ETHEL quartet puts “Circus,” conceived at Hermitage, online

This article appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on May 3, 2020.

Sarasota’s circus heritage and photos from The Ringling archives provided the inspiration for the world premiere of “Circus: Wandering City” by the string quartet ETHEL at Historic Asolo Theater in 2018.

The production, which The Ringling co-commissioned with the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2018 Next Wave Festival, was presented for a weekend in Sarasota in January 2018. But now, the acclaimed quartet is making it available for streaming for free while the museum and live performance venues are shut down.

“Circus: Wandering City” will be available beginning at 3 p.m. Friday at ethelcentral.org. It also can be viewed through The Ringling’s website, Ringling.org or its social media sites.

The performance incorporates hundreds of images from the Ringling’s Circus Museum archives, which are set to original compositions by quartet members, who were inspired by the photos.

The idea for a circus-themed show came in 2015 when the ensemble members had a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat and performed their show “Documerica,” which was inspired by photos of environmental disasters from the Environmental Protection Agency’s files.

Dwight Currie, who was then Ringling’s curator for performance, suggested that Ringling’s circus photos might inspire a similar but different performance.

“I was just saying how evocative I find the images in the circus archives, and very little of it is actually on exhibit,” Currie told the Herald-Tribune before the 2018 premiere. “It’s just so foreign you just can’t help but imagine this and that. I said, how great would that be?”

The ensemble members agreed.

Cellist Dorothy Lawson said the “subject of the circus is so full of the highest and deepest aspirations of the human spirit.”

The performance is a collection of vignettes performed by Lawson, Ralph Farris on viola and violinists Kip Jones and Corin Lee.

Herald-Tribune music critic Gayle Williams described it as an “immersive, nonstop rollout of an extraordinary docu-music-theater experience,” adding that it is “an incredibly imaginative creation owing to the vision and talents of an entire team of collaborators.”

Hermitage cancels upcoming public programs and Greenfield Prize Weekend

Andy Sandberg, the artistic director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, announced that the organization is canceling this year’s Greenfield Prize Weekend, which was scheduled for April 18 and 19, 2020. This year’s celebration was scheduled to begin with a world premiere reading of a new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and 2018 recipient of the Greenfield Prize Martyna Majok (at the Asolo Rep). The weekend also included the “Artist Talk: The Work and Influences of Jennifer Packer” (at Sarasota Art Museum) with the 2020 Greenfield Prize recipient, visual artist Jennifer Packer. The organization’s signature fundraising event, the Greenfield Prize Dinner, scheduled for Sunday, April 19, is also cancelled, with plans to recognize Jennifer Packer at a future date to be determined. In addition, the organization is suspending its free community programs in April.

“In light of coronavirus concerns and in coordination with the Greenfield Foundation, we felt it was prudent to cancel all events pertaining to this year’s Greenfield Weekend, and move ahead with a scaled-back version of the award presentation in the months ahead when the situation has calmed down,” says Sandberg. “We have been in communication with this year’s Greenfield Prize winner, Jennifer Packer, who has been extremely gracious and understanding. We are also coordinating with the Asolo Rep to find a future date for Martyna Majok’s reading, and we look forward to welcoming both of these extraordinary artists back to Sarasota.”

Sandberg says that canceling one of the organization’s largest and most recognizable events could have a serious financial impact. “So many of our fellow arts leaders have had to make the same difficult decisions. In a time of crisis like this, non-profit arts organizations are often some of the hardest hit, and the support of our generous donors and patrons is more critical and meaningful than ever.”

Hermitage featured in WEDU Arts Plus season premiere

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is featured in WEDU’s season nine premiere of “Arts Plus.” Click here to watch the episode – we’re the first segment.

Interviews include artistic director/CEO Andy Sandberg, co-founder/program director Patricia Caswell, and artists-in residence Claire Chase, Christopher Merrill, and Sid Richardson.

Check out what’s coming up in February and March

The Hermitage has some fantastic free community programs coming up in February and March. Join us here at the Hermitage, or at Boosktore1Sarasota. Reservations are required.

The Suffragist Project: Supporting Women’s Voices in Playwriting with Playwright and Hermitage Fellow Julia Jordan
February 11, 5:30 p.m.
Bookstore1Sarasota

This event is in collaboration with Florida Studio Theatre’s Supporting Women’s Voices in Playwriting program.
Playwright and Hermitage Fellow Julia Jordan will speak about advocacy to focus national attention of gender disparity in playwriting and the strides women playwrights are making. The conversation includes Catherine Randazzo, FST’s associate artistic director, and Patricia Caswell, the Hermitage’s program director and co-founder. Read more and reserve your seats here.

Literary Editing and Publishing with Poet and Editor Lisa Ampleman
February 14, 5 p.m.

Hermitage Palm House
Lisa, the managing editor of The Cincinnati Review and poetry series editor for Acre Books, will give advice about the submission process and talk about some of the challenges facing editors. Read more and reserve your seats here.

From Broadway to the Beach with Musical Theater Composer Adam Gwon
February 21, 5 p.m.
Hermitage Artist Retreat beach

Adam, hailed as “a promising newcomer to our talent-hungry musical theater” whose songs are “funny, urbane, with a sweetness that doesn’t cloy” by The New York Times, will play piano and sing his own songs, demonstrating how a musical is born and evolves from idea to stage. Read more and reserve your seats here.

Restoring Coastal Ecology and Creating a Sense of Place with Landscape Architect Michael Gilkey
February 28, 5 p.m.
Hermitage Palm House

Michael will share his vision for the restoration of the Hermitage acreage, including the “Preserve” which contains three distinct habitats: coastal hammock, dune and wetlands. Audience members will have the opportunity to learn about native Florida plants and the process of creating an Old Florida landscape. After the talk, participants are welcome to walk on the beach to enjoy the sunset. Read more and reserve your seats here.

Sonic Meditation at Sunset with Composer Evan Premo
March 6, 6 p.m.
Hermitage Artist Retreat beach

Evan (pictured) is a teaching artist, composer, and double bassist. He will lead several sonic meditations, designed to find connection and peace through deep listening and spontaneous sounding. Read more and reserve your seats here.

Hermitage offers four free community programs in December

The first of the Hermitage’s free December programs is “Poem, Play and Novel: Three Readings,” with poet Greg Wrenn, playwright Sharyn Rothstein, and novelist Sugi Ganeshananthan, Friday, December 13, 4:30 p.m., on the beach at the Hermitage. Wrenn, a lifelong scuba diver, will give a reading from his eco memoir centered around the ocean. Rothstein, a playwright and television writer, will read from one of her many works. Ganeshananthan will read from her novel in progress, Movement, which tracks a medic-turned-doctor during and after the Sri Lankan civil war. Audience members are welcome to bring blankets and chairs; in case of rain, the event will be moved inside. Click for reservations.

Violinist and freestyle composition artist Mazz Swift (pictured) will perform an informal concert on Friday, December 20, 4:30 p.m., in the Palm House at the Hermitage. She’ll play works in progress, songs of resistance, spirituals, modern day protest music, and share her thoughts on the Ghanaian concept of “Sankofa,” or looking back to learn how to move forward. This will be followed by an opt-in group exploration of conduction (conducted improvisation). No musical, improvisational, or conduction experience is necessary for participation. Musicians are welcome to bring their instruments. Click for reservations.

Hermitage North returns featuring an open class with mime artist Bill Bowers, Saturday, December 21, 11 a.m., in the Jane B. Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for Performing Arts. Hailed by critics as the most accomplished and renowned mime of his generation, Bowers performs and teaches the art of physical storytelling throughout the world. He is also an award-winning actor and has appeared on the stages of Broadway, The Kennedy Center, The White House, La MaMa, the New York International Fringe Festival and many other venues. In this program, Bowers will demonstrate basic pantomime technique and perform selections from his solo plays. FSU students who have been studying with Bowers will share work from their week-long residency with him. Reservations can be made by calling the FSU Center box office at 941-351-8000.

Let’s Talk Opera,” part of the Fridays @ Five series, is Friday, December 27, 5 p.m., in the Palm House. Engage in conversation with contemporary opera creators Laura Kaminsky, composer, and Kimberly Reed, librettist and filmmaker. They wrote the opera, “As One,” with Hermitage Fellow Mark Campbell.  “As One” is the most-produced modern opera in America.  Video opera scenes will bookend the discussion. Click for reservations.

All programs are subject to change. Please check the Hermitage website or Facebook page for updated program status.

PoetryLife 2019 Community Favorite Poem Reading

In 2012, the featured PoetryLife poet was Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate of the U.S. and founder of the Favorite Poem Project. Pinsky led Sarasota community members in the city’s first-ever Favorite Poem reading – citizens of all ages reading the poetry they have come to know throughout their lives. A Community Favorite Poem Reading has been a tradition in Sarasota ever since.

PoetryLife’s Favorite Poem Reading will be held April 19 at 5:00 pm at The Hermitage Artist Retreat, 6630 Manasota Key Road, Englewood, Florida – on the beach if weather permits.

To apply to be a reader, please email the following information to PoetryLife. You may also drop off your application at Bookstore1Sarasota, which is located in downtown Sarasota at the corner of Main Street and Palm Avenue. Deadline for submissions is March 15.

The poem you select must be one that is published by a recognized poet. It may not be your own poem (published or not) or the poem of a close relative.

Please select a poem that is accessible – i.e. a poem that an audience can “get” when hearing it for the first time. And select a poem that is not overly long – look for one that is no more than two pages in length.

Select a poem that has personal meaning for you. As part of the event, readers are given one minute to explain – without notes – why they have selected that particular poem. PoetryLife is looking for personal reasons, not academic reasons.

Submit the following to PoetryLife:

1. Your name

2. Your email address

3. Your phone number

4. Your occupation or, if retired, your former occupation

5. The title of the poem you would like to read

6. The author of the poem

7. Your reason for wanting to read this poem

8. A copy of the poem

Or drop your submission off at Bookstore1Sarasota, 12 South Palm Avenue in downtown Sarasota.

Deadline for submissions is March 15.

Up to 20 poems will be selected for inclusion in the Favorite Poem Reading. If your poem is selected, you will be asked to present it at the event. PoetryLife will notify you by April 10 and, should your poem be selected, they will call to confirm your availability.

Historic beachside property tours offered in September

The Hermitage Artist Retreat is offering historic beachside property tours, Friday, September 7, at 10 a.m.; Friday, September 14, at 10 a.m.; and Friday, September 21, at 6 p.m.  These free, one-hour walking tours explore the property’s colorful history and offer up-close views of the 106-year-old main building and four other historic structures that now serve as live-work spaces for visiting artists. Reservations are required and only available through email at reservations@hermitageartistretreat.org.

According to Bruce Rodgers, the Hermitage’s executive director, the Hermitage is a thriving oasis of living history and natural splendor. “Artists from around the world draw inspiration from this special location,” he says. “These unique structures have survived more than 100 years despite Mother Nature’s harshest tests. We’ll share engaging stories of the colorful characters and artists who’ve stayed here.” He adds that the tour begins with a video overview of the retreat.

The Calusa Indians were the original inhabitants of the site; their heritage lives on in the many middens and archeological sites in the area. In 1907, Swedish immigrant Carl Johansen bought a parcel to build a homestead for his family. The Johansens moved out in 1916; their house sat vacant into the 1930s, when it became a nudist resort called The Sea Island Sanctuary. After that, the property exchanged hands several times until, in the early 1990s, writer Ruth Swayze and her daughter, Carroll, an artist, spearheaded a community effort to save the buildings from beach erosion. At the time, Patricia Caswell was the executive director of the Sarasota County Arts Council, the organization that ultimately leased the property from the county in 2000 to turn the buildings into the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

Caswell is now the Hermitage’s co-founder and program director. She says that tours of the Hermitage have been popular in the past.  “If these tours sell out, we plan to add more. It’s our delight to share this heritage with as many people as possible.”