The Hermitage Artist Retreat has named Shariffa Ali the recipient for this year's Hermitage Major Theater Award. The recognition includes a commission of $35,000 to create an original work, which will receive an inaugural workshop in the fall of 2023 in Chicago, New York, or London. Additionally, Ali will receive a residency at the Hermitage.
Pulitzer winner and Tony nominee Lynn Nottage, Tony and Grammy winner David Henry Hwang, and Golden Globe winner Regina Taylor served on the committee. Ali, the second to receive the award, follows last year's recipient, playwright and filmmaker Radha Blank.
Ali has previously directed Eclipsed, Detroit ’67, Intimate Apparel, We Are Proud to Present, and the original musical We Were Everywhere, and worked as an arts administrator at The Public Theater and The New Group. Ali, born in Kenya and raised in South Africa, looks to tell the story of her friend and collaborator Vuyo with her commission. Raised in small-town South Africa where they faced homophobia and transphobia, Vuyo's middle school choir, principal, and parents came together and agreed to disguise Vuyo so they could sing as a female soloist in a national choir competition. Ali writes of her intended commission, “It is my hope that Vuyo’s remarkable story, and lessons of healing and forging community can be a healing force for us all.”
“It is surreal, and the most gratifying and pleasant surprise to be honored in this way by artists whose work has been a compass in my own upbringing as a theatre maker,” says Ali in a statement. “The fact that they support my art, and wish to carve out space for myself and my collaborator Vuyo Sotashe with this project is a huge honor. It is extremely surprising, humbling, and life-affirming. This award will alter the course of my life; it is a true game changer.”
“It is thrilling to be able to uplift and support the work of Shariffa Ali," shares Nottage. “She, like her fellow finalists Jonathan McCrory, Vanessa German, and José Rivera, is a groundbreaking artist whose work continues to push the boundaries of storytelling in inventive and inspiring ways.” Fellow committee member Regina Taylor added, "Shariffa is a brave and brilliant theatre maker—sensitive and bold in her craft, challenging and subversive in her choices."
As to how this will infuse Ali’s commission, she explains that “we will witness how being part of an ensemble-based arts activity like a choir can alter the course of one’s destiny. Choirs serve as a place of belonging and community and provide people with opportunities to travel and grow in ways that one would not ordinarily be able to achieve. Through this true story, we learn how the arts can lead to discovery and adventure which ultimately lead to finding one’s voice.”
For more information about the Hermitage Artist Retreat and the Hermitage Major Theater Award, visit HermitageArtistRetreat.org.