The Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA) recognizes a playwright or theater artist with a commission of $35,000 to create an original work, in addition to providing a residency at the Hermitage and an inaugural workshop of the newly created musical, anticipated for the fall of 2024 in New York, Chicago, or London.
The distinguished Award Committee for the third HMTA included
Artistic Director of New York Stage and Film Christopher Burney,
Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop Patricia McGregor, and
Tony Award-winning composer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Jeanine Tesori.
“In a theatrical landscape hobbled by COVID, the Hermitage has done something heroic; they have instituted a brand new, financially generous commission for a theater artist 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 time.” —Doug Wright, Hermitage Trustee and Fellow; Pulitzer Prize & Tony Award-Winning Playwright
“The Hermitage breeds something unique, and without it, I cannot tell you how much work would not happen.”
Jeanine Tesori, 2022 HMTA Award Committee; Tony Award-Winning Composer & Pulitzer Prize Finalist
(December 15, 2022) 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.”
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.
“We bring the artists forward first,” said Jeanine Tesori of the award. “The [HMTA] process is not project related at first – it’s about the artists. I don’t know that I know of another award like that. Writers don’t get paid to write. I have never been paid to write in my life. I am paid to have written. That’s what makes this award different and so incredibly powerful and unlike anything out there. 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.”
Patricia McGregor added, “When I think of the great orchestration of life, we might miss a note – but when that note reveals itself, when it is given the space to be a part of the orchestration, we are all richer. The full thing comes into being in a deeper way – so I’m excited for Imani and what this can do for her and for this intimate, magical, liberatory, intergenerational piece. I’m also excited for us and I’m very grateful to the Hermitage because this award is going to allow for this ‘note’ in the great orchestration of life, to sing, to live, and to breathe in a way that it legitimately might not have without this moment, this opportunity – and we will all benefit so greatly from that… I want to bring my daughter to see Imani’s piece.”
“There are few opportunities like this award, and the space that the Hermitage affords an artist is really unparalleled,” said Christopher Burney. “To be able to get out of your day-to-day life, and to be able to be in a community that richly supports artistic expression is something that very few artists receive; it’s a special gift for both the artist and the community in which they’re creating. What moved me so deeply about Imani is her interest in creating a piece that will speak across generations, and that can engage the local community – a work that creates a sense of belonging for all audiences.”
“Amidst four extraordinary and worthy finalists, Imani Uzuri revealed herself to be a passionate theater artist who impressed the Award Committee with her heartfelt and inspired vision,” said Hermitage Artistic Director and CEO Andy Sandberg. “We are honored to support Imani as she creates through this commission a compelling and ambitious new musical – a piece that aspires to not only entertain but to build community. I must thank our brilliant and dedicated Award Committee – Chris Burney, Patricia McGregor, and Jeanine Tesori – for their thoughtfulness, leadership, and care throughout this process. I also want to congratulate Nissy Aya, AnnMarie Milazzo, and Daniel J. Watts, each of whom are exceptional artists with bold voices and thrilling ideas. We are excited to welcome all four of these extraordinary talents into the Hermitage family.”
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 addition to the $35,000 commission, the recipient of the annual HMTA will receive six weeks of residency at the Hermitage’s historic beachfront campus to develop the new theatrical work, as well as a reading or workshop in a leading arts and cultural center. Imani Uzuri’s commission is expected to receive a development workshop in the fall of 2024.
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.”
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, dance, or otherwise – in our culture and society. As to how this will infuse Uzuri’s commission, she explains that her new work will “illuminate Southern Black American vernacular art practices and folkways – quilting, yard art, congregational sacred singing, instrument making, storytelling, folklore, healing modalities, and foodways – celebrating the ways these cultural practices are used to heal, transform, protect, sustain, and unite family and community.”
This distinguished Hermitage Major Theater Award 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, the prize 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, Chicago, and notable arts capitals where great theater is frequently developed and presented. Previous recipients of the HMTA have included playwright and screenwriter Madeleine George, and theater-maker and director Shariffa Ali. Their respective commissions are expected to receive developmental workshops in the fall of 2023.
“This award is designed to be transformational for its recipients, providing not only significant funds and recognition, but also invaluable time, space, and inspiration at the Hermitage, plus an opportunity for these innovative theater artists to workshop and develop their original ideas,” said Andy Sandberg. An acclaimed director, writer, and Tony Award-winning producer, Sandberg took the helm as Artistic Director and CEO of the Hermitage in early 2020. “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 the artistic process as we offer developmental resources to these extraordinary artists and their new commissions along their journey.”
The Hermitage Major Theater Award is made possible with a generous multi-year gift to the Hermitage from Flora Major and the Kutya Major Foundation. In the aftermath of the pandemic and recognizing the difficult challenges facing theater artists, the Hermitage and Major have awarded three HMTA commissions in the inaugural twelve months of this initiative. Starting in the fall of 2023 and each fall thereafter, an annual recipient will be selected and will have two years to complete their respective commissions.
“No one does more for the arts and the creation of new work than the Hermitage,” added Flora Major, founder and trustee of the Kutya Major Foundation. “Andy and his team have grown the Hermitage to be a leading national arts incubator, and I hope others who are passionate about the arts will recognize and support the important work that the Hermitage is doing. I am absolutely delighted that this truly unbelievable Award Committee has chosen to celebrate Imani’s talent and joyous spirit with this recognition!”
In addition to this newly created commission, the Hermitage Artist Retreat annually awards the prestigious jury-selected Hermitage Greenfield Prize (HGP), a $30,000 commission that rotates each year between the disciplines of music, theater, 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).
The Hermitage hosts artists on its Gulf Coast Manasota Key campus for multi-week residencies, where diverse and accomplished artists from around the world and across multiple disciplines create and develop new works of theater, music, visual art, literature, dance, and more. As part of their residencies, Hermitage Fellows participate in free community programs, offering audiences in the region a unique opportunity to engage with some of the world’s leading artists and to get an authentic “sneak peek” into extraordinary projects and artistic minds before their works go on to major theaters, galleries, concert halls, and museums around the world. These free and innovative programs include performances, lectures, readings, interactive experiences, open studios, school programs, teacher workshops, and more, serving thousands in our community each year. The Hermitage is the only major arts organization in Florida’s Gulf Coast region exclusively committed to supporting the development and creation of new work across all artistic disciplines.
For more information about the Hermitage and the Hermitage Major Theater Award, visit HermitageArtistRetreat.org.
“An organization that does more for artists than any I have encountered.”
—Craig Lucas, Tony Award Nominee & Hermitage Greenfield Prize Winner
|“Art and theater are our spiritual daily bread, and we’re making it here at the Hermitage… and we go from the Hermitage and break bread in every community we travel to.”
|— Paula Vogel, Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-Winning Playwright
“The Hermitage is the place where the work that you don’t see getting done is done – the building of ideas, the nurturing of thoughts and dreams that eventually turn into the symphony you’ll see at your performing arts center or the great touring musical that comes through your town.”
—Gavin Creel, Tony Award-Winning Performer and Composer
“Because of the Hermitage, some of the most beautiful plays have been written,
and the most beautiful music has been made.”
—Emily Mann, Playwright, Director, and Tony Award Winner
“The Hermitage provides an ideal landscape and environment for the artistic process.”
—Michael R. Jackson, Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award Winner
|“The impact of the Hermitage extends far beyond the weeks that artists are in residence. The inspiration that we draw there — we take back home with us. What the Hermitage offers artists and composers like me is truly rare.”
|— Adam Gwon, Award-Winning Musical Theater Composer “The Hermitage sparks an authentic creative magic. The campus on Manasota Key fosters the space to dream in ways the rest of the world rarely allows. The lush surrounding nature, the opportunity to connect with other artists, and an enthusiastic audience at the weekly presentations is the perfect alchemy in which to create.” — Christopher Burney, Hermitage Curatorial Council and Artistic Director of New York Stage and Film
“It was like someone opened the door and invited me to create a work that is responsive to this time, a work that can be reflective of this time…
I am super grateful for that.”
—Aleshea Harris, Playwright and 2021 Hermitage Greenfield Prize Winner
“The Hermitage been truly meaningful to me. It’s been a very traumatic few years, and the Hermitage is really a place of healing – a place where artists can come to reset, think about why it is we do what we do, and find a way to work from a deeper place.”
—Bess Wohl, Tony Award-Nominated Playwright
“A spark plug for ideas and collaborations: a miraculous co-mingling of music,
literature, visual art, theater, nature, and wildlife.”
—Claire Chase, Flutist, MacArthur Genius & Avery Fisher Prize Winner
“If you trace the trajectory of the artists and the works that come out of the Hermitage, the body of work that has been unleashed into the world is not just big in terms of number, but big in terms of impact.”
Limor Tomer, Director of Live Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Hermitage Artist Retreat
Artistic Director and CEO: Andy Sandberg
The Hermitage is a non-profit artist retreat located in Manasota Key, Florida, inviting accomplished artists across multiple disciplines for residencies on its beachfront campus, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Hermitage artists are invited to interact with the local community, reaching thousands of Gulf Coast residents and visitors each year with unique and inspiring programs. Hermitage Fellows have included 15 Pulitzer Prize winners, Poets Laureate, MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellows, and multiple Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar winners and nominees. Works created at this beachside retreat by a diverse group of Hermitage alumni have gone on to renowned theaters, concert halls, and galleries throughout the world. Each year, the Hermitage awards the $30,000 Hermitage Greenfield Prize for a new work of art, the newly announced $35,000 Hermitage Major Theater Award for an original theater commission, and the Aspen Music Festival’s Hermitage Prize in Composition.
For more information, visit HermitageArtistRetreat.org.
The Hermitage is supported by:
Hermitage programs are supported, in part, by Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax Revenues; the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and the National Endowment for the Arts; as well as the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.
WINNER OF THE 2022 HERMITAGE MAJOR THEATER AWARD
Imani Uzuri is the 2022 recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award. Raised in rural North Carolina, Uzuri 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.
FALL 2022 HMTA FINALISTS
Nissy Aya is a Black girl from the Bronx. She is a writer, educator, and cultural worker who believes in the transformative nature of storytelling, placing those most affected by oppressive systems in the center and examining how we ‘move forward/end this world/shape new worlds’ through healing justice and Afrofuturist frameworks. She sees theater as a tool to create social change by empowering disenfranchised communities to unapologetically portray their whole selves on stage. Our creative work reflects those notions while exploring the lines between history and memory, detailing both the absence and presence of love, and giving all the life (and then some) to Black Femmes.
AnnMarie Milazzo is the composer and/or lyricist for Lucky Us, A Walk on the Moon, and Pretty Dead Girl, winner of the Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival. As Vocal Designer: Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, If/Then, Finding Neverland, Carrie, Bright Lights Big City, Superhero, Dangerous Beauty, Prometheus Bound, Some Lovers, Dave, A Walk on the Moon, the recent Broadway revival of 1776, Almost Famous, and A Beautiful Noise. As Orchestrator of Once on This Island, she was nominated for a Tony, Grammy, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award. As Lyricist: Le Rêve, Le Perle. Milazzo is the Grammy-nominated female vocalist for East Village Opera Company.
Daniel J. Watts
Daniel J. Watts is a multidisciplinary storyteller and performer. Broadway and Off-Broadway credits as a performer include Tina: The Tina Turner Musical (2020 Tony Award Nominee and Outer Critics Circle Award); Hamilton; The Color Purple; Disney’s The Little Mermaid (OBC); Memphis (OBC); In the Heights; Ghost (OBC); Motown (OBC); After Midnight (OBC). Off-Broadway: Last of the Love Letters (Atlantic Theater Co) Death of the Last Black Man in the Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead (Signature Theatre); Whorl Inside A Loop (2nd Stage). TV/Film acting credits: Werewolf by Night (Marvel), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon); The Last OG (TBS); Blindspot (NBC); Vinyl (HBO); The Deuce (HBO); Boardwalk Empire (HBO); The Night Of (HBO); Broad City (Comedy Central) The Good Wife (CBS) Odd Mom Out (Bravo); Person of Interest (CBS). Regional: 2019 Barrymore Award (People’s Light) and 2020 LA Ovation Award (Geffen Playhouse) for Best Featured Actor for his portrayal of Sammy Davis, Jr. in Lights Out: Nat King Cole, opposite Dulé Hill. Original work includes Daniel J. Watts’ The Jam: Only Child, which was a part of the 2020 Public Theater’s “Under the Radar” Festival and has also streamed as part of the Signature Theater (DC) 2020-2021 season. His TED talk “To Accomplish Great Things, You Need to Let Paint Dry” appears at go.Ted.com/danieljwatts. Daniel has been the Artist in residence at ASU Gammage, contributing artist for Armstrong Now with the Louis Armstrong House, and adjunct professor at NYU Tisch New Studio. BFA Graduate Elon University Music Theater Program. 2021 Commencement Speaker. 2011 Young Alumnus Award Recipient.
FALL 2022 AWARD COMMITTEE
Christopher Burney is a member of the Hermitage National Curatorial Council and a Tony-nominated producer, educator, dramaturg, and creative consultant. He has served as the Artistic Director of New York Stage and Film where he guided the company through the Covid pandemic, creating new programs and partnerships that supported over 600 artists and expanded the company’s place in the Hudson Valley. For over 20 years, he worked with New York’s Second Stage Theatre as Artistic Producer. Highlights of the over 120 productions he shepherded include the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Between Riverside and Crazy; 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes; 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Next to Normal by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey; Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark by Lynn Nottage; Trust and Lonely, I’m Not by Paul Weitz; The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz; Everyday Rapture by Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott; Let Me Down Easy by Anna Deavere Smith; Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo; Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl; The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane; Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin; Jitney by August Wilson; Jar the Floor by Cheryl L. West; Crowns by Regina Taylor; Saturday Night by Stephen Sondheim; Afterbirth: Kathy & Mo’s Greatest Hits by Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy; and Tiny Alice by Edward Albee. As a champion of emerging artists, he has launched the careers of Rajiv Joseph, Leslye Headland, Michael Golamco, Chisa Hutchison, Kenneth Lin, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Brooke Berman, Adam Bock, among many others. An advocate for the importance of fostering future generations of theater artists and practitioners, he is on faculty at Columbia University where he teaches creative producing. He has lectured at Barnard College, The Einhorn School for the Performing Arts at Primary Stages, The Juilliard School, Bard College, The Boston School of Music, Marymount Manhattan College, and the New England Theatre Conference. Among his many creative endeavors, he created and produced American Scoreboard with conceiver and producer Fran Kirmser. American Scoreboard is dedicated to the dissemination of information related to current political, social and justice issues facing every citizen of the United States through performances of transcripts, documents, and other first-hand sources. Since 2019, he has served as a member of the Tony Awards Nominating Committee. He is a graduate of Brandeis University, B.A., and Columbia University, M.F.A.
Born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Patricia McGregor is the Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop, in addition to being a director and writer working in theater, film, dance and music. McGregor has twice been profiled by The New York Times for her direction of world premieres. She was inaugural Artist in Residence for Adam Driver’s Arts in the Armed Forces and is an Old Globe Resident Artist. Her productions include Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole (co-writer and director; Geffen Playhouse, People’s Light); Sisters in Law (Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts); Shakespeare: Call and Response, Krapp’s Last Tape, What You Are, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure for Measure (The Old Globe); Skeleton Crew (Geffen Playhouse); Good Grief (Center Theatre Group); Hamlet (The Public Theater); Place (Brooklyn Academy of Music); The Parchman Hour (Guthrie Theater); Ugly Lies the Bone (Roundabout Theatre Company); brownsville song (Lincoln Center Theater); Indomitable: James Brown (Apollo Theater); Holding It Down (The Metropolitan Museum of Art); A Raisin in the Sun, The Winter’s Tale and Spunk (California Shakespeare Theater); Adoration of the Old Woman (INTAR Theatre); Blood Dazzler (Harlem Stage); Four Electric Ghosts (The Kitchen); and the world premiere of Hurt Village (Signature Theatre Company).
Jeanine Tesori is a composer of musical theater, opera, and film. She is also a recent Hermitage Fellow. With Lisa Kron, Tesori won the Tony Award for Best Score for the musical Fun Home. Her other musicals include Caroline, or Change; Shrek; Thoroughly Modern Millie; Violet; Shrek, and Soft Power, which was her second work after Fun Home to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Her operas include A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck; The Lion, The Unicorn and Me; and Blue. Her latest opera Grounded marks Tesori as one of the first women, along with Missy Mazzoli, to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. In addition to her work as a composer, Tesori is the Founding Artistic Director of New York City Center’s Encores! Off-Center series, the Supervising Vocal Producer of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and a lecturer in music at Yale University. Proud member of the Dramatists Guild.