After 40 Years, Blanka Zizka to “Step Back” From Wilma Theater

-Courtesy of Bryan Buttler Media Relations, LLC
Cover photo of Blanka Zizka by Wide Eyed Studios

The Wilma Theater’s Co-Artistic Director Blanka Zizka has announced that on July 31, 2021, she will step back from the theater she co-founded.  During her 40 years of work at the Wilma, she has become one of the most renowned theater artists in Philadelphia and in the country, garnering acclaim for her powerful productions, innovative leadership, and revolutionary actor training techniques.  Zizka is stepping away from the day-to-day operations at the theater because she feels confident in the new leadership of the Wilma, and wants to spend time with her family abroad and create new artistic projects.

“I’m very excited about the new Wilma leadership: the Artistic Cohort, led by Yury Urnov, James Ijames, and Morgan Green; Managing Director Leigh Goldenberg; and the new Executive Committee of the Board (led by Wray Broughton),” said Zizka.  “Along with the Wilma HotHouse Acting Company, this is an amazingly talented, courageous, knowledgeable, and collaborative group of people ready to carve the new path for the Wilma.  It will be a different Wilma, but I know that the spirit of curiosity, generosity, artistic interrogation and vigor, collaboration, and care will be valued and further explored.”

After emigrating from Czechoslovakia, Zizka and her late husband, Jiri Zizka, directed a production of Animal Farm for the Wilma Project in 1979.  In 1981, they assumed leadership of the organization and renamed it The Wilma Theater.  Among her achievements, in 2016, The Vilcek Foundation announced Zizka as recipient of the Vilcek Prize, which is awarded annually to immigrants who have made lasting contributions to American society.  In 2011, she was awarded the Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation.  She is also a six-time winner and 16-time nominee for Outstanding Direction at the Barrymore Awards, Philadelphia’s version of the Tony Awards.

Wilma Theater’s 1979 Production of ANIMAL FARM, adapted and co-directed by Zizka. Photo by Jiri Zizka

In February 2020, Zizka and the Wilma announced a new model for artistic leadership for regional theaters, with a Cohort of Artistic Directors sharing leadership of the Wilma.  Each new Co-Artistic Director takes a season leading the organization, with support from the others.  Yury Urnov is the lead artistic director for the current 2021-21 Season; James Ijames will be the lead in the upcoming 2021-22 Season; and Morgan Green will lead the 2022-23 Season.

“I’m grateful for Blanka’s vision, both on-stage and off, that has paved a new way for the American theater,” notes Managing Director Leigh Goldenberg.  “Her incredible generosity and trust in fellow artists extended to her groundbreaking plan to share leadership with the Cohort, and continues now as she passes the baton of Wilma leadership.  I’m honored to be entrusted with the future of the Wilma, and excited to work with the Cohort as we return to physical space with our artists and audiences.”

“Working with Blanka, and watching her ever-changing leadership of the Wilma for the past few decades, has been a joy,” said Wilma Board Member and former Board Chair John Rollins.  “From the earliest days on Sansom Street, in the tiny 109-seat blackbox, her imagination and artistic reach were always oversized, audacious, and fun to watch. Her commitment to supporting the regional theater community, and especially the artists on stage, has been a constant throughout the entire history of the Theater.  In many ways, the creation of the HotHouse and her devotion to it and its artists is symbolic of her vision and passion.”
Starting with the 2021-22 Season, Zizka will become Artistic Director Emeritus, continuing to maintain an artistic relationship with the Wilma and its HotHouse Acting Company.  A celebration of her groundbreaking career at the Wilma will be scheduled during the 2021-22 Season.

About Blanka Zizka: Blanka Zizka has been Artistic Director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. In January 2016, The Vilcek Foundation announced Zizka as recipient of the Vilcek Prize, which is awarded annually to immigrants who have made lasting contributions to American society through their extraordinary achievements in biomedical research and the arts and humanities. She received the Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation in 2011, and was a Fellow at the 2015 Sundance Institute/LUMA Foundation Theatre Directors Retreat. For the past six years, she has been developing practices and programs for local theater artists to create working conditions that support creativity through continuity and experimentation. She has directed over 70 plays and musicals at the Wilma. Most recently, Blanka directed Describe the Night, There, Romeo and Juliet, When The Rain Stops Falling, Tom Stoppard’s U.S. premiere of The Hard Problem, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Hamlet, Paula Vogel’s world premiere Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq, Richard Bean’s Under the Whaleback, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s Our Class, Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, and Macbeth, which included an original score by Czech composer and percussionist Pavel Fajt. Her recent favorite productions are Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched, Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love and Rock ’n’ Roll, Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice (which featured an original score by composer Toby Twining, now available from Cantaloupe Records), Brecht’s The Life of Galileo, Athol Fugard’s Coming Home and My Children! My Africa!, and Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9. She collaborated closely with Dael Orlandersmith on her plays Raw Boys and Yellowman, which was co-produced by McCarter Theatre and the Wilma and performed at ACT Seattle, Long Wharf, and Manhattan Theatre Club. Blanka was also privileged to direct Rosemary Harris and John Cullum in Ariel Dorfman’s The Other Side at MTC. For the Academy of Vocal Arts, she directed the opera Kát’a Kabanová by Leoš Janácek. She has collaborated with many playwrights including Paula Vogel, Richard Bean, Yussef El Guindi, Doug Wright, Sarah Ruhl, Tom Stoppard, Linda Griffiths, Polly Pen, Dael Orlandersmith, Laurence Klavan, Lillian Groag, Jason Sherman, Amy Freed, Robert Sherwood, and Chay Yew.

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