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.

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. 

Hermitage Presented Two New Commissions from  Madeleine George and Shariffa Ali in NYC  

The Hermitage Artist Retreat (Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO), today released photos from the premiere presentations of newly commissioned works by Madeleine George and Shariffa Ali. George and Ali, the first two recipients of the $35,000 Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA), had readings of their newly commissioned plays in New York at Off-Broadway’s MCC Theater just before Thanksgiving. Developed while in residence at the Hermitage in Sarasota County, Florida, these two new works are wholly original and coming to fruition less than two years after Madeleine George and Shariffa Ali learned of their selection for this distinguished national prize.

The Hermitage Major Theater Award, presented by the Hermitage Artist Retreat and made possible with generous support from the Kutya Major Foundation, recognizes a playwright or theater artist with a commission of $35,000 to create an original full-length work for the stage, as well as providing an extended residency at the Hermitage’s beachfront campus Sarasota County, Florida, plus the chance to present the inaugural workshop presentation of the newly created play in a major arts capital such as New York, London, or Chicago.

Pulitzer Prize finalist and playwright Madeleine George,currently a writer on the hit Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building,” was selected as the first winner of the HMTA by an Award Committee comprised ofLeigh SilvermanLiesl Tommy, and Doug Wright. George presented the first full-length reading of her new play The Sore Loser to an invitation-only audience on Friday, November 17. The Sore Loser is a Faustian comedy set in a bowling alley. It’s a play about power, domination, and the death of the patriarchy – as told through a small-town bowling tournament. Casting for The Sore Loser included stage and screen talentsAdam Chanler-Berat (Next to Normal, “Gossip Girl”), Lynda Gravatt (The Bounty HunterDelivery Man)Allison Guinn (On the Town, “Only Murders in the Building”), Greg Hildreth (Frozen, Maestro), James Jackson Jr. (A Strange Loop, White Girl in Danger)Matthew Maher (Gone Baby Gone, Captain Marvel), T Mitsock (“Becoming Eve”)Shannon Tyo (The Compeuppance, “30 Rock”), and Joel Van Liew (“FBI”, Limitless). The reading was directed by Mack Brown.

Theater-maker and director Shariffa Ali was selected as the second recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award by Lynn NottageDavid Henry Hwang, and Regina Taylor. Ali shared an in-process presentation of her newly devised work Hero for an invitation-only audience on Monday, November 20, also at MCC Theater. Ali and two of her collaborators, Joanna Evans and Jason Maina, provided an overview and excerpts from this heartwarming and inspiring new play with music, set in a small South African town and inspired by the true story of Shariffa’s longtime friend and collaborator Vuyo Sotashe

The Hermitage Major Theater Award was established in 2021 to recognize a playwright or theater artist with a substantial commission to create a new, original, and impactful piece of theater. This national jury-selected award, established by the Hermitage with generous support from Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation, offers one of the largest unrestricted nonprofit theater commissions in the country. George and Ali have each received a cash prize of $35,000, as well as a residency at the Hermitage, plus developmental and financial support for these developmental readings in New York. The prize is intended to bridge the connection between the Hermitage (Sarasota County, Florida), where the commission is born, and other leading arts and culture centers around the world, including New York, London, Chicago, and notable arts capitals where great theater is frequently developed and presented. 

Hermitage Presents New Play Commissions in New York City in November

Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, announced today that Madeleine George and Shariffa Ali, the first two recipients of the $35,000 Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA), will have presentations of their newly commissioned plays this month in New York at MCC Theater on November 17 and 20. Developed while in residence at the Hermitage in Sarasota County, Florida, these two accomplished theater makers will present workshop readings of their works in New York as part of the commission includes the first presentations in a recognized ‘arts capital.’  

Pulitzer Prize finalist and playwright Madeleine George,currently a writer on the hit Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building,” will be presenting her new comedy The Sore Loser to an invitation-only audience on Friday, November 17th at 4pm. Theater-maker and director Shariffa Ali will share an in-process presentation of her newly devised work, Hero, for invitation-only audiences on Monday, November 20th at 4pm. Both readings will take place at MCC Theater in New York. Each of these original commissions are coming to fruition in less than two years of the recipients learning of their award. 

The Hermitage Major Theater Award was established in 2021 to recognize a playwright or theater artist with a substantial commission to create a new, original, and impactful piece of theater. This national jury-selected award, established by the Hermitage with generous support from Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation, offers one of the largest nonprofit theater commissions in the country. George and Ali have each received a cash prize of $35,000, as well as a residency at the Hermitage (Sarasota County, Florida), plus developmental and financial support for these upcoming developmental readings in New York. The prize is intended to bridge the connection between the Hermitage (Sarasota County, Florida), where the commission is born, and other leading arts and culture centers around the world, including New York, London, Chicago, and notable arts capitals where great theater is frequently developed and presented. 

HMTA winners are nominated and selected by a jury of nationally recognized arts leaders in the field of theater. The 2021 Award Committee that selected Madeleine George includes Tony Award-nominated director Leigh Silverman, award-winning director of stage and film Liesl Tommy,and Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright. The 2022 Award Committee that selected Shariffa Ali includes two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, Tony, Grammy, and Obie Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, and Golden Globe Award-winning actor and playwright Regina Taylor

“It feels like just yesterday we were announcing Madeleine and Shariffa as the recipients of this distinguished honor, and it is incredibly exciting to be seeing their original works already coming to life,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “Madeleine George and Shariffa Ali are two of the theater industry’s most gracious and gifted talents, and we’re honored to play a role in supporting their artistic journeys. The heart and humor in Madeleine’s writing is enhanced by her generous spirit and her deep passion for the theater, and Shariffa Ali is a brilliant force of nature whose inventiveness as a theater maker is enriched by her kindness and her ultra-collaborative process. Bringing these original works to life is a true honor and a gift to the American theater, made possible by the generosity of Flora Major, who has entrusted the Hermitage with invaluable opportunity.”

Written by Hermitage Major Theater Award winner Madeleine George and directed by Mack BrownThe Sore Loser is a Faustian comedy set in a bowling alley. It’s a play about power, domination, and the death of the patriarchy – as told through a small-town bowling tournament. The play aims to delight and disarm, even as it draws us into an encounter with our own darkest impulses: the will to dominate that lives inside all of us, out of which the annihilating hierarchies of our world arise. Casting for the first full-length reading of The Sore Loser includes stage and screen talents Adam Chanler-Berat (Next to Normal, “Gossip Girl”), Lynda Gravatt (The Bounty HunterDelivery Man)Allison Guinn (On the Town, “Only Murders in the Building”), Greg Hildreth (Frozen, Maestro), James Jackson Jr. (A Strange Loop, White Girl in Danger)Matthew Maher (Gone Baby Gone, Captain Marvel), T Mitsock (“Becoming Eve”)Shannon Tyo (The Compeuppance, “30 Rock”), Joel Van Liew (“FBI”, Limitless).

Devised and directed by Hermitage Major Theater Award winner Shariffa AliHero is a heartwarming and suspenseful play that unfolds during a single, enchanting chapter in the life of a spirited middle school student. In a small South African town, Vuyo and his choir-mates find themselves at the center of an unspoken pact. When the opportunity arises for Vuyo to break from traditional gender norms to showcase his exceptional singing prowess in a national choir competition, the entire community embarks on a remarkable journey of transformation. Surrounded by love and unexpected support, Vuyo discovers a world where acceptance transcends the boundaries of gender and prejudice. Inspired by true events, Hero is a tale of courage, unity, and the extraordinary power of music to challenge societal norms. 

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Playwright, Hermitage Fellow, Trustee, and HTMA Juror Doug Wright said of the Hermitage Major Theater Award: “In a challenged theatrical landscape, the Hermitage has done something heroic; they have instituted a brand new, financially generous commission for a playwright of demonstrable achievement to draft a new work. It is one of the premier commissions of its kind and could not come at a more auspicious, even urgent time.”

In addition to this newly created commission, the Hermitage Artist Retreat annually awards the prestigious jury-selected Hermitage Greenfield Prize (HGP), comparable commission that rotates each year between the disciplines of theater, music, and visual art. Past recipients in theater have included Aleshea Harris (2021), Martyna Majok (2018), Nilo Cruz (2015), John Guare (2012), and Craig Lucas (2009).

Imani Uzuri announced as third winner of Hermitage Major Theater Award

Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, announced today that composer and theater artist Imani Uzuri has been selected as the third recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award(HMTA). This national jury-selected prize, established by the Hermitage in 2021 with generous support from the Kutya Major Foundation, offers one of the largest non-profit theater commissions in the country. Uzuri 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 such as New York, Chicago, or London in the fall of 2024. Uzuri, raised in rural North Carolina, is an award-winning composer, vocalist, experimental librettist, improviser, and lyricist.

“I am ebullient, in awe, and overwhelmed with joy and gratitude!” said Imani Uzuri on receiving the news.“I am in reverence and beyond grateful to the Award Committee, to the Hermitage, and to Flora Major and the generous Kutya Major Foundation. I am also thrilled that the Hermitage is committed to ecology, preservation, and community,” Uzuri added. “These are values that are significantly important to me as an artist. Receiving this phenomenal award and residency will enhance my artistic life immeasurably and transform the landscape of my theater career.”

Imani Uzuri, raised in rural North Carolina, is an award-winning composer, vocalist, experimental librettist, improviser, and lyricist. She composes, performs, and creates interdisciplinary works including concerts, ritual performances, albums, sound art installations, and compositions for chamber ensembles, film, voice, and theater (including experimental and musical theater), often dealing with themes of ancestral memory, magical realism, liminality, haunting, Black American vernacular culture, spirituality, and landscape. 

In describing her intended HMTA commission, for which she will be writing original music, lyrics, and book, Uzuri shares: “Lighthouse of the Singing Birds will be an immersive magical realist work of musical theater centering a young Black girl on the precipice of her thirteenth birthday – a special one,” shared Uzuri of her plans for the commission. “She lives in an enchanted lighthouse and bird sanctuary on a small island (populated with elusive wild horses) surrounded by a Sound with a purple beach (made so by coral) off the coast of the Outerbanks in rural North Carolina with her beloved grandmother (matriarch and head lighthouse keeper) and her intergenerational quirky extended family of artists including quilters, singers, moonshiners and instrument makers.”

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 third Hermitage Major Theater Award include Nissy Aya, a playwright, educator, and cultural worker; AnnMarie Milazzo, a Tony and Grammy Award-nominated vocal designer, orchestrator, and composer; and Daniel J. Watts, a Tony Award-nominated actor and theater artist. Each has been awarded a Hermitage residency and Fellowship, in addition to a cash prize of $1,000.

HMTA winners and finalists are nominated and selected by a jury of nationally recognized arts leaders in the field of theater. The 2022 HMTA Award Committee included Christopher Burney, a member of the Hermitage Curatorial Council and the outgoing Artistic Director of New York Stage and Film; Patricia McGregor, an acclaimed director and the new Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop; and Jeanine Tesori, a Hermitage alumna and the Tony Award-winning composer of Kimberly Akimbo, Caroline or Change, and more.

February and March Programs Announced

The Hermitage Artist Retreat (Sarasota County, Florida) today announced new programs for February and March of 2023. These events will be presented on the Hermitage’s historic beachfront campus on Manasota Key and throughout Sarasota County. Hermitage programs introduce world-renowned artists to Florida’s Gulf Coast community for candid and engaging conversations, musical performances, play readings, work-in-process showings, and educational opportunities for students and adults.   

Newly announced February and March programs include continuing partnerships with ASALH (Association for the Study of African-American Life and History), Asolo Repertory Theatre, and the Town of Longboat Key, among others. New partnerships include a collaboration with Venice Symphony and the Pops Orchestra, as well as Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center. Featured artists and performers include Hermitage Major Theater Award winner Madeleine George, Tony and Olivier Award-winning producer Tom Kirdahy, Hermitage Prize in Composition at the Aspen Music Festival and School recipient Sofía Rocha, multidisciplinary artist Shannon Finnegan, acclaimed pianist and composer Conrad Tao, acclaimed author Daniel Gumbiner, award-winning theater maker Don Nguyen, groundbreaking jazz vocalist Fay Victor, playwright and screenwriter Stacey Rose, percussionist Lesley Mok, performer and teaching artist Tamara Anderson, and internationally exhibited visual artist B. Ingrid Olson

The newly announced programs in February and March begin with “The Art of Producing,” part of the Hermitage “Artists and Thinkers” series and the third in a cycle of popular conversations with Tony and Olivier Award-winning producer Tom Kirdahy. Kirdahy is great champion of new work and a friend to the Hermitage. This event is presented in collaboration with the Town of Longboat Key, where Mr. Kirdahy resides part of the year, as well as Asolo Repertory Theater where his work was recently seen on stage with Hood: A Robinhood Musical. This candid conversation between Kirdahy and fellow Tony Award winner Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage, will offer insight into the often-hidden role a producer plays in bringing shows to life on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and London’s West End, as well as the touring and regional market. Presented at Longboat Key’s Bayfront Park as the sun sets over Sarasota Bay on Friday, February 3 at 5pm. 

“Mastering the Monologue,” with theater maker Don Nguyen, is a masterclass on the often-tricky task of writing and performing a monologue. Presented in collaboration with New College of Florida on Friday, February 17 at 5pm, this intimate engagement at the New College campus in Sarasota provides a rare opportunity to observe both the performance of theatrical text and a dissection of its inner workings. A recipient of the New York Stage and Film Founder’s Award, Don Nguyenis a multifaceted artist whose plays are “intriguing and empathetic” (Seattle Times) with “a genuine sweetness” (The New York Times).

“Jazz and Theater: Keeping the Beat” reunites the Hermitage with the Manasota chapter of ASALH at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center to present Jazz vocalist Fay Victor and playwright Stacey Rose. Presented at Fogartyville’s hybrid indoor-outdoor space on Thursday February 23 at 5pm, this program combines the unparalleled stylings of Fay Victor with the biting wit of Stacey Rose. With her scat stylings recognized by The New York Times as “her own hybrid of song and spoken word,” Fay Victor will share improvisatory work and speak about her career as a musical artist breaking boundaries. With a focus on “life as the other,” playwright and screenwriter Stacey Rose’s work has been seen on stages and screens across the United States including Barrington Stage, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York, and Fox’s 9-1-1.  

On Thursday, March 2 at 5:30pm, Tamara Anderson, Lesley Mok, and B. Ingrid Olson put the Hermitage’s multidisciplinary mission on display with “Tell and Show: Art and Performance Expressing Identity.” Working across different mediums but all using material from their own lives to inform the substance of their craft, each will share work and discuss their artistic process. Tamara Anderson has been seen on stage and screen and celebrated for her charm, humor, and impressive vocals. Lesley Mok’s innovative and dynamic compositions have been performed by such leading ensembles as the International Contemporary Ensemble, Metropolis Ensemble, and JACK Quartet. Visual artist B. Ingrid Olson’s works have been exhibited around the world including the MoMa in New York, Harvard’s Carpenter Center, the Aspen Art Museum, and i8 Gallery in Reykjavík.

Hermitage Major Theater Award Winner Madeleine George has a gift for delivering a powerful message in a joyous package, which she will speak about with Hermitage audiences in “Comedy and Community” on Friday, March 10 at 5:30pm. Like her work on Hulu’s hit television series “Only Murders in the Building,” or her plays Hurricane Diane and the Pulitzer Prize finalist The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence, her commission-in-process promises to tackle cultural and systemic mores all in the high stakes world of amateur bowling. With her unique blend of comedy and heart, George will share prior work and discuss her goals for the new HMTA commission, as well as how she hopes it will help to build and enhance a sense of community.

Sofía Rocha, the 2022 recipient of the Hermitage Prize in Composition presented at the Aspen Music Festival and School, shares her original musical compositions as part of the Hermitage “Sunsets @ Selby Gardens” series in “Making Musical Waves.” Rocha, no stranger to Florida having grown up in Naples, has studied and presented work across the United States with noted ensembles such as JACK Quartet, DeCoda, loadbang, and Brentano String Quartet, among others. For this musical program on Thursday, March 16 at 6:30pm, the Hermitage is partnering with the Venice Symphony and the Pops Orchestra to offer live performances of this next-generation composer’s nuanced and evocative work, all with unique insights from the creator, set against the backdrop of the botanical gardens. This season of “Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens” is sponsored in part by Scene Magazine.     

Nearly all 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. Due to capacity limitations and social distancing, registration is required at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.

Playwright and Screenwriter Madeleine George Receives Hermitage Major Theater Award 

Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, announced today that accomplished playwright and screenwriter Madeleine George, currently a writer on the hit Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building,” has been newly selected as the 2021 recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA). This national jury-selected prize, established by the Hermitage last year with generous support from the Kutya Major Foundation, offers one of the largest non-profit theater commissions in the country. George 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 such as New York, Chicago, or London in the fall of 2023. Originally awarded in December of 2021 to Radha Blank who is not able to fulfill the commission due to conflicting professional commitments, the inaugural Award Committee reconvened to enthusiastically endorse George – one of four distinguished finalists nominated in the initial process – for this prestigious honor.

Madeleine George’s plays include Hurricane Diane (Obie Award), The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence (Pulitzer Prize finalist; Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award), Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England (Susan Smith Blackburn finalist), Precious Little, and The Zero Hour (Jane Chambers Award, Lambda Literary Award finalist).  Honors include a Whiting Award, the Princess Grace Award, and a Lilly Award. Her translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters premiered at Two River Theater in 2022, and her audio adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For is forthcoming from Audible Originals. Madeleine is a founding member of the Obie Award-winning playwrights’ collective 13P. She is currently a writer and producer on Hulu’s acclaimed mystery-comedy Only Murders in the Building, starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez.

“I was surprised and thrilled to get the news about the Hermitage Major Theater Award,” said George on receiving the news from Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “It’s such an honor to be joining in the Hermitage’s awe-inspiring family of artists, and I’m excited to have resources and time to put towards my commissioned play, which has been on my mind for a while and which I’m eager to share with the world.”

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. HMTA winners are nominated and selected by a jury of nationally recognized arts leaders in the field of theater. The 2021 HMTA Award Committee included Doug Wright, Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright, and past president of the Dramatists Guild of America; Leigh Silverman, Tony Award nominee and Obie Award-winning director; and Liesl Tommy, Tony Award nominee and Obie Award-Winning stage and screen director.

Theater Maker and Director Shariffa Ali Is the 2022 Recipient of the $35,000 Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA)

This award will alter the course of my life; it is a true game changer.”
—Shariffa Ali, 2022 Hermitage Major Theater Award Winner

Accomplished theater artist and director Shariffa Ali has been selected as the 2022 recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA). This national jury-selected prize, newly established by the Hermitage last year with generous support from the Kutya Major Foundation, offers one of the largest non-profit theater commissions in the country. Ali 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 such as New York, Chicago, or London in the fall of 2023. Ali’s past theatrical productions as a director include Eclipsed, Detroit ’67, Intimate Apparel, We Are Proud to Present, and the original musical We Were Everywhere. She has worked as an arts administrator at The Public Theater and The New Group, and she has taught at New York University, Brooklyn College, Yale University, and Princeton University. She is the second recipient of the HMTA, which was first awarded in 2021 to playwright and filmmaker Radha Blank.

“It is surreal and the most gratifying and pleasant surprise to be honored in this way by artists whose work has been a compass in my own upbringing as a theater maker,” said Shariffa Ali on receiving the Hermitage Major Theater Award. “The fact that they support my art and wish to carve out space for myself and my collaborator Vuyo Sotashe with this project is a huge honor. It is extremely surprising, humbling, and life-affirming. This award will alter the course of my life; it is a true game changer.”

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. HMTA winners are nominated and selected by a jury of nationally recognized arts leaders in the field of theater. The 2022 HMTA Award Committee included Lynn Nottage, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and past Hermitage Fellow; David Henry Hwang, Tony, Grammy, and Obie Award winner; and Regina Taylor, Golden Globe Award-winning actress, director, playwright, educator, activist, and past Hermitage Fellow.

“It is thrilling to be able to uplift and support the work of Shariffa Ali, said 2022 HMTA Award Committee member Lynn Nottage. “She, like her fellow finalists Jonathan McCrory, Vanessa German, and José Rivera, is a groundbreaking artist whose work continues to push the boundaries of storytelling in inventive and inspiring ways.”

“Shariffa is a brave and brilliant theater maker – sensitive and bold in her craft, challenging and subversive in her choices,” added fellow juror Regina Taylor. “The Hermitage Major Theater Award is a change maker, and I’m excited about what Shariffa will create and share with us in this next year ahead.”

“I am thrilled to help give a groundbreaking artist the time and resources to bring their vision to life,” remarked David Henry Hwang. “All of our finalists are game-changing innovators, so this was a very tough decision. Ultimately, Shariffa’s idea proved clear, compelling, necessary, and irresistible. I hope to see all our finalists’ projects realized and am grateful to the Hermitage for giving each a residency so they can advance their work!”

Three distinguished finalists for the 2022 Hermitage Major Theater Award include Vanessa German, a citizen artist working across sculpture, performance, communal rituals, immersive installation, and photography; Jonathan McCrory, an Obie Award-winning director and producer; and José Rivera, an Obie Award winner and Oscar-nominated writer. Each will receive a Hermitage residency, in addition to a cash prize of $1,000.

“Amidst these four brilliant finalists, Shariffa Ali revealed herself to be a passionate theater artist who impressed the 2022 Award Committee with her compelling and inspired vision,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “Shariffa proudly defines herself as a ‘theater maker,’ and the project she has proposed will allow to her to delve into her many talents as a creator, director, and storyteller. I must thank our extraordinary dream-team of an Award Committee – Lynn Nottage, David Henry Hwang, and Regina Taylor – for their thoughtfulness, leadership, and care throughout this process. I also want to congratulate Vanessa German, Jonathan McCrory, and José Rivera, each of whom are exceptional artists with bold voices and thrilling ideas. We are excited to welcome all four of these extraordinary talents into the Hermitage family.”

Born in Kenya and raised in South Africa, Shariffa Chelimo Ali is an international theater maker, creative leader, director, and educator committed to advancing radical change through the power of art and activism. In addition to her theater credits, Ali’s films have been featured at acclaimed film/VR festivals and institutions throughout the world, including Sundance Film Festival (USA); Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (South Africa); Brooklyn Film Festival (USA); Pan African Film Festival (USA); Electric Africa VR festival (South Africa) and DOK Neuland (Germany). In 2022, Ali was named the Elizabeth M. Swayzee Artist-in-Residence at Miami University, where she curated the inaugural Black Roots Festival in the spring of 2022. Ali has been a director and arts administrator at The Public Theater and The New Group, both in New York. She has directed and lectured at Yale University, NYU, Brooklyn College, and Princeton University, where she is currently a faculty member at the Lewis Center for the Arts. Shariffa.com 

In describing her intended HMTA commission, Ali writes: “Despite the homophobia and transphobia inherent in small-town South Africa, a middle school choir, their principal, and their parents make an agreement to disguise the town’s most talented and beloved singer Vuyo (he/they) as a girl in order to have him sing as a female soloist in a national choir competition. As Vuyo increasingly feels at home in this new role as a female soloist, they begin a journey that will see them come to reckon with identity, community, and finding a voice of truth.” Vuyo is a friend and collaborator of this year’s HMTA recipient, so Ali is particularly passionate about capturing the heart and soul of her friend’s true story through this commission. “It is my hope that Vuyo’s remarkable story and lessons of healing and forging community can be a healing force for us all.”

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 work, as well as a reading or workshop in a leading arts and cultural center. This year’s commission is expected to receive its development workshop in the fall of 2023. 

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, or otherwise – in our culture and society. 

As to how this will infuse Ali’s commission, she explains that “we will witness how being part of an ensemble-based arts activity like a choir can alter the course of one’s destiny. Choirs serve as a place of belonging and community and provide people with opportunities to travel and grow in ways that one would not ordinarily be able to achieve. Through this true story, we learn how the arts can lead to discovery and adventure which ultimately lead to finding one’s voice.”

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 and Sarasota County, where the commission is born, and other leading arts and culture centers around the world, including New York, London, Chicago, and other leading arts capitals where great theater is frequently developed and presented.

 “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, as well as 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, 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 American canon each year, this is an exciting opportunity for the Hermitage to take a further step in supporting the artistic process as we offer developmental resources to these extraordinary artists and their new commissions along their journey.” 

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.

“Anyone who values and appreciates the arts, across all disciplines, needs to invest in supporting artists in the earliest stages of their creative process — this is what the Hermitage does so well,” remarked Flora Major, founder and trustee of the Kutya Major Foundation. “I am so excited by the Award Committee’s selection of Shariffa. She is a passionate shining star who I know will make us all proud, and we are truly honored to have had such incredible artists like David Henry Hwang, Lynn Nottage, and Regina Taylor guiding this nomination and selection process,” added Major. “I hope this initiative will inspire others who are passionate about the arts to recognize and support the important work that the Hermitage is doing to support what is new and original at the true ground floor.”

The inaugural Hermitage Major Theater Award was presented in 2021 to theater artist and filmmaker Radha Blank, who received critical acclaim for her film The Forty-Year-Old Version, available on Netflix. Blank’s HMTA commission is currently in development with a workshop anticipated later this year in New York.

Writer and Director Radha Blank Is the Inaugural Recipient of the $35,000 Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA)

“In a theatrical landscape hobbled by COVID, the Hermitage has done something heroic; they have instituted a brand new, financially generous commission for a playwright of demonstrable achievement to draft a new work. It is one of the premier commissions of its kind and could not come at a more auspicious, even urgent time.”
—Doug Wright, Hermitage Major Theater Award Committee

Playwright and director Radha Blank has been selected as the inaugural recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award. This national jury-selected prize, newly established by the Hermitage earlier this year with generous support from the Kutya Major Foundation, offers one of the largest non-profit theater commissions in the country. Blank will receive a cash prize of $35,000, as well as a residency at the Hermitage (Sarasota County, Florida) and a developmental workshop in New York. Blank’s critically acclaimed debut feature film, The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix), was awarded the 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s Vanguard Award and the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award. Blank’s play Seed received a Helen Merrill Award, and she has written for the television series Empire (Fox) and Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix). Blank is also known to many audiences as RadhaMUSprime, performing her unique brand of hip-hop comedy around the world.

“I am thrilled to receive this kind of support from the theater-making community, and honored to be the first recipient of this awesome award,” said Radha Blank on receiving the Hermitage Major Theater Award. “This recognition is very affirming. This commission answers the question: how can I continue to do my work and not jump into a system that is constantly asking me to conform and change who I am? Having a destination and an actual place and community to create is a gift. I don’t take it lightly. I really appreciate this.”

The Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA) was established this year to recognize a playwright or theater artist with a $35,000 commission to create a new, original, and impactful piece of theater. HMTA winners are nominated and selected by a jury of nationally recognized arts leaders in the field of theater. The inaugural HMTA Award Committee included Doug Wright, Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright, and past president of the Dramatists Guild of America; Leigh Silverman, Tony Award nominee and Obie Award-winning director; and Liesl Tommy, Tony Award nominee and Obie Award-Winning stage and screen director.

“The theater needs Radha’s voice more than ever, especially in the current cultural moment,” said HMTA juror Doug Wright, a past Hermitage Fellow himself.

“Radha has passion and heart, and she crosses so many different genres and traverses so many different mediums,” remarked HMTA juror Leigh Silverman. “At this moment in the theater, we’re all coming out of a time of being frozen in amber. The idea of this award from the Hermitage – and what this offers – is hope, as well as a sense of community, time, and space.

“This is a pure gift of support for Radha and her writing, with no strings attached,” added HMTA juror Liesl Tommy. “It’s an opportunity for Radha to be free in this moment, which is why these kinds of commissions are so important to us as artists.”

Three finalists for the 2021 Hermitage Major Theater Award include Luis Alfaro, an accomplished playwright and MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow; Eisa Davis, an Obie Award-winning multi-disciplinary theater-maker; and Madeleine George, an Obie Award-winning playwright. Each will receive a Hermitage residency, in addition to a cash prize of $1,000.

“Amidst an extraordinary and competitive field of finalists, Radha Blank stood out as an innovative and exciting artist who impressed the award committee with her passionate and inspired vision,” said Andy Sandberg. “While many audiences have come to know Radha through her work on film, our hope is that this opportunity recognizes, inspires, and embraces Radha as an exciting and important voice in the American theater. We thank our brilliant award committee Doug Wright, Leigh Silverman, and Liesl Tommy for their leadership and thoughtfulness, and we congratulate all of our finalists. Luis Alfaro, Eisa Davis, and Madeleine George are exceptional artists of the theater, with bold voices and thrilling ideas. We are excited to welcome all four of these extraordinary talents into the Hermitage family.”

In 2020, Blank was named as one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” and hailed as “a brilliant filmmaker” by The New York Times. Her debut feature film, The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix) was the recipient of multiple prestigious awards and nominations, including recognition for Blank’s writing, directing, and performance. Blank was nominated for the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director and a BAFTA Award for Leading Actress. The Forty-Year-Old Version most recently received its New York City 35mm debut at the Paris Theater, where Blank made history as the first Black woman director showcased in the cinema house’s 75-year history. When not writing for the stage and screen, Blank performs as RadhaMUSprime, whose brand of hip-hop comedy has sold out shows from New York to Norway.

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 work, in addition to a reading or workshop in a leading arts and cultural center. This year’s commission is expected to receive a development workshop in New York in the fall of 2022.

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, or otherwise – in our culture and society. This distinguished 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 and Sarasota County, where the commission is born, and other leading arts and culture centers around the world, including New York, London, and Chicago – where great theater is frequently developed and presented.

“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, as well as an opportunity for these innovative theater-makers to workshop and develop their original ideas,” said Andy Sandberg at a Hermitage announcement event. A director, writer, and Tony Award-winning producer, 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 American canon each year, this is an exciting opportunity for the Hermitage to take a further step in supporting artistic development as we offer developmental resources to these extraordinary artists and their new commissions along their journey.”

The Hermitage Major Theater Award is made possible with a generous multi-year gift to the Hermitage from the Kutya Major Foundation.
“Anyone who values and appreciates the arts, across all disciplines, needs to invest in supporting artists in the earliest stages of their creative process — this is what the Hermitage does so well,” remarked Flora Major, founder and trustee of the Kutya Major Foundation. “I hope this new initiative will inspire others who are passionate about the arts to recognize and support the important work that the Hermitage is doing.”

In addition to this newly created commission, the Hermitage Artist Retreat annually awards the prestigious jury-selected Hermitage Greenfield Prize (HGP), a $30,000 commission that rotates each year between the disciplines of music, theater, and visual art. Past recipients in theater have included Aleshea Harris (2021), Martyna Majok (2018), Nilo Cruz (2015), John Guare (2012), and Craig Lucas (2009).