Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA)

“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.”
—Doug Wright, Hermitage Fellow, Pulitzer Prize & Tony Award-Winning Playwright

Hermitage Major Theater Award Recipients:
Chris Bush, 2024
Imani Uzuri, Fall 2022
Shariffa Ali, Spring 2022 
Madeleine George, 2021 

The Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA), presented annually by the Hermitage Artist Retreat, offers one of the largest non-profit theater commissions in the country. The HMTA was established in 2021 under the leadership of Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg, made possible with generous support from Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation.

This annual prize recognizes a playwright or theater artist with a commission of $35,000 to create an original work of theater. In addition to the commission, the recipient of this annual award receives six weeks of residency at the Hermitage’s historic beachfront campus to develop the new work, plus an inaugural reading or workshop in a leading arts and cultural center such as New York, London, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

The Hermitage breeds something unique, and without it, I cannot tell you how much work would not happen. There are very few recognitions which give structure and freedom at the same time as capital – there is a graciousness, generosity, and elegance to this award.”
Jeanine Tesori, 2022 Hermitage Major Theater Award Committee, Tony Award-Winning Composer

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, this award 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.

HMTA winners are nominated and selected each year by a rotating jury of internationally recognized arts leaders in the field of theater. Please note that there is no open application process for this award, and the identity of the Award Committee each year shall remain confidential until the announcement of the recipient. Neither self-submissions nor outside nominations for the HMTA will be accepted by the Hermitage or members of the Award Committee.

The HMTA was established in 2021 with generous support from the Kutya Major Foundation.

“This award will 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. 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 by offering developmental resources to these extraordinary artists and their new commissions along their journey.”
—Andy Sandberg, Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO

“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.” 
—Flora Major, Founder and Trustee of the Kutya Major Foundation

Additionally, this award will offer the Gulf Coast community the chance to birth and introduce this new work of theater to the world, making a lasting impact on the broader artistic landscape, increasing the visibility of the Hermitage’s impact in other cultural centers, and emphasizing the global perspective of the bold new works being created on Manasota Key (Sarasota County, Florida).

Chris Bush, 2024 HMTA Recipient

Chris Bush is a Sheffield-born playwright, lyricist, and theater maker now residing in London. Her musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge has received acclaim at Sheffield Theatres and the National Theatre, earning the Olivier Award and UK Theatre Award for Best Musical; the production transfers to the West End in early 2024. Past credits include Pericles and The Odyssey (both National Theatre); Rock/Paper/Scissors, The Band Plays On, What We Wished For, A Dream, and The Sheffield Mysteries (all Sheffield Theatres); Jane Eyre (Stephen Joseph Theatre, New Vic Theatre); The Doncastrain Chalk Circle (CAST Doncaster / National Theatre); Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World (Kenny Wax, UK Tour – UK Theatre Award for Best Show for Children & Young People); Hungry (Paines Plough); Kein Weltuntergang/Not the End of the World (Schaubühne, Berlin); Nine Lessons and Carols: Stories for a Long Winter (Almeida Theatre); Faustus: That Damned Woman (Headlong/Lyric Hammersmith/Birmingham Rep); The Last Noël (Attic Theatre/UK tour); The Assination of Katie Hopkins (Theatr Clwyd – UK Theatre Award for Best Musical); The Changing Room (NT Connections); A Declaration from the People (National Theatre: Dorfman); and Larksong (New Vic, Stoke-on-Trent). Film includes Mars (dir. Abel Rubinstein).

Chris’ Hermitage Major Theater Award commission will have a developmental workshop in London in 2025.

Michael Grandage – Tony and Olivier Award-Winning Director of Stage & Screen
Tessa Ross– BAFTA Award Winner and Co-CEO of House Productions
Indhu Rubasingham
– Incoming Director of the National Theatre


Imani Uzuri, Fall 2022 HMTA Recipient

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. As a Jerome Foundation Composer/Sound Artist Fellow and a Camargo Foundation (Cassis, France) Composer- in-Residence, Uzuri made international sojourns to over 30 shrines in support of her forthcoming ritual opera celebrating the holy iconography of the Black Madonna. Uzuri has been commissioned by Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, The Ford Foundation, Harvard Fromm Players, The Flea Theater, and her recent Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commission She Knows Suite premiered at Lincoln Center Atrium. Uzuri’s work has been featured at international venues/festivals including Performa Biennial, France’s Festival Sons d’hiver, London’s ICA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Joe’s Pub, LA Phil, MoMA, Carnegie Hall, NY Phil, and Lincoln Center. Her work has been called “stunning” by Vulture, and her ritual performance Wild Cotton was cited as one “with subtlety and vision” by The New York Times. Uzuri received her MFA from Goddard College Vermont and her M.A. in African American Studies from Columbia University. Uzuri was a 2019-2020 Harvard University W. E. B. DuBois Hutchins Center Fellow in support of her forthcoming chamber opera Hush Arbor (The Opera). Uzuri is composer and co-lyricist for the new musical GIRL Shakes Loose (book and co-lyrics by Zakiyyah Alexander, featuring the poetry of the legendary Sonia Sanchez). Uzuri’s theater work has received support from O’Neill National Music Theater Conference, NAMT, Goodspeed Musicals Writer’s Grove, New Dramatist, and The Lark. Her theater credits include The Public Theater: (composer) Public Works Troy, Mobile Unit’s Hamlet, O’Neill Center NMTI (National Musical Theater Institute) LAB: (Guest Director) RENT. Uzuri is the 2022 Lillys Composer Awardee.

Imani’s Hermitage Major Theater Award commission will have a developmental workshop in a major arts capital in 2024.

Christopher Burney – Hermitage Curatorial Council, Artistic Director of New York Stage and Film
Patricia McGregor – Artistic Director of New York Theater Workshop
Jeanine Tesori
– Tony Award-winning Broadway composer

Shariffa Ali, Spring 2022 HMTA Recipient

Shariffa Chelimo Ali, born in Kenya and raised in South Africa, is an international theater maker, creative leader, director, and academic committed to advancing radical change through the power of art and activism. As a filmmaker, Ali’s works 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). As a theater artist and academic, Ali has taught at NYU, Brooklyn College, Yale University, and Princeton University. Past theater productions include Eclipsed, Detroit ’67, Intimate Apparel, We Are Proud to Present, and an original new musical called We Were Everywhere. In 2022, Ali was named Elizabeth M. Swayzee Artist-in-Residence at Miami University, where she curated the inaugural Black Roots Festival in the spring of 2022. 

Shariffa Ali’s original play Hero had its first public presentation in the fall of 2023 at MCC Theater (New York, NY). Hero is a heartwarming and suspenseful play that unfolds during a single, enchanting chapter in the life of Vuyo, a spirited middle school student. In a small, traditional South African town where gender norms are strictly adhered to, Vuyo and his choir-mates, a vibrant and diverse group of young talents, find themselves at the center of an unspoken pact. When the opportunity arises for Vuyo to masquerade as a girl to showcase his exceptional singing prowess in a national choir competition, the entire community embarks on a remarkable journey of transformation.

Lynn Nottage – Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright
David Henry Hwang – Tony, Grammy, and Obie Award winner
Regina Taylor
– Golden Globe Award-winning actress, director, playwright, educator, and activist.

Madeleine George, 2021 HMTA Recipient

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). Her plays have been performed in New York at Clubbed Thumb, Playwrights Horizons, and New York Theatre Workshop, and around the country at Perseverance Theater in Juneau, the Huntington in Boston, the Old Globe in San Diego, Shotgun Players in Berkeley, City Theater in Pittsburgh, Theater Wit in Chicago, and Two River Theater in New Jersey, among others. She’s a member/alum of New Dramatists’ Class of 2017, Clubbed Thumb Writers Group, the Lark Playwrights Workshop, the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, and the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab. Honors include the Princess Grace Award, a Manhattan Theater Club Playwriting Fellowship, a Lilly Award, and a Whiting Award for Drama. Madeleine holds a BA from Cornell University and an MFA from NYU.  She has taught at Barnard College, Bard College, NYU, Rutgers, the Universities of Michigan, Maryland, Arkansas, Indiana, and Minnesota, and Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, and Brown.  For many years she led free writing workshops around New York City, including Queensboro Correctional Facility; Hopper House, an alternative-to-incarceration program for women; a pre-trial intervention program run by the Brooklyn DA; Island Academy, the public school on Rikers Island; a senior citizens group in Fort Greene Park; and the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. Since 2006, she has worked with the Bard Prison Initiative at Bard College, a degree-granting liberal arts program operating in seven New York State prisons. In 2022, Madeleine’s translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters premiered at Two River Theater, where she recently completed a six-year stint as the Mellon Playwright in Residence.  Her ten-episode audio adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For is forthcoming in 2023 from Audible Originals. Madeleine is a founding member of the Obie-Award-winning playwrights’ collective 13P. She’s written on shows for FX and HBO, and she is a writer/producer on the Hulu mystery-comedy Only Murders in the Building, nominated for WGA and Emmy Awards for Best Comedy.

Madeleine George’s new comedy The Sore Loser had its first public presentation in the fall of 2023 at MCC Theater (New York, NY). 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. 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. 

Doug WrightPulitzer Prize & Tony Award-winning playwright
Leigh Silverman, Tony Award-nominated and Obie Award-winning director
Liesl Tommy, Tony Award-nominated director of stage and screen