More than 130 guests gathered to celebrate playwright Aleshea Harris, the winner of the 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize, on Sunday, April 11, at the annual Prize Dinner at Michael’s On East in Sarasota. The event had been moved earlier that day from its original outdoor setting at The Ringling’s Ca’ d’Zan due to inclement weather. The festive evening was chaired by Ellen Berman and Flora Major. Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage, served as master of ceremonies.
“Neither rain nor sleet nor any tropical storm was going to stop us from finding a way to celebrate Aleshea Harris as the winner of this year’s Hermitage Greenfield Prize!” noted Sandberg in true show-must-go-on fashion. “While the change of venue was an unexpected surprise, we were determined to forge ahead with this very special evening of entertainment and celebration. We thank everyone at The Ringling Museum and Michael’s On East for their shared commitment to the safety and comfort of our guests. The adoration, respect, and joy in honor of Aleshea were truly palpable, and we are so grateful to the Greenfield Foundation and all of our sponsors for their generous support.”
(L-R) Andy Sandberg, Ellen Berman, Flora Major, Aleshea Harris
“The evening was full of irrepressible energy and talent,” added co-chairs Ellen Berman and Flora Major. “Aleshea Harris is a powerful presence, and the crowd was alive with enthusiasm. The whole event was a seamless and stunning success, and the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner has been transformed into one of the most entertaining evenings in town, capturing the true spirit of diversity and talent of the Hermitage and its artists.”
The festive evening commenced with a welcome video from Black Theatre United, featuring the music video “Stand for Change,” with a personal message of welcome and words of congrats to Harris from acclaimed actor and producer Tamara Tunie (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; As the World Turns) on behalf of her fellow BTU co-founders: six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, Billy Porter, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Wendell Pierce, and more. The evening also showcased a tribute video featuring brand-new footage from thirteen years of Hermitage Greenfield Prize recipients, jurors, and presenting partners. Excerpts from Harris’ work On Sugarland were brought to life on stage by Ive Lyles (Westcoast Black Theater Troupe) and Imani Williams (Asolo Conservatory, pictured below). Following the presentation of the award to Ms. Harris, Sandberg introduced a stirring rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” performed by Broadway and Sarasota’s own Ann Morrison and accompanied by Joseph Holt on piano to conclude the celebration. “How fitting the metaphor of Sondheim’s lyrics – especially after this year!” exclaimed Morrison.