Playwright and Theater Maker Deepa Purohit Honored at 16th Annual Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration

The annual Hermitage Greenfield Prize Dinner on Sunday, April 14th honored playwright and theater maker Deepa Purohit. This was the central event of a three-day celebration, hosted by the Hermitage Artist Retreat (Andy Sandberg, Artistic Director and CEO) in partnership with the Greenfield Foundation. The gala evening was presented at Michael’s on East and featured inspiring performances from Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning star of stage and screen Rachel Bay Jones (Dear Evan Hansen, “Young Sheldon”), accompanied by Broadway veteran Randy Redd; original songs by internationally renowned composer and performer Kavita Shah;and an appearance from past Hermitage Greenfield Prize winner Angélica Negrón.The annual gala raised more than $300,000 in support of the Hermitage’s mission, in addition to the Greenfield Foundation’s increased annual gift of $175,000. The festive evening was co-chaired by Pauline Wamsler and Stephanie & Gene Jones. Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg served as master of ceremonies and announced that Asolo Repertory Theatre will be collaborating with the Hermitage as the presenting partner for the first public presentation of Deepa Purohit’s commission in Sarasota in 2026. As this year’s HGP recipient, Purohit receives a $35,000 commission, along with an extended residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize (HGP) Dinner kicked off with an energetic performance from Megha Vaid and the Indian Association of Manasota.This was followed by a welcome video from Tony Award-winning actor, director, writer, and 2024 HGP juror Ruben Santiago-Hudson. “This whole process was a wonderful confirmation that the theater is in great hands and the future is indeed very bright,” said Santiago-Hudson. “That the Hermitage is here to support these exceptional artists is truly a gift.” Andy Sandberg then took the stage as master of ceremonies and spoke about the legacy and impact of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize before introducing his longtime friend and the evening’s headliner – Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award-winning star of stage and screen Rachel Bay Jones. Jones won over the audience with a medley of “Something Beautiful” by Ben Rector and “If I Had a Boat” by Lyle Lovett, accompanied by her long-time collaborator and Broadway veteran Randy Redd. She spoke about how inspiring the Hermitage bas been for her and Redd before earning a standing ovation with her powerful and emotional rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.”

The event carried on with a glimpse into the work from playwright and theater artist Deepa Purohit, featuring tributes from this year’s three HGP jurors Rajiv JosephDiane Paulus, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson. The evening continued with remarks from 2022 HGP recipient Angélica Negrón, who spoke about her experience at the Hermitage and offered insight into her world premiere commission. This was followed by a special appearance from internationally renowned singer and Hermitage Fellow Kavita Shah, who charmed the audience with performances of her original song “Joia” from her new album Cape Verdean Blues and “Chaki Ben,” a lullaby sung in her mother’s native language of Gujarati and dedicated to Purohit. 

Following Shah’s performance, Sandberg presented Deepa Purohit with this year’s Hermitage Greenfield Prize. “Thank you for being supporters of arts in America,” said Purohit in her acceptance speech. “It’s what we desperately need right now. This gift of time, space, and resources from the Hermitage and the Greenfield Foundation are the essentials that every artist needs to create work that comes from the soul – to create art that can weave dreams and visions into existence and then send it out into the world.” 

To close out this memorable night after an enthusiastic paddle raise, Rachel Bay Jones returned to the stage. “There’s something special about the Hermitage,” said Jones. “There are so few hours in the day that can be devoted to developing something new, often starting as just an idea or a desire. The Hermitage gives artists breath, space, and time… and something magical happens.” She went on to earn a second standing ovation for her showstopping rendition of Sondheim’s “Move On.” 

“This was truly remarkable evening and a joyful celebration of this incredible prize,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “It was an honor to celebrate Deepa Purohit, and we can’t wait to introduce her brand-new play to our Gulf Coast community. It was thrilling as well to hear unforgettable live performances from Rachel Bay Jones and original songs by Kavita Shah, along with inspiring remarks from Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Angélica Negrón, and more. We are so grateful to the Greenfield Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and all our sponsors and donors for their belief in our mission and the support of new work.”

The annual Prize Dinner anchored a series of events celebrating the impact and legacy of the Hermitage Greenfield Prize. The weekend commenced with two Saturday events on the Hermitage campus. The first was an in-depth conversation with 2024 HGP Winner Deepa Purohit, offering an introduction to her work and career, as well as insight into her plans for this new commission. Later that day, the Hermitage hosted an inspiring and enlightening sunset program with Purohit, alongside two fellow South Asian Hermitage artists and educators, Kavita Shah and Nandita Shenoy. This panel conversation, “South Asian Artists in America,” was moderated by Andy Sandberg and highlighted the rich diversity of South Asian culture and lived experience emanating from this region of the world. 

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize Celebration culminated on Monday, April 15th with Angélica Negrónpresenting Azul Naranja Salado, the original composition resulting from her 2022 Hermitage Greenfield Prize. This world premiere concert set a new standard for embracing the Florida weather as part of the experience; this contemporary classical composition was performed live outdoors on the Hermitage Beach on Manasota Key. Negrón’s music was carefully synchronized with the setting sun for a truly unique symphonic experience, and the piece was masterfully conducted by George Nickson, Co-Artistic Director of the evening’s presenting partner ensembleNewSRQ. Blending a sixteen-piece string ensemble with one of the season’s most beautiful sunsets led to a moving and awe-inspiring performance unlike any other. Angélica Negrón delivered on her hope that this site-specific work would serve as a reminder to audiences to seek out and surrender to moments of inspiration.

The Hermitage Greenfield Prize is presented in partnership with the Philadelphia-based Greenfield Foundation, who launched this initiative with the Hermitage in 2009. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County served as the lead community sponsor for this year’s festivities.

Deepa Purohit was selected by a distinguished jury that included Obie Award-winning playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph, Tony Award-winning Artistic Director of A.R.T. Diane Paulus, and Tony Award-winning actor, director, and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Centering the stories of South Asian women, Purohit plans through this commission to explore a question we all must encounter in our lives, but often do not speak about publicly. In the face of an immense, multi-billion dollar medical and elder care industry, Deepa Purohit will examine what she believes to be one of the most complicated and meaningful issues of our time – how to die with dignity. 

Past winners of this distinguished honor include Rennie Harris, choreographer (2023), Sandy Rodriguez, visual artist (2023), Angélica Negrón, composer (2022); Aleshea Harris, playwright (2021); Helga Davis, composer (2019); Martyna Majok, playwright (2018); David Burnett, photojournalist (2017); Coco Fusco, visual artist (2016); Bobby Previte, composer (2015); Nilo Cruz, playwright (2014); Trenton Doyle Hancock, visual artist (2013); Vijay Iyer, composer (2012); John Guare, playwright (2011); Sanford Biggers, visual artist (2010); Craig Lucas, playwright (2009); and Eve Beglarian, composer (2009).