With Fall Season Approaching, The Hermitage is Ready for Anything

Arts & Culture

Photo courtesy of The Hermitage

As an artists’ retreat less dependent on box office revenue for its operations than other arts organizations, The Hermitage had no problem pivoting last year as performance art organizations struggled. A year later, after lost seasons and their accompanying existential crises, the organization based on the sandy white beach of Manasota Key prepares for another season in which flexibility sits front and center.

“We were already looking at expanding our programming last year before COVID-19,” says artistic director and CEO Andy Sandberg, “we just weren’t as focused on being outside.” For Sandberg, channeling the retreat’s energy into outdoor programming proved fruitful across the board. It forced more productive conversations with other arts organizations about collaborations, helped the retreat get a handle on large-scale streaming events and, perhaps most importantly, introduced many new faces to an organization that for years seemed to exist outside of the county’s arts radar. “As people came to our events at Selby or our Zoom events with Unscripted, suddenly they decided it wasn’t that far to drive down to The Hermitage for one of our outdoor events,” says Sandberg.

Now, over a year after the initial shutdown and with the Delta variant circulating, Sandberg still has a lot to be optimistic about. “I think we learned last year that people felt really comfortable being outside and socially distanced,” he says, “and we only had to cancel one show last year due to the weather.” The Hermitage’s audience also became accustomed to maintaining flexibility with outdoor events, readily accepting the current operating model in which The Hermitage makes a final determination on an event only three hours before it begins.  

Of course, it helps that the retreat does not have to uphold the high production standards of a live theatre, with costumes, set designs and lighting. “The works we present aren’t finished,” says Sandberg, “so we’re not advertising production value, we’re advertising authenticity.” 

For the coming season, Sandberg hopes to carry the unforeseen momentum of the last year into more programming. “We’re just trying to continue building relationships with other organizations,” he says, “and we’re in talks with The Bay, Booker High School and MOTE Marine about ways we can all collaborate.” The upcoming season will also give Sarasota a look at the national curatorial team responsible for making selections on who receives Hermitage awards and grants. In addition, next year marks the first cycle of the Major Theatre Award, which awards $35,000 and a Hermitage residency to a playwright with the goal of producing a brand-new work. 

“Last year we weren’t even sure what to do about touching an Amazon delivery,” says Sandberg, “and now coughing inside a theatre is like yelling ‘fire.’ We’re still facing a lot of challenges in the arts, the difference is that The Hermitage, the artists and our audience have all kind of figured out how to navigate it all.”

Photo courtesy of The Hermitage

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