Game Changer

Hermitage Artist Retreat Announces Shariffa Ali as Major Theater Award Winner

Theater artist Ali will create a new work and receive a $35,000 cash prize.

By Kay Kipling May 31, 2022

Hermitage Artist Retreat artistic director and CEO Andy Sandberg, 2022 Hermitage Major Theatre Award recipient Shariffa Ali, and philanthropist Flora Major. 

Theater artist and director Shariffa Ali is the 2022 recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award, presented recently with support from the Kutya Foundation and its founder, Flora Major.

The national jury-selected prize, established by the Hermitage Artist Retreat last year, offers one of the largest nonprofit theater commissions in the country, with a cash prize of $35,000 as well as a residency at the Hermitage, on Manasota Key, and a developmental workshop in a major arts capital, such as New York, Chicago or London, in the fall of 2023.

Ali’s own website describes her as “a creative leader committed to working with an open heart at the intersection of the performing arts and humanitarianism.” She is an award-winning director whose previous productions include Eclipsed, Intimate Apparel and the original musical We Were Everywhere. Ali describes her award win as “a true game changer.”

Serving on the committee that chose Ali were two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage; Tony, Grammy and Obie winner David Henry Hwang; and actress-director-playwright and past Hermitage fellow Regina Taylor.

Three finalists for the award included Vanessa German, a citizen artist working across sculpture, performance, communal rituals, immersive installation and photography; Jonathan McCrory, an Obie-winning director and producer; and Jose Rivera, an Obie winner and Oscar-nominated writer. Each will receive a Hermitage residency in addition to a cash prize of $1,000.

Hermitage artistic director and CEO Andy Sandberg said of the announcement that “Shariffa Ali revealed herself to be a passionate theater artist,” and that the project she has proposed “will allow her to delve into her many talents as a creator, director and storyteller.”

Theater artist Shariffa Ali.

Born in Kenya and raised in South Africa, Ali writes of her intended commission, “Despite the homophobia and transphobia inherent in small-town South Africa, a middle school choir, their principal, and their parents make an agreement to disguise the town’s most talented and beloved singer Vuyo (he/they) as a girl in order to have him sing as a female soloist in a national choir competition.” Vuyo is a friend and collaborator of Ali’s, so she is particularly passionate about capturing her friend’s true story.

The inaugural Hermitage Major Theater Award was presented in 2021 to theater artist and filmmaker Radha Blank, whose HMTA commission is currently in development with a workshop anticipated later this year in New York. To learn more about the Hermitage, visit

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