Composer-lyricist-librettist Imani Uzuri has been selected as the third recipient of the Hermitage Major Theater Award, created in 2021 to recognize a playwright or theatre artist with a $35,000 commission to create an original, impactful piece of theatre.
Established by the Hermitage with support from the Kutya Major Foundation, Uzuri will receive the cash prize as well as a residency at the Hermitage in Sarasota County, Florida, and a developmental workshop in a major arts capital in fall 2024.
Three finalists for the third Hermitage Major Theater Award were also announced: Nissy Aya, a playwright, educator, and cultural worker; AnnMarie Milazzo, Tony-nominated for her orchestrations for the revival of Once On This Island; and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical Tony nominee Daniel J. Watts. 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 arts leaders in the theatre. 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, director and the new artistic director of New York Theatre Workshop; and Jeanine Tesori, a Hermitage alumna and the Tony-winning composer of Kimberly Akimbo, Fun Home, and Caroline, Or Change.
“I am ebullient, in awe, and overwhelmed with joy and gratitude!” says North Carolina native Uzuri. “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. 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 theatre career.”
“We bring the artists forward first,” adds Tesori. “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.”
In describing her intended HMTA commission, for which she will write the book and score, Uzuri says, “Lighthouse of the Singing Birds will be an immersive magical realist work of musical theatre centering a young Black girl on the precipice of her 13th birthday—a special one. 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.”
The Hermitage Artist Retreat also annually awards the jury-selected Hermitage Greenfield Prize, a $30,000 commission that rotates each year between the disciplines of music, theatre, and visual art. Past recipients in theatre have included Aleshea Harris (2021), Martyna Majok (2018), Nilo Cruz (2015), John Guare (2012), and Craig Lucas (2009).