The first recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award—a new prize named not for its size but for the Sarasota philanthropist who funded it with her Kutya Major Foundation, Flora Major—has been announced.
Radha Blank, an actress, filmmaker and, first of all, playwright, whose film The Forty-Year-Old Version debuted this year and received the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Directing Award, is the winner of the prize. And, for all the plays possible on the word “major,” the prize is actually significant for a struggling playwright, providing a cash prize of $35,000 as well as a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat on Manasota Key and a developmental workshop in New York in the fall of 2022.
Blank was not in person at the event in Sarasota yesterday announcing her win, but in a video message she admitted emotionally that “it has been too painful to call myself a playwright with no place for my plays.” The problem of finding a stage for her theatrical work loosely inspired the film The Forty-Year-Old Version, which is available on Netflix.
Hermitage artistic director and CEO Andy Sandberg presented background on the origins of the new prize before naming Blank as the winner, and he also shared the names of the jurors who made the decision: Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Doug Wright (a past Hermitage Fellow), Obie-Award-winning director Leigh Silverman; and Tony Award nominee Leisl Tommy, a stage and screen director.
Three finalists in the prize process were also named: playwright and MacArthur Genius Fellow Luis Alfaro; Obie-winning multidisciplinary theater maker Eisa Davis; and Obie-winning playwright Madeleine George. Each will receive a Hermitage residency and a cash prize of $1,000.
The Hermitage Major Theater Award is made possible through a multi-year gift totaling $800,000. While Blank has just a year to create her new work, the next winner will have 18 months, and the next after that will have two years.
As Blank said upon receiving the award, “This commission answers the question: how can I continue to do my work and not jump into a system that is constantly asking me to conform and change who I am? Having a destination and an actual place and community to create is a gift. I don’t take it lightly.”
The award, says Sandberg, is “designed to be transformational for its recipients,” adding that it’s also “an exciting opportunity for the Hermitage to take a further step in supporting artistic development as we offer developmental resources to these extraordinary artists and their new commissions along their journey.”
In addition to this new award, the Hermitage Artist Retreat annually awards the jury-selected Hermitage Greenfield Prize, a $30,000 commission that rotates between music, theater and visual art. The 2022 Greenfield Prize will be announced in January, in the discipline of music.