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.