ENGLEWOOD, FLA.: The Hermitage Artist Retreat has announced playwright and director Radha Blank as the inaugural recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award (HMTA). This newly established, national jury-selected award, made possible with support from the Kutya Major Foundation, includes a $35,000 cash prize, a six-week residency at the Hermitage’s beachfront campus to develop a new work, and a developmental workshop in New York.
“I am thrilled to receive this kind of support from the theatremaking community, and am honored to be the first recipient of this awesome award,” said Blank in a statement. “The recognition is very affirming. 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. I really appreciate this.”
Blank’s critically acclaimed debut feature film about her struggles in the theatre field, The Forty-Year-Old Version, was awarded the 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s Vanguard Award and the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award. Her play Seed received a Helen Merrill Award, and she has written for the television series Empire and Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. Blank is also known to many as RadhaMUSprime, performing her unique brand of hip-hop comedy performance around the world.
“The theatre needs Radha’s voice more than ever, especially in the current cultural moment,” said HMTA juror and past Hermitage fellow Doug Wright in a statement.
The HMTA was established this year to recognize a playwright or theatre artist with a $35,000 commission. Winners are encouraged to create a work that directly or indirectly represents the role and impact of art—musical, literary, theatrical, visual, or otherwise—in today’s culture and society. Rather than a recognition of an existing work, the prize is designed to serve as a catalyst and inspiration to a theatre artist to create a new, original, and impactful piece of theatre. Winners are nominated and selected by a jury of nationally recognized arts leaders in the theatre field. The inaugural award committee included Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright Doug Wright, Tony- and Obie-winning director Leigh Silverman, and Tony nominee Liesl Tommy.
“Radha has passion and heart, and she crosses so many different genres and traverses so many different mediums,” said Silverman in a statement. “At this moment in the theatre, we’re all coming out of a time of being frozen in amber. The idea of this award from the Hermitage—and what this offers—is hope, as well as a sense of community, time, and space.”
Added Tommy in a statement, “This is a pure gift of support for Radha and her writing, with no strings attached. It’s an opportunity for Radha to be free in this moment, which is why these kinds of commissions are so important to us as artists.”
In addition to announcing Blank as the award’s winner, three finalists were named for the 2021 award, including playwright Luis Alfaro, multi-disciplinary theatremaker Eisa Davis, and playwright Madeleine George. Each will receive a Hermitage residency and a $1,000 cash prize.
“Amidst an extraordinary and competitive field of finalists, Radha Blank stood out as an innovative and exciting artist who impressed the award committee with her passionate and inspired vision,” said Andy Sandberg, artistic director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat, in a statement. “While many audiences have come to know Radha through her work on film, our hope is that this opportunity recognizes, inspires, and embraces Radha as an exciting and important voice in the American theatre. Luis Alfaro, Eisa Davis, and Madeleine George are exceptional artists of the theatre, with bold voices and thrilling ideas. We are excited to welcome all four of these extraordinary talents into the Hermitage family.”
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