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).