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 Fellow, Pulitzer Prize & Tony Award-Winning Playwright

Hermitage Major Theater Award Recipients:
Shariffa Ali, 2022
Radha Blank, 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 inaugural recipient of the 2021 Hermitage Major Theater award is playwright and director Radha Blank. 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 performance around the world.

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 nationally 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).

Shariffa Ali, 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’s Hermitage Major Theater Award commission will have a developmental workshop in a major arts capital in 2023.

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.

Radha Blank, 2021 HMTA Recipient

Radha Blank is a director, performer, writer, and proud native New Yorker. Winner of the 2020 Sundance Vanguard Award, Blank’s debut feature film, The Forty-Year-Old Version, was one of the most acclaimed debuts of the year, for which she was awarded The Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Directing Award, The Gotham Awards’ Best Screenplay, The NAACP Image Award for Best Writing in a Motion Picture, The New York Film Critics Circle’s Best First Film, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s New Generation Award, The National Board of Review’s Spotlight Award, The Black Film Critics Circle’s Rising Star Award, The African American Film Critics Association’s Award for Breakout Performance, and The San Diego Film Critics Society’s Award for Breakthrough Artist and Best Comedic Performance. Blank was also nominated for The DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First- Time Feature Film Director, The BAFTA Award for Leading Actress and The Independent Spirit Award for Best First Film. In 2020, she was named as one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” and hailed as “a brilliant filmmaker” by The New York Times. A Helen Merrill Award recipient, Blank’s acclaimed play Seed was deemed “fresh, lively, and poetic” by The Huffington Post. She has written for the hit television shows Empire (Fox) and She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix). The Forty-Year-Old Version most recently made 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.

Radha’s Hermitage Major Theater Award commission will have a developmental workshop in New York City in 2022.

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
Liesl Tommy – Tony Award nominee and Obie Award-Winning stage and screen director