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. 

Third Annual Concert in the Ruby E. Crosby Alumni Music Series

The Hermitage Artist Retreat (Sarasota County, Florida) is pleased to announce the third annual concert in the Ruby E. Crosby Alumni Music Series at the Hermitage, featuring award-winning composer and pianist Conrad Tao. This event will take place on Thursday, March 28th at 7pm at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. This alumni music initiative was launched in 2022 to a full-capacity crowd at Selby Gardens with “Soulful Strings: An Evening of Harp Music,” featuring celebrated harpist and Hermitage alumna Ashley Jackson. Last year’s concert, “The Pop-Folk World of Zoe Sarnak,” featured award-winning New York City-based Hermitage alum Zoe Sarnak,withSarasota-based vocalists and musicians performing Sarnak’s original songs at Nathan Benderson Park.

This year, the Ruby E. Crosby Alumni Music Series at the Hermitage returns to classical music with world-renowned pianist, composer, and Hermitage Fellow Conrad Tao. Tao has appeared worldwide as a pianist and composer – including acclaimed performances with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, and more. He has been dubbed “the kind of musician who is shaping the future of classical music” by New York Magazine and an artist of “probing intellect and open-hearted vision” by The New York Times.

The Ruby E. Crosby Alumni Music Series at the Hermitage offers the opportunity for a distinguished Hermitage alumni composer or musician to return for additional residency time and a special community concert. This initiative is made possible by a generous multi-year gift from the Ruby E. and Carole Crosby Family Foundation. Current Hermitage Board President Carole Crosby initiated this gift as a special tribute to her mother Ruby, who helped to inspire her own deep love of music. A musician herself, Carole Crosby graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music and played the harp in both the Atlanta Symphony and Detroit Symphony.

“The Hermitage brings some of the most impressive performers in the world to our community,” said Crosby. “Music was always incredibly important to me and to my mother, so it’s an honor to celebrate her memory with this initiative spotlighting and supporting some truly extraordinary composers and musicians. I am continually inspired by the Hermitage’s commitment to these artists and the impact these magnificent talents are having in our region.”

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Conrad Tao back to Sarasota to share his talents with our growing Hermitage audience,” added Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “Anyone who has seen Conrad perform knows that is one of the most extraordinary and innovative pianists of his generation. As we continue to reengage with and provide more opportunities for Hermitage alumni, this generous gift from Carole Crosby in honor of her mother allows us to celebrate some of the groundbreaking musical talents who have come to know Sarasota through their time at the Hermitage and to share their latest work with the members of our community.”

Hermitage Fellow Conrad Tao captures and energizes the essence of popular classical music through his undeniably gifted lens of improvisation and imaginative composition to elevate the future of music. He has amassed a steady stream of awards and critical acclaim for his performances, compositions, and recordings with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, and symphonies around the world. A returning Hermitage Fellow, Tao is the recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and was named a Gilmore Young Artist – an honor awarded only once every two years to highlight the most promising American pianists of the new generation.

“Piano Classics Remade” will be presented outdoors at Selby Gardens (Downtown Sarasota) on Thursday, March 28th at 7pm. 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, at which time registration will shift to a waitlist. Early registration is strongly encouraged.

Playwright Deepa Purohit Receives 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize

The Hermitage Artist Retreat (Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO), in collaboration with the Philadelphia-based Greenfield Foundation, has selected playwright Deepa Purohit as the winner of the 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize (HGP). Purohit is an award-winning playwright who made her Off-Broadway debut in the Atlantic Theater Company’s 2022-23 season with the world premiere of her play Elyria (2023 Drama League Award Nominee for Outstanding Production of a Play, 2017 NEA Commission, and 2019 Jerome Foundation support with Ma-Yi Theater Company).

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize is awarded annually, rotating between the fields of theater, music, and visual art. Purohit will receive a six-week Hermitage Fellowship and a $35,000 commission to create a new work of theater, which will have its first public presentation in Sarasota in 2026. This year, the Greenfield Foundation and the Hermitage decided to increase the cash component of the award from $30,000 to $35,000. Purohit will be the first recipient of the HGP to receive this newly increased commission prize.

Purohit was selected by a distinguished jury that included Obie Award-winning playwright Rajiv Joseph, Tony Award winner and Artistic Director of A.R.T. Diane Paulus, and Tony Award-winning actor, director, and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson.Past winners of this distinguished honor in the discipline of theater include Aleshea Harris (2021), Martyna Majok (2018), Nilo Cruz (2014), John Guare (2011), and Craig Lucas (2009). 

“Amidst a truly extraordinary field of finalists, this remarkable jury faced an incredibly difficult task to select a single recipient. Deepa Purohit emerged as an ambitious and original theatrical voice who impressed the jury with her inspiring vision,” says Hermitage Artistic Director Andy Sandberg. “Her dedication to innovative storytelling embodies the mission of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize — to bring into the world works of art that have a significant impact on the broad as well as the artistic culture of our society. We thank our distinguished jurors for their dedication, and we congratulate all four brilliant finalists, whom we look forward to welcoming at the Hermitage. We’re excited to host Deepa in Florida for the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner in April, and subsequently as a Hermitage Fellow in anticipation of the first public presentation of her new commission in Sarasota in 2026.” 

Deepa Purohit was featured last year in the Atlantic Theater Company’s season with the Off-Broadway production of her play Elyria, earning Purohit 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. Based in Brooklyn, she studied acting at the Harlem Theatre Company in New York City. Her acting credits include Sex and The City 2 and The Sopranos. Prior to focusing on playwriting, Purohit had a career in education as a Baltimore City middle school teacher, and she is an alumna of the Teach For America program.

Hermitage Greenfield Prize recipients and finalists are nominated and selected by a jury of nationally recognized arts leaders. The 2024 jury in theater included Rajiv Joseph, an Obie Award-winning playwright, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and member of the Hermitage National Curatorial Council; Diane Paulus, a Tony Award-winning Broadway director and Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University; and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a Tony and Obie Award-winning actor, director, and writer.

Three finalists for the 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize include Zora Howard, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, writer, performer, and Hermitage alumna whose plays include StewHang TimeThe Master’s ToolsBust, and Good FaithDaniel & Patrick Lazour, brothers and musical theater writers who created the original musical We Live in Cairoand Britton Smith, a writer, performer, and co-founder of the Tony Award-winning organization Broadway Advocacy Coalition. All three will receive a Hermitage residency, in addition to a prize of $1,000.

“Deepa Purohit had a brilliant play at the Atlantic last season, and she has shown that she has the ambition and the talent as a playwright to be a real serious voice in the theater,” says Rajiv Joseph. “Deepa is definitely someone I look forward to seeing more from.”

“The experience of being a juror for the Hermitage Greenfield Prize was deeply inspiring, as we heard very engaging and innovative proposals from an incredible roster of finalists,” says Diane Paulus. “The winner, Deepa Purohit, is an artist whom I know will make a major contribution to the theater world, and through her project, to our understanding of the existential questions of how we live and die with dignity and care for our elders.” 

“What an honor to be a member of the jury for the 2024 Hermitage Greenfield Prize,” added Ruben Santiago-Hudson. “Listening to the ideas bursting from the minds and hearts of four of the most dynamic theater artists of our time was a revelation. This whole process was a wonderful confirmation that our theater is in great hands and the future is indeed very bright. That the Hermitage is here to support these exceptional artists is truly a gift. It gives me the greatest pleasure to say congratulations to all four finalists – Zora Howard, Daniel & Patrick Lazour, Deepa Purohit, and Britton Smith – all champions of this extraordinary life that has chosen us called the theater. We look forward to witnessing their fierce, brave, and beautiful stories unfold.”

“I’m humbled and deeply grateful to receive the incredibly generous Hermitage Greenfield Prize at this moment in my life. I’m honestly blown away,” says Purohit. “The support of the prize and the residency will provide me with the much needed space, time, and resources that I’ve been craving to not only create a new work, but also to grow and experiment in my craft in ways I hope will contribute to American theater and the cultural fabric of our society.”

Centering the stories of South Asian women, Purohit plans to explore a question we all must encounter in our lives — how does one die with dignity in a society that values a sophisticated medical system centered on a key tenet: to prolong life? Purohit aims to bring all her skills as a playwright and theatrical polymath to this new commission, blending various forms of theatrical expression including multimedia, installation performance art, and immersive theatrical happenings. Growing up with a father who immigrated to Ohio and built his career as a surgeon in the American medical system, and a mother who spent many years at the end of her lift navigating the complex system as a patient, Purohit brings deep personal connections and insight to the story. In the face of an immense, multi-billion dollar medical and elder care industry, Purohit explores what she believes to be one of the most complicated and meaningful issues of our time — how to die with dignity. 

Purohit will be celebrated at the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner on Sunday, April 14 at 6pm at Michael’s On East in Sarasota, Florida. Capacity will be limited, so early reservations are strongly recommended. 

In addition to the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner on April 14, the Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration will include programs and talks with current and past HGP winners from April 12 to 15, 2024. These events will be presented on the Hermitage Beach and throughout Sarasota County with some also available online. Additional details about these programs will be announced at a later date. The Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration is presented in partnership with the Greenfield Foundation, with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County serving as the Lead Community Sponsor.

Hermitage Announces New February and March Programs 

The Hermitage Artist Retreat (Sarasota County, Florida) announces new programs extending into February and March. 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 collaboration with Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, The Ringling Museum, Nathan Benderson Park, The Town of Longboat Key, and more. Hermitage programs introduce world-renowned artists to Florida’s Gulf Coast community and invite audiences across the country to experience candid and engaging conversations, open studios, music performances, play readings, film screenings, and more.

Newly announced February programs include Hermitage Fellow Nambi E. Kelly, a celebrated theater writer, performer, and producer who recently worked on Peacock’s hit series “Bel-Air.” On Friday, February 9 at 5:30pm at Booker High School, hear insights and excerpts of new works from this accomplished storyteller and rising star of the theater, television, and film world. 

On Friday, February 23 at 5pm in Sarasota, Hermitage National Curatorial Council Member Limor Tomer, founder of the Live Arts Department at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, will share the unique challenges and opportunities of transforming the hallowed halls of museums into community gathering spaces for performance. She is joined by The Ringling’s own Curator of Performance, Elizabeth Doud, who is responsible for the internationally-sourced “Art of Performance” series. Their insights into this growing field and its unique place in the artistic landscape will take place under the banyans on the grounds of The Ringling Museum.

2023 Hermitage Greenfield Prize finalist Maura Brewer and returning Hermitage Fellow David “Doc” Wallace will present a two-part program at the Hermitage Beach on Friday, March 1 at 5:30pm. A visual and multimedia artist, Brewer uses video and images to explore and uncover stories about our world, while Wallace expertly blends sounds and music to engage in the present like only a gifted musician can. Hear from both artists and engage with selections of their work.

Hermitage Fellow and acclaimed author Mesha Maren joins the Creative Writing Department at Ringling College as a part of the Visiting Writers Forum to inspire students and community members alike for the first installment of “Hermitage Writes @ Ringling College.” Maren’s work has been described by The New York Times as “bold,” “forceful,” and providing a “much needed refresh.”  Hear selections of her work and gain insights into her process during this conversation series at the Ringling College of Art and Design on Tuesday March 12 at 7pm. 

On Thursday, March 14 at 6:30pm, the popular “Hermitage Sunsets @ Nathan Benderson Park” series continues with “More Than Music,” featuring 2022 Hermitage Greenfield Prize finalist and Guggenheim Fellow Etienne Charles, along with returning Hermitage alumna Kamala Sankaram (pictured). These two Hermitage Fellows make more than excellent music; they create experiences that can make you feel the rhythm as quickly as they make you think. Join these two talented artists for a sunset experience of music and conversation by the lake at Nathan Benderson Park.  

On Friday, March 22 at 12pm, Hermitage Fellow Elisa Bocanegra gives the keynote address to the Venice Writers Festival at the William H. Jervey, Jr. Venice Library. Following the success of last year’s participation from Hermitage Fellow and poet Rigoberto Gonzalez, the Hermitage is pleased to partner once more with this excellent forum of community writers. Bocanegra, a recipient of the 2022-2023 Fulbright as well as the TCG Leadership U Grant, will speak about the intersection of writing, performance, and community building through her work on projects such as Nuestro Planeta, which aims to educate audiences about environmental justice in the Americas.

Returning Hermitage Fellow and multi-talented author and poet Brandel France de Bravo will marry the worlds of creative poetry and public health policy in an in-depth conversation about the craft and the future of the creative writing field. Join the Hermitage at Ringling College of Art and Design on Tuesday, March 26 at 7pm for the second installment of “Hermitage Writes @ Ringling College,” part of the college’s Creative Writing Department. 

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. Due to capacity limitations, registration is required.

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. 

Nov. 30 “Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens” to Discuss State of the Arts

The Hermitage Artist Retreat announced today that a distinguished panel of arts and cultural leaders will discuss the myriad of challenges facing the arts in Florida and our country in the newly announced program “Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens: State of the Arts in Florida.” This event will take place on Thursday, November 30th at 5pm at Selby Gardens’ Historic Spanish Point campus. Hermitage Curatorial Council member Nataki Garrett, who recently served as Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, andTony and Olivier Award-winning producer Tom Kirdahy, a Sarasota resident and friend of the Hermitage, will participate in a discussion with the President of the Manasota Chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), David Wilkins, in a conversation moderated by Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg

No matter where you get your news, it is a given reality that America – and Florida, in particular – feels more divided now than at nearly any point in our history. How does this impact the artists who call Florida home or who come here to make work? What challenges does this create for our state’s cultural economy? These esteemed professionals will share their experiences and thoughts in a candid and wide-ranging discussion on the arts community and the artists creating work in the state of Florida and beyond.  

As a leading theater director and administrator who recently served as Artistic Director of the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Nataki Garrett has first-hand experience of the challenges arts leaders face in a polarized nation. Tony Award-winning producer Tom Kirdahy,active in both the Florida community and the national arts scene, has shared his candid views on the state of the arts with the Hermitage in previous programs. Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg will moderate the conversation, which will also feature the insight of David Wilkins from Manasota ASALH. Audience members will have the opportunity to engage with these local, national, and international experts in a frank and open discussion on the state of the arts in Florida and beyond.

“Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens” is now in its fourth year as part of the Hermitage’s 2023-2024 season. The outdoor series — a continuing collaboration between the Hermitage Artist Retreat and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens — features performances, conversations, and explorations of works-in-progress by Hermitage artists-in-residence and alumni. 

“We are excited to now be in our fourth season of ‘Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens,’” says Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “It has been a joy to bring rich arts and cultural experiences to both of Selby Gardens’ beautiful waterfront locations, giving audiences the chance to experience one-of-a-kind performances and ‘sneak peeks’ into the creative process of leading national artists. We know this event with Nataki, Tom, and David will be a particularly compelling and candid conversation that’s relevant to all who appreciate and value the arts in our community.” 

These outdoor events are one part of many “Hermitage North” programs and collaborations planned throughout the season, spanning Sarasota County and the surrounding region. The programs feature industry-leading playwrights, visual artists, musicians, poets, choreographers, and more — all free to the members of our community with a $5/person registration fee. 

Grammy-Winning ETHEL to Headline Artful Lobster

The Hermitage Artist Retreat announces today that world-renowned and Grammy Award-winning string quartet ETHEL will headline the Hermitage’s signature fall fundraising event, “The Artful Lobster: An Outdoor Celebration!” on Saturday, November 11th from 11:30am to 2pm at the Hermitage campus on Manasota Key. This is the first time in many years that all four members of ETHEL – Ralph FarrisKip JonesDorothy Lawson, and Corin Lee – will be reuniting at the Hermitage to celebrate this milestone anniversary of the event. This year’s Artful Lobster will also feature a performance by new Hermitage Fellow Emi Ferguson, a celebrated flutist and performer.

Now in its 15th year and following the 20th anniversary season of the Hermitage, the Artful Lobsterraises valuable funds for the Hermitage’s nationally renowned artist residency program, supporting the creative process of artists from around the world in the fields of music, theater, visual art, literature, dance, and more. This popular event, which takes place outdoors beneath a large tent on the Hermitage’s beachfront campus, features a lobster feast catered by Michael’s On East, in addition to live performances from renowned Hermitage Fellows. The co-chairs for the 2023 Artful Lobster are Terry Brackett and Suzette & Tim Flood

Grammy Award-winning ETHEL has performed across the United States and worldwide. They champion the art of music today, forging human connections across sound and style. ETHEL has premiered more than 250 works, many of them commissioned by the quartet consisting of four Hermitage alumni: Ralph Ferris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Dorothy Lawson (cello), and Corin Lee (violin). At the heart of ETHEL is a collaborative ethos — a quest for common creative expression, forged in listening and community. The quartet has a deep connection with the Hermitage Artist Retreat, both as individuals and as an ensemble, dating back to 2015 and including the premiere of Circus: Wandering City conceived at the Hermitage in collaboration with the Ringling Museum of Art, where it was presented in 2018 at the Historic Asolo Theater. The quartet recently celebrated its 25th anniversary as a highly acclaimed performing ensemble. ETHEL’s upcoming residency and appearance at the Artful Lobster are generously underwritten by Carol White Bold & Larry Bold

Hailed by critics for her “tonal bloom” and “hauntingly beautiful performances,” English-American flutist and composer Emi Ferguson stretches the boundaries of what is expected of modern-day musicians. Ferguson’s unique approach to the flute can be heard in performances that alternate between silver flute, auxiliary flutes, and historical flutes, playing repertoire that stretches from the Renaissance to today. 

“We are incredibly excited to welcome ETHEL back to the Hermitage to perform at our 15th annual Artful Lobster,” says Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “All of ETHEL are extraordinary talents and have been great friends to the Hermitage. Though some members have been back to Manasota Key individually – most recently Ralph Farris and Dorothy Lawson – it is thrilling to welcome the full quartet back for this milestone occasion. We are honored that both ETHEL and the brilliant Emi Ferguson will be joining us to celebrate this special event, which helps to raise vital funds for our core residency program and the 50 programs we offer throughout the community each year.”

Sponsorship levels for this fundraiser range from $1,250 to $10,000. Sponsorships may be purchased by contacting Hermitage Development Director Amy Wallace at (941) 475-2098, Ext. 2. The event has limited capacity remaining, so timely bookings are strongly recommended.

“Hermitage Sunsets @ Benderson Park” Kicks Off New Season on November 16

The Hermitage Artist Retreat announces a newly developed partnership with Nathan Benderson Park as a part of the Hermitage’s 2023-2024 season. Expanding on the success of the Hermitage programming at Selby Gardens and other venues throughout the region, the new “Hermitage Sunsets @ Benderson Park” series launches this year following a popular Hermitage program at the park last season. That event featured award-winning composer and Hermitage alumna Zoe Sarnak and an ensemble of performers who shared Sarnak’s original songs as a part of the Ruby E. Crosby Alumni Music Initiative at the Hermitage. Each program in the “Hermitage Sunsets @ Benderson Park” series will feature a celebrated Hermitage artist (or artists) to be announced. The outdoor series features performances and explorations of works-in-progress by Hermitage artists-in-residence and alumni.

“Hermitage Sunsets @ Benderson Park” events are currently scheduled to take place by Benderson Lake near the Nathan Benderson Family Finish Tower (5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, Sarasota, FL 34235). The first event in this series – scheduled for Thursday, November 16th at 5pm – features two of the most innovative voices working in theater today. “Hermitage Sunsets @ Benderson Park: Theater on the Lake” showcases the talents of Hermitage Fellows Terry Guest and James Anthony Tyler. These two talentssplit the bill to share some of their latest work and discuss the creative process as the sun goes down over the lake. This first program in the new series is presented in partnership with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, Urbanite Theatre, and Nathan Benderson Park Conservancy. Admission is free, but registration is required ($5/person) at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.

“As we continue to offer one-of-a-kind Hermitage programming throughout the region, we are excited to welcome Sarasota and Gulf Coast audiences to another fantastic venue where they can share a magical evening with Hermitage artists against the beautiful backdrop of Nathan Benderson Park’s lakefront location,” says Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “We are thrilled to build upon the success of our first program at Nathan Benderson Park last spring. Much like our beach programs on Manasota Key and other locations throughout Sarasota and Manatee County, these hour-long events will offer our community the opportunity to experience a ‘sneak peek’ into these extraordinary artists’ creative process.” 

“We are honored to partner with the Hermitage Artist Retreat to celebrate the arts at Nathan Benderson Park,” added Bruce C. Patneaude, Chief Operating Officer of Nathan Benderson Park Conservancy. “The artists coming to the Hermitage are some of the very best in the world. It is a unique opportunity to watch their creative performances and interactions with the audience. Hosting this event at the Park is one of the many ways we are pleased to bring creativity, diversity, and culture to the Sarasota County and Manatee County communities. We look forward to building a fantastic annual series of events.” 

Hermitage Fellow and award-winning writer-performer Terry Guest is the playwright behind Urbanite Theatre’s extended 2021 run of At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen, their upcoming production of Oak in 2024, and the Hermitage’s 2023 presentation of The Madness of Mary Todd, which was part of the “Hermitage Sunsets @ Selby Gardens” series, also in partnership with Urbanite. Guest, a Chicago-based playwright, also recently shared selections from his work about Eartha Kitt, A Ghost in Satin, on the Hermitage Beach. His play The Magnolia Ballet has been performed all around the country and was the recipient of two Jeff Awards in Chicago, with Guest’s play Marie Antionette and the Magical Negros winning three Jeff Awards. “We are thrilled to once again partner with the Hermitage in support of Terry’s remarkable work,” said Urbanite Producing Artistic Director Summer Dawn Wallace. “Sharing insight into Terry’s process at this scenic outdoor venue is the perfect way to get audiences tuned into this brilliant writer’s voice and excited for this season’s production of Oak.” 

Hermitage Fellow James Anthony Tyler, the third annual recipient of the Horton Foote Award, has the distinguished honor of being one of the first playwrights commissioned by Audible to produce an audio play specifically for that platform, Hop Tha A, which Sarasota audiences will recall hearing selections from on the Hermitage Beach during Tyler’s last residency. “James’ works tell the kinds of stories we uplift at WBTT, those that promote and celebrate African-American history and experience,” added Nate Jacobs, Founder and Artistic Director of Westcoast Black Theater Troupe. “We always enjoy partnering with the Hermitage to celebrate some of the nation’s most exciting new voices and playwrights.”

Confirmed 2023-2024 dates for this first official season of “Hermitage Sunsets @ Benderson Park” include Thursday, November 16, 2023, at 5pm; Friday, February 2, 2024, at 5pm; and Thursday, March 14, 2024, at 6:30pm.

These outdoor events are one part of many “Hermitage North” programs, series, and collaborations planned throughout the season, spanning Sarasota County and the surrounding region. The programs feature industry-leading and award-winning playwrights, visual artists, musicians, poets, choreographers, and more — all free to the members of our community with a $5/person registration fee. 

    Hermitage Announces First Wave of Fall and Winter Programs

    The Hermitage Artist Retreat announces the first wave of new public programs through the end of 2023, featuring acclaimed Hermitage Fellows in music, theater, dance, literature, visual art, and more – with additional events to be announced. These newly added programs are presented on the Hermitage’s historic beachfront campus, as well as venues throughout Sarasota County as part of the Hermitage’s ongoing collaborations with arts and cultural organizations spanning the Gulf Coast region, such as Asolo Repertory Theatre, The Bay Sarasota, Bookstore1, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, Johann Fust Library Foundation, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota Contemporary Dance, Sarasota County Libraries, Sarasota Opera, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, and more.

    A special September program celebrates the gifted artists who call Sarasota County home. Presented in partnership with the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County through the John Ringling Tower initiative, Sarasota artists Melanie Lavender and Kuniko Yamamoto combine talents for “Power in Paper: Celebrating Sarasota Artists” on Friday, September 29th at 6pm. As the sun sets on the Hermitage Beach, spoken-word poet, podcast host, and proud Booker High School alum Melanie Lavender shares selections of work resulting from her two-week residency at the Hermitage. She is joined by Kuniko Yamamoto, an origami master and theatrical storyteller who participated in the Hermitage/JRT residency program last year just before Hurricane Ian.   

    On Thursday, October 12th at 6pm, the Hermitage partners with Bookstore1 in downtown Sarasota to present Hermitage Fellow Kristen Renee Miller, who will read from selected works and discuss the ecosystem of the modern literary world in this free community program. October programming continues with a return to the Conservation Foundation’s Bay Preserve in Osprey, as Hermitage Fellows Diane Cook andCarmina Escobar explore the literary and sonic connection to the outdoors in this Hermitage program inspired by our collective roots in nature on Thursday, October 19th at 6pm. Hermitage events in October conclude on the Hermitage Beach with a pair of returning, Hermitage Fellows who met on Manasota Key while in residence. Celebrated poet Melissa Studdard and Grammy Award-winning composer ChristopherTheofanidis share selections of work from their oratorio inspired by Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha on Friday, October 27th at 6pm. This is a piece they are developing alongside Hermitage alumni Patrick Harlin and Anne Patterson, which is set to debut at the Aspen Music Festival in 2025. Hermitage audiences will be among the first to hear samples of this work and learn about its creative journey from the Hermitage Beach to one of the nation’s leading stages.

    Join Hermitage Fellow and New York Times-heralded author Emily Nemens as she reads from and discusses her debut novel, The Cactus League on Friday, November 3rd at 6pm on the Hermitage Beach. Anchored by an expert knowledge of baseball’s inner workings, her novel is a propulsive and deeply human story that captures the essence of one of Florida’s cherished pastimes: spring training. On Monday, November 6th at 3pm, Hermitage Fellow and award-winning librettist Kirya Traber shares her passion for music and offers an audience-engagement workshop for those interested in exploring an intuitive approach to songwriting. Explore how music and song are some of the most powerful tools for communicating stories in this participatory event. These events launch a new Hermitage partnership with Sarasota County Libraries and Ringling College of Art and Design to kick off the Off the Page Literary Festival

    On Saturday, November 11th, the Hermitage hosts its annual Artful LobsterAn Outdoor Celebration. Now celebrating its 15th year and coming on the heels of the organization’s jam-packed 20thAnniversary season, this signature event raises valuable funds for the Hermitage’s nationally renowned artist residency program. The Artful Lobster is the only Hermitage benefit to take place on the grounds of the historic Gulf front campus – outdoors from 11:30am to 2pm beneath a large tent – located at 6660 Manasota Key Road in Englewood. Michael’s On East offers a luscious lobster feast, with performances from renowned Hermitage Fellows. Tickets for this fundraiser and sponsorship details can be found at HermitageArtistRetreat.org.

    The Hermitage Cross Arts Collaborative, now in its second season, is a new annual residency program focused on supporting the incredible talent of performing artists frequently featured on Sarasota stages. This year the program is represented by musician and composer Lizzie Hagstedt, whose work has been developed with Asolo Rep, and Sarasota Contemporary Dance Company member Jessica Obiedzinski. After two weeks on the Hermitage’s historic beachfront campus, these two gifted creators will reunite to share selections of their new works and talk about how they utilized their residency time as the sun sets at The Bay – Sarasota’s newest signature park along Sarasota Bay on Tuesday, November 14th at 5pm. 

    On Thursday, December 14th at 4pm, Hermitage Fellow Cleyvis Natera reads from and offers insight into her “refreshingly direct and declarative” (NY Times) debut novel, Neruda on the Park, and shares a glimpse into her writing process at the Johann Fust Community Library in Boca Grande. 

    Additional November and December programs featuring award-winning Hermitage artists and performers will be announced at a later date.