moderated by Andy Sandberg and highlighted the rich diversity of South Asian culture and lived experience emanating from this region of the world. 

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration culminated on Monday, April 15th with Angélica Negrónpresenting Azul Naranja Salado, the original composition resulting from her 2022 Hermitage Greenfield Prize. This world premiere concert set a new standard for embracing the Florida weather as part of the experience; this contemporary classical composition was performed live outdoors on the Hermitage Beach on Manasota Key. Negrón’s music was carefully synchronized with the setting sun for a truly unique symphonic experience, and the piece was masterfully conducted by George Nickson, Co-Artistic Director of the evening’s presenting partner ensembleNewSRQ. Blending a sixteen-piece string ensemble with one of the season’s most beautiful sunsets led to a moving and awe-inspiring performance unlike any other. Angélica Negrón delivered on her hope that this site-specific work would serve as a reminder to audiences to seek out and surrender to moments of inspiration.

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize is presented in partnership with the Philadelphia-based Greenfield Foundation, who launched this initiative with the Hermitage in 2009. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County served as the lead community sponsor for this year’s festivities.

Deepa Purohit was selected by a distinguished jury that included Obie Award-winning playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph, Tony Award-winning Artistic Director of A.R.T. Diane Paulus, and Tony Award-winning actor, director, and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Centering the stories of South Asian women, Purohit plans through this commission to explore a question we all must encounter in our lives, but often do not speak about publicly. In the face of an immense, multi-billion dollar medical and elder care industry, Deepa Purohit will examine what she believes to be one of the most complicated and meaningful issues of our time – how to die with dignity. 

Past winners of this distinguished honor include Rennie Harris, choreographer (2023), Sandy Rodriguez, visual artist (2023), Angélica Negrón, composer (2022); Aleshea Harris, playwright (2021); Helga Davis, composer (2019); Martyna Majok, playwright (2018); David Burnett, photojournalist (2017); Coco Fusco, visual artist (2016); Bobby Previte, composer (2015); Nilo Cruz, playwright (2014); Trenton Doyle Hancock, visual artist (2013); Vijay Iyer, composer (2012); John Guare, playwright (2011); Sanford Biggers, visual artist (2010); Craig Lucas, playwright (2009); and Eve Beglarian, composer (2009).

Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award Winner  Rachel Bay Jones to Perform at 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner  

The Hermitage Artist Retreat (Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO) today announced Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones and returning Hermitage Fellow Kavita Shah will perform at the 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner on Sunday, April 14th.

Rachel Bay Jones is best known for originating the role of Heidi Hansen in the original Broadway cast of Dear Evan Hansen, for which she won a Tony Award, Emmy Award, Grammy Award, and Lucille Lortel Award. Acclaimed for her versatile ability to bring comedic, dramatic, and character roles to life, Jones has garnered praise for her performances in Stephen Sondheim’s Here We Are, Diane Paulus’ Tony Award-winning revivals of Pippin and Hair, and Michael John LaChiusa’s First Daughter Suite and Hello Again. She received rave reviews for her performance as Diana in The Kennedy Center’s revival of Next to Normal, directed by Michael Grief. Jones can be seen on television in major roles on Young SheldonThe Good DoctorModern Family, and more. On film, she starred opposite Julia Roberts in Ben Is Back, opposite John Leguizamo in Critical Thinking, and in Bob Trevino Likes It, which recently premiered at SXSW. Jones will be accompanied by her longtime collaborator and Broadway veteran Randy Redd.

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Rachel Bay Jones to perform at our 16th annual Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner,” says Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “I first met Rachel fifteen years ago when we worked together on Hair, and she is a truly magical performer. A gifted actor, musician, and creator, Rachel embodies the spirit of the Hermitage, and we are excited that she will be a part of this year’s HGP Dinner: A Celebration of Theater.”

The special evening will also feature a musical performance from returning Hermitage Fellow Kavita Shah, an internationally renowned composer and performer who has been has been praised by NPR for her “amazing dexterity with musical languages.” Shah’s musical talents have taken her to concert halls and communities around the world.

The event Co-Chairs are Pauline Wamsler and Stephanie & Gene Jones. The Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner is presented by the Hermitage Artist Retreat in partnership with the Greenfield Foundation, with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County serving as the lead community sponsor. Additional sponsors include Gulf Coast Community Foundation, The Herald Tribune, and Sarasota Magazine. A full list of this year’s sponsors, benefactors, and partners can be found at HermitageArtistRetreat.org/Hermitage-Greenfield-Prize-Dinner-2024.

Sponsorship levels for this Hermitage spring benefit range from $1,250 to $10,000. Tables and sponsorships may be purchased by contacting Hermitage Development Director Amy Wallace at (941) 475-2098, Ext. 2. The event has extremely limited capacity remaining. 

Hermitage Announces New April and May Programs

The Hermitage Artist Retreat (Sarasota County, Florida) today announced new programs in April and May. Continuing its commitment to innovative year-round arts programming, these events will be presented throughout the Gulf Coast region, from the Hermitage’s beautiful beachfront campus on Manasota Key to the heart of Sarasota’s vibrant downtown arts scene in collaborations with Selby Gardens, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Oak Street Stage, and more. Frequently only an hour in length, Hermitage programs introduce world-renowned artists to Florida’s Gulf Coast community and invite audiences across the country to experience candid and engaging conversations, music performances, play readings, open studios, film screenings, and more. 

Newly announced April programs begin with a presentation from Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestselling author Xochitl Gonzalez(Olga Dies Dreaming), alongside award-winning playwright and librettist Julia Jordan (Murder Ballad). These two Hermitage Fellows make work that speaks for itself; they also advocate for equity among their fellow artists and citizens who are deserving of recognition. On Friday, April 5th at 6:30pm on the Hermitage Beach, hear how these two trailblazing women are shaping our future through art and action during the program “Stage, Page, and Useful Rage.” Julia Jordan’s Hermitage Residency generously sponsored by Gerald & Sondra Biller. Xochitl Gonzalez’s Hermitage Residency generously sponsored by Liz & Duncan Richardson.

Next up in April is the previously announced Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration – with four events spanning April 13 to 15.

Then on Wednesday, April 24th at 3:30pm, hear from an Obie Award-winning playwright whose work has been produced at some of the country’s leading theaters. Hermitage Fellow Sarah Gancher is no stranger to writing for the stage. Her works include the recent Off-Broadway play Russian Troll Farm, as well as musical projects like Hundred Days and The Lucky Ones in collaborationwith The Bengsons. In this special program made possible by the Annette Dignam State College of Florida Residency in Literature at the Hermitage, Gancher will share excerpts of her original work and offer insight into how she approaches a range of theatrical writing projects. “Writing for the Stage” is the first public presentation of this longstanding endowed literature residency, which has previously only been open to students. This program is presented in partnership with the State College of Florida on their Venice campus. 

Hermitage programming in May kicks off at Spanish Point with one of the nation’s greatest mimes and storytellers Bill Bowers, who was trained by the legendary Marcel Marceau, and Kavita Shah, an award-winning vocalist and composer who has performed all over the world. A celebrated mime by training and a master of physical theater techniques, Bill Bowers has been hailed as “the great American mime.” He is also a charismatic storyteller who is currently writing his remarkable life story in a memoir about making theater all over the world. A Sarasota favorite, Bowers returns to the Hermitage after his previous waitlist-only appearances. Hailed for her “amazing dexterity for musical languages” (NPR), Kavita Shah speaks severallanguages and sings amazingly in them all. These two Hermitage Fellows embrace both the sounds and the silences surrounding them. “Sound and Silence” is part of the Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens series on May 2nd at 6:30pm at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Historic Spanish Point.

Floridians are no strangers to the sand and sun, but that familiar environment can be transformed into an inspirational environment by the creativity of artists like Tony Award-nominated playwright Bess Wohl and violinist Rebecca Crenshaw. Bess Wohl is familiar to Hermitage audiences from the development and early sharing of her play Camp Siegfried on the Hermitage Beach prior its successful Off-Broadway run; her Broadway and Off-Broadway plays like Grand Horizons and Small Mouth Sounds are praised by audiences and critics alike for their poignant humor, smart characterizations, and inventive theatricality. RebeccaCrenshaw is a New Orleans-based artist, educator, and violinist; her practice is shaped by the soundwaves she creates with bands like Grammy Award-winners Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons. These two innovative Hermitage Fellows present “Waves: Movements that Shape Us” on the Hermitage Beach as the sun sets into the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, May 10th at 6:30pm. 

Not only are the arts for people of all backgrounds and identities, but they have the power to shape the world in which we live. An Obie Award-winning Hermitage Fellow, playwright, and director, Shayok Misha Chowdhury’s work crosses continents, encompassing different languages, peoples, cultures, identities, and beliefs. Fresh from Soho Rep’s critically acclaimed production of Public Obscenities and its subsequent transfer to Theater for a New Audience (NY Times Critic’s Pick), this Relentless Award Winner shares work and talks process in a candid and empowering program. “Seeing Oneself & Celebrating Identity” is presented at the Koski Center on Friday, May 15th at 6:30pm. This program is presented in partnership with ALSO Youthand Asolo Repertory Theatre; “Seeing Oneself & Celebrating Identity” is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with National Endowment for the Arts and the Florida Department of State Division of Arts and Culture.         

Returning Hermitage Fellow and composer Robert Pound’soriginal piano piece “Sonata in Memoriam Lloyd Arriola” will be performed at Oak Street Stage in Sarasota on Friday, May 24th at 5:30pm. Pound was commissioned to create this composition after a chance encounter at the Metropolitan Opera in 2015 with Lloyd Arriola, a friend and Juilliard-trained pianist. After Arriola suddenly passed away in 2016 at the age of 43, this solo piano composition took on an entirely new dimension, which Pound used his residency at the Hermitage to create. Hear insights from the composer and the sweeping, complex piece performed by a close friend and fellow Juilliard-trained pianist, Charles Hulin IV.

All of these Hermitage programs are free and open to the public (with a $5/person registration fee), offering Gulf Coast audiences a rare chance to engage and interact with some of the world’s leading talent. Running time for most Hermitage programs is 60-70 minutes. Due to capacity limitations, registration is required at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.

Full Line-Up of Events for 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration 

The Hermitage Artist Retreat (Sarasota County, Florida), in collaboration with the Greenfield Foundation, presents the 16th year of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration. The events span from Saturday, April 13th through Monday, April 15th, including the annual Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner in Sarasota on Sunday, April 14th. The celebration culminates on Monday, April15th with the world premiere of 2022 Hermitage Greenfield Prize winner Angélica Negrón’soriginal composition “Azul Naranja Salado,” presentedin partnership with ensembleNewSRQ on the the Hermitage Beach as the sun sets into the Gulf on Manasota Key.

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner on Sunday, April 14th celebrates the 2024 recipient of the Prize, playwright and theater maker Deepa Purohit. The popular event also serves as the Hermitage Artist Retreat’s annual Spring Gala, which is co-chaired this year by Pauline Wamsler and Stephanie & Gene Jones. The event will feature an elegant dinner at Michael’s On East and memorable performances. Performers and guest artists for the HGP Dinner will be announced at a later date. For information regarding tables and sponsorships, visit HermitageArtistRetreat.org, or contact Development Director Amy Wallace: Development@HermitageArtistRetreat.org, (941) 475-2098, Ext. 2. 

This year’s HGP events begin on Saturday, April 13th at 3pm with “A Conversation with 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Winner Deepa Purohit,” on the Hermitage Great Lawn, presented in partnership with Asolo Repertory Theatre. Purohit’s work was featured last year in the Atlantic Theater Company’s season with the Off-Broadway debut of her play Elyria, earning a 2023 Drama League Award nomination for Outstanding Production of a Play. She co-founded and ran Rising Circle Theater Collective, a theater company centered on the stories of people of color. Deepa was recently announced as the Director of New Works at People’s Light Theatre. In this conversation, Purohit will discuss her past theatrical works andshare a deep dive perspective into the personal and profound question at the heart of her upcoming Hermitage commission: how does one die with dignity? 

Later that same day at 6:30pm on Saturday, April 13th, the conversation continues on the Hermitage Beach on Manasota Key with “Hermitage Artists & Thinkers: South Asian Artists in America,” featuring playwright 2024 HGP winner Deepa Purohit, Hermitage Fellow and musician-performer Kavita Shah, and Hermitage Fellow and playwright-actor Nandita Shenoy. This panel discussion, moderated by Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg, will explore the impact of representation and the rich diversity of South Asian culture reflected in the arts in America and beyond. 

Both hour-long Saturday programs honor the distinguished recipient of this year’s award. In addition to a $35,000 commission, Purohit will receive six weeks of residency time as a Hermitage Fellow to develop her new play, as well as the first public presentation of her original work in Sarasota in 2026.

On Sunday, April 15th, the weekend continues with a gala dinner at Michael’s On East in Sarasota. Previous HGP Dinners have featured surprise appearances from Tony Award Winner Gavin Creel, Lucille Lortel Award Winner Leslie Rodriguez-Kritzer, internationally acclaimed visual artist Sanford Biggers, and more. 

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration concludes on April 15th with the world premiere of “Azul Naranja Salado:” Angélica Negrón’s Hermitage Greenfield Prize Premiere, bringing the commission full circle from her award in 2022. The celebration begins with newly awarded 2024 HGP winner Deepa Purohitand concludes with the first public presentation of Angélica Negrón’s 2022 HGP commission. 

“One of the most exciting elements of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize is bringing multiple winners from different disciplines to Sarasota in three exciting days of events and programming,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “It is thrilling to be recognizing the unique talents of Deepa Purohit in the discipline of theater at the same time we are inviting audiences to experience a brand new world premiere commission from composer Angélica Negrón.

Negrón’s composition will be timed with the setting sun on the Hermitage Beach – starting at 7pm on Monday, April 15th. The piece will feature slowly evolving musical textures, shifting patterns, natural sounds, and changes in scale and dimension that play with the unfolding gradations of light and color on the surrounding land, water, and sky. Composed for a unique ensemble of low strings, harps, percussion, and electronics, Negrón hopes this site-specific work will serve as a gentle reminder to the audience to seek out and surrender to moments of inspiration. This program is presented in partnership with enSRQ.

“We are proud to be partnering once again with the Hermitage for this ambitious world premiere,” said enSRQ Co-Artistic Directors George Nickson and Samantha Bennett. “We are honored to have presented the work of many extraordinary Hermitage artists in the past, and we know it will always lead to something truly exciting. Angélica is one of the most innovative composers of her generation, and this promises to be a memorable evening.”

Both of the talks on Saturday, April 13th – like all Hermitage community programs – are free and open to the members of the public (with a $5/person registration fee). Registration is required.

Sponsorships and tables for the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner on April 14th ($1,250 to $10,000) and tickets to Angélica Negrón’s premiere on April 15th ($25/person) must be purchased in advance. More details for these events can also be found at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize – now celebrating its 16th year and rotating annually between theater, music, and visual art — includes a six-week Hermitage residency and a $35,000 commission to create and develop a new work, which culminates with a public presentation in Sarasota. The Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration is presented in partnership with the Greenfield Foundation, with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County serving as Lead Community Sponsor. 

Two Exhibitions of Hermitage Artists to Premiere at Sarasota Art Museum

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is pleased to announce two exhibitions opening at the Sarasota Art Museum in the spring of 2024, featuring a collective twelve Hermitage Fellows, including two past winners of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize. Impact: Contemporary Artists at the Hermitage Artist Retreat (March 10 to July 7, 2024) is curated by former Hermitage National Curatorial Council member Dan Cameron and features the work of ten award-winning Hermitage visual artistsThe Truth of the Night Sky (April 21 to September 29, 2024) is the result of a collaboration that sparked on Manasota Key between two celebrated Hermitage Fellows – visual artist Anne Patterson and composer Patrick Harlin. These two Hermitage artist exhibitions will be running concurrently at SAM from April 21 through July 7, 2024.

Impact: Contemporary Artists at the Hermitage Artist Retreat opens on March 10, 2024, and will be on display to the public through July 7, 2024. This exhibition will feature work from ten nationally and internationally renowned Hermitage alumni artists: Diana Al-HadidSanford Biggers (2010 Hermitage Greenfield Prize winner), Chitra GaneshTodd GrayTrenton Doyle Hancock (2013 Hermitage Greenfield Prize winner), Michelle LopezTed Riederer, the late John SimsKukuli Velarde, and William Villalongo. A key factor these ten artists have in common is that over the past two decades, each has been a Fellow at the Hermitage Artist Retreat on Manasota Key — a unique experience that contributed to each of their creative processes in a variety of ways. Overseen by guest curator and former Hermitage Curatorial Council member Dan Cameron, Impact represents the first major exhibition in collaboration between the Hermitage and Sarasota Art Museum. The exhibit will feature work across a range of media, including sculpture, painting, installation, video, photography, printmaking, ceramics, textiles, and social practice. Sanford Biggers, a distinguished Hermitage alumnus and internationally renowned artist, is also now a member of the Hermitage’s National Curatorial Council and was a featured guest speaker at the 2023 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner.

“Being the inaugural recipient of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize in Visual Art could not have come at a more crucial moment in my artistic journey,” said Biggers. “The Codex and Code Switch projects that I’m so proud of – and still exploring – were born because of my time at the Hermitage providing me the space to experiment and forge connections while I was there. I’m very glad to now be on the National Curatorial Council. I have been the beneficiary of such kindness and I take the opportunity to pay it forward very seriously and introduce new artists to this remarkable place.”

“We are excited to be partnering with Sarasota Art Museum to share the work of these ten extraordinary Hermitage artists with our community,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “These are some of the leading contemporary artists of this generation, and we are proud that the Hermitage has played a role in shaping and supporting each of their unique practices. Now, thanks to this world-class exhibition at Sarasota Art Museum, the Gulf Coast will get to experience more fully realized work from these visionary creators – including the work of past Hermitage Greenfield Prize winners Sanford Biggers and Trenton Doyle Hancock – under the expert curatorial hand of Dan Cameron. These ten artists present creative ideas that trace their roots and inspiration back to their time here on Manasota Key.”

“The opportunity to work on a curatorial project that brings a vital part of the Hermitage Artist Retreat’s story to the Sarasota Art Museum, while giving me the chance to collaborate with some incredible Hermitage Fellows in the field of visual art is pretty much a dream come true,” added Dan Cameron.

The Truth of the Night Sky, a Hermitage collaboration, is the second exhibition of Hermitage alumni premiering at Sarasota Art Museum this spring – opening on April 21, 2024 and remaining on display through September 29, 2024. After meeting while in residence at the Hermitage Artist Retreat ten years ago and building on their friendship and collaboration, multidisciplinary visual artist Anne Patterson and composer / soundscape artist Patrick Harlin have joined forces to develop this one-of-a-kind immersive experience. Patterson, who is familiar to Sarasota audiences from previous exhibitions at The Ringling Museum and whose “Divine Pathways” is currently represented in New York at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, is widely celebrated for her grand environments that immerse the viewer and surround the senses. A distinguished Hermitage alumna with an impressive background in immersive exhibitions and theatrical design, Anne Patterson has frequently collaborated with musicians, including fellow Hermitage alum Patrick Harlin, to design mesmerizing environments. For this collaborative project, Patterson and Harlin are expanding upon Harlin’s original composition Earthrise (2022), an orchestral piece inspired by the eponymous photograph (1968) taken by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders on humanity’s first-ever trip around the moon. The original composition by Patrick Harlin, who was also the very first recipient of the Hermitage Prize in Composition at the Aspen Music Festival, will play as visitors pass through the galleries. The exhibition will feature several works by Patterson, as well as a suspended tree and her signature satin ribbon installation work. With each step, visitors will travel imaginatively through space and time. Of their time at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, Patterson and Harlin are fond of saying that their experience was invaluable to their craft and their collaboration, allowing them to achieve new heights, find a unique environmental inspiration, and explore new possibilities in their work.

“I am thrilled for the opportunity to present a new body of work on Florida’s Gulf Coast through this inspired collaboration between the Hermitage and Sarasota Art Museum,” said Anne Patterson. “Receiving both space to create and space to present from these two institutions is indeed a wonderful gift.” 

Located on Manasota Key, many artists who are invited to make work on the Hermitage’s historic campus note the immediacy of the vibrant night sky around them, augmented by the crashing waves only steps away to create a primal and inspirational connection to nature. The Truth of the Night Sky conveys the sense of collectiveawe and wonderment we may feel under the dome of the stars or in the vibrating air of a concert hall, and it thus channels a message of hope and unity. 

“The Hermitage is an amazing place to create,” said Patrick Harlin. “Winning the Hermitage Prize in Composition and meeting Anne has sparked a number of collaborations which would not have occurred otherwise. Every night we would talk about how nature inspires our work and  what we were making. It’s  amazing to realize, years later, how much new work is created at the Hermitage, ours and others, that is now out in the world.” 

“Anne Patterson and Patrick Harlin are both extraordinary talents whose passion for collaboration and ‘big’ ideas embody the mission and spirit of the Hermitage,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “It is thrilling to be able to see a creative partnership take shape, and then to witness these two brilliant minds melding as their concepts evolve from the earliest stages to a fully realized immersive exhibition. We’re excited for Sarasota audiences to experience Anne and Patrick’s vision coming to life at the Sarasota Art Museum, and it’s particularly exciting that audiences can experience this alongside SAM’s concurrent exhibit, “Impact: Contemporary Artists at the Hermitage Artist Retreat.”

Anne Patterson and Patrick Harlin have also been collaborating separately on a new oratorio based on Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, alongside two additional Hermitage alumni who they met during their residency – Grammy Award-winning contemporary classical composer Christopher Theofanidis and celebrated poet Melissa Studdard.

The Hermitage frequently offers Sarasota audiences a first glimpse into live performances from artists working in music, theater, dance, and more. This collaboration with Sarasota Art Museum will provide Gulf Coast audiences the opportunity to experience more fully realized works of visual art created by acclaimed Hermitage artists.

“The Hermitage has nurtured and supported hundreds of artists since its inception,” said Sarasota Art Museum Executive Director Virginia Shearer. “It is an honor to highlight the important role the Hermitage plays in advancing creative practice and building a rich network of artists who continue to impact and inform the cultural life of our city, and beyond.”

“We are honored to be partnering with Sarasota Art Museum as they showcase and celebrate the work of so many extraordinary Hermitage artists,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “While all Hermitage Fellows offer our community a ‘sneak peek’ into their work and creative process, these world-class exhibitions will offer Sarasota audiences a more complete look at the expansive talent of these diverse and accomplished visual artists, whose creations often take years to complete.” 

New March Program Features ABT Principal Dancer James Whiteside

The Hermitage Artist Retreat announces a new program featuring returning Hermitage Fellow and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside. Whiteside will offer a special hour-long program at the Hermitage Palm House Studio on Monday, March 4th at 5:30pm, where he will share a candid and entertaining look at his life as a celebrated dancer, choreographer, playwright, and entertainment impresario.

Whiteside defies genre classification and is redefining the meaning of multihyphenate as a principal dancer and choreographer for American Ballet Theatre, pop music performer, podcast host, and author of Center Center, which he adapted into the play Dead Center during a previous visit to the Hermitage. He began his ballet training at age nine and was a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet until 2012. Since 2013, Whiteside has been principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, where he has danced principal roles in Swan LakeThe NutcrackerRomeo & JulietGiselle, and more. Whiteside has choreographed for pop stars Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, and more. He performs pop music under the stage name JdDubs. In addition to writing and producing his own music, Whiteside also choreographs digital performances and music videos, which have viewership in the millions. 

“We are incredibly excited to welcome James Whiteside back to the Hermitage,” says Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “In addition to being one of the nation’s premier dancers, he has taken the entertainment and media world by storm with his many talents and irresistible personality. This promises to be an unpredictable and unforgettable program that Gulf Coast audiences will not want to miss.”

Whiteside’s talents extend well beyond the world of dance, with growing celebrity as a playwright, podcast host, and brilliant performer who has captured and energized millions online with his dynamic and hilarious content. Whiteside will engage with Hermitage audiences for a creative exploration and candid conversation about wearing his many glamorous hats, arts entrepreneurship, and the transcendent power of dance.  

“Dancing through Life with James Whiteside” will be presented at the Hermitage on Monday, March 4th at 5:30pm. This program is free and open to the public (with a $5/person registration fee). Registration is required at HermitageArtistRetreat.orgCapacity will be limited, and registration is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Early registration is strongly encouraged.

UK Playwright and Lyricist Chris Bush Fourth Winner of Hermitage Major Theater Award

Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, announced today that UK-based playwright and Olivier Award-winning lyricist Chris Bush has been selected as the fourth recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA). This jury-selected prize, established by the Hermitage in 2021 with generous support from Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation, offers one of the largest nonprofit theater commissions in the United States, and now adds the United Kingdom to its expanding international footprint. Bush will receive a cash prize of $35,000, as well as a residency at the Hermitage (Sarasota County, Florida) and a developmental workshop in a major arts capital – which for this commission will be London in late 2025. 

Chris Bush is an award-winning playwright, lyricist, and theater maker based in the United Kingdom. Her comprehensive body of work includes Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which won her an Olivier Award and a UK Theatre Award for Best Musical. Following sold-out runs at the National Theatre and Sheffield Theatres, the acclaimed production is opening this month on the West End and has been described as “the most exciting new British musical in years” by WhatsOnStage and heralded by The Times as “a moving and resonant piece of popular entertainment — magnificent and meaningful.” Bush received a UK Theatre Award for Best Show for Children & Young People for her production Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World and a UK Theatre Award for Best Musical for Assassination of Katie Hopkins, heralded by The Guardian as “an intelligent, thoughtful, and often wryly enjoyable look at the polarization of public debate in the age of social media.” Raised in Sheffield, England, Chris Bush currently lives in London.

“I’m delighted — and still a little surprised — to be the recipient of this year’s Hermitage Major Theater Award,” said 2024 HMTA winner Chris Bush upon receiving the news. “Having spent a lot of my career writing specifically about northern England, I’m excited to shift my gaze across the Atlantic and dive into a new landscape. I’m very grateful to the Hermitage and Flora Major for this opportunity. I hear the weather in Florida is a little better too.” 

“This is the first time a Hermitage commission has been presented to an artist in the United Kingdom,” added Andy Sandberg. “With a goal of bringing this initiative to London, we deliberately selected a committee of preeminent arts leaders in the U.K. who identified four outstanding playwrights among a wealth of worthy theatrical talent, broadening the international reach and impact of the Hermitage and this initiative.”

The Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA) was established in 2021 to recognize a playwright or theater artist with a $35,000 commission to create a new, original, and impactful piece of theater. Three distinguished finalists for the fourth Hermitage Major Theater Award include Natasha Gordon,an Olivier Award-nominated British playwright and actor of Jamaican descent, whose play Nine Night enjoyed a sold-out run at the National Theatre in 2018 before transferring to Trafalgar Studios in 2019; Beth Steel, an award-winning playwright whose new play Till the Stars Come Down is currently running at the National Theatre; and Sam Steiner,an accomplished playwright and screenwriter whose play Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons has been performed all over the world and made its West End debut in 2023. Each finalist has been awarded a Hermitage residency and Fellowship, in addition to a cash prize of $1,500.

HMTA winners and finalists are nominated and selected by a jury of visionary and forward-thinking artistic leaders. The 2024 HMTA Award Committee included Michael Grandage, Tony and Olivier-Award winning director of stage and screen, former Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, and current Artistic Director of the Michael Grandage Company; Tessa Ross, CBE and BAFTA Award-winningCo-CEO of House Productions; and Indhu Rubasingham,an Olivier Award-winning director, longtime Artistic Director of the Kiln Theatre, and newly announced as the incoming Director of the National Theatre.

“The Hermitage Major Theater Award is an incredible opportunity for an artist to develop their craft,” said Michael Grandage, “and Chris Bush is a hugely talented playwright who has already demonstrated that big ideas can change the world. I’m delighted this award will afford her an opportunity to continue to evolve in a fully supported environment.” 

We were thrilled by Chris Bush’s proposal – by its ambition and articulacy and by its relevance to our world,” added Tessa Ross. “Here is an exciting, brave writer, and we feel very proud to be able to support the next stage of Chris’ journey with this wonderful award.” 

“Chris Bush is an artist the theater world cannot ignore, and this award from the Hermitage offers her the opportunity to make a work that is deeply personal,” said Indhu Rubasingham. “I know that Chris will make a really powerful play that I can’t wait to see. Truly, all four finalists are talented and interesting artists worthy of this commission and great success.” 

“Amidst four extraordinary and deserving finalists, Chris Bush confirmed herself to be a passionate theater artist who impressed us all with her compelling and inspiring proposal,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “We are honored to support Chris as she creates this ambitious and inventive new play. I must thank our brilliant and dedicated Award Committee – Michael Grandage, Tessa Ross, and Indhu Rubasingham – for their passion, intelligence, and care throughout this process. I also want to congratulate Natasha Gordon, Beth Steel, and Sam Steiner, each of whom are exceptional playwrights with bold voices and thrilling ideas.”

In addition to the $35,000 commission, the recipient of the annual HMTA will receive six weeks of residency at the Hermitage’s historic beachfront campus to develop the new theatrical work, as well as a reading or workshop in a leading arts and cultural center. Chris Bush’s commission is expected to receive its first presentation in autumn of 2025 in London.

In describing her intended HMTA commission, currently titled Orlando (FL), Bush shares: “This original play will be a story of transformation, translation, and self-determination. The play follows Lana, a trans woman living in Orlando, Florida, whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a fantastical stranger. Lana is stuck in a rut; her friendship circle is dwindling, her acting career is going nowhere fast, and she’s ejected from her Doomsday cult for being too unreliable. The world outside is too terrifying for her to deal with, so she opts to self-medicate and disassociate. Then crashing into her life headfirst comes Orlando, the freewheeling, gender-switching protagonist of Virginia Woolf’s iconic novel. Orlando is sexy, confident, unguarded — when Lana is with them, anything seems possible. Together, maybe they could take on the world. Orlando (FL) aspires to be a queer fantasia set against a backdrop of rising hate; a gloriously funny, angry, and defiant testament to the power of literature and the resilience of LGBTQ+ communities.”

In the spirit of the Hermitage’s commitment to the arts across multiple disciplines, recipients of the Hermitage Major Theater Award are encouraged to create a commission that directly or indirectly represents the role and impact of art – musical, literary, theatrical, visual, dance, or otherwise – in our culture and society. As to how this will infuse Bush’s commission, she explains that “Orlando (FL) takes Virginia Woolf’s classic novel as a jumping off point to explore contemporary queer identities. This piece is all about the power of fiction,” notes Bush. “Art can offer us a means of escape, but also become a tool for our own liberation.”

This distinguished Hermitage Major Theater Award recognition is not an award for an existing work, but rather it is designed as a commission that shall serve as a catalyst and inspiration to a theater artist to create a new, original, and impactful piece of theater. Further, the prize is intended to bridge the connection between the Hermitage in Sarasota County, Florida – where the commission is born – and other leading arts and culture centers around the world, including New York, London, Chicago, and other notable arts capitals where great theater is frequently developed and presented. Previous recipients of the HMTA have included acclaimed playwright and “Only Murders in the Building” writer Madeleine George; The New Group’s Director of Artistic Projects, theater-maker, and director Shariffa Ali; and award-winning composer and theater artist Imani Uzuri. George and Ali had their first readings at New York’s MCC Theater in November of 2023. George’s The Sore Loser is a Faustian comedy reimagining the patriarchy through a small-town bowling tournament, and Ali’s play Hero chronicles a South African village faced with an opportunity for national glory through a singling competition.

“This award is designed to be transformational for its recipients, providing not only significant funds and recognition, but also invaluable time, space, and inspiration at the Hermitage, plus an opportunity for these innovative theater artists to workshop and develop their original ideas,” said Andy Sandberg. An acclaimed director, writer, and Tony Award-winning producer who recently directed the U.K. premiere of Operation Epsilon, Sandberg took the helm as Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage in early 2020. “In addition to introducing a new work of theater to the world each year, this is a meaningful way for the Hermitage to take a further step in supporting the artistic process, offering developmental resources to these extraordinary artists and their new commissions.”  

The Hermitage Major Theater Award is made possible with a generous multi-year gift to the Hermitage from Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation. In the aftermath of the pandemic and recognizing the difficult challenges facing theater artists, the Hermitage and Major awarded three HMTA commissions in the inaugural twelve months of this initiative. Moving forward, the recipient will be selected annually and will have two years to complete their commissions.