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Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater to Receive 2024 Regional Theater Tony Award

Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater will receive the 2024 Regional Theater Tony Award, an annual honor that recognizes a regional theater company that has displayed “a sustained level of artistic achievement that contributes to the growth of theater nationally.”

The award is accompanied by a $25,000 grant.

“We are thrilled to announce that The Wilma Theater will receive the 2024 Regional Theater Tony Award,” said Heather Hitchens, president and CEO of the American Theater Wing and Jason Laks, interim president of the Broadway League. “The Wilma has made outstanding contributions to the world of theater for 45 years, maintaining an unwavering dedication to contemporary theater and a commitment to the arts that began with its visionary introduction of avant-garde theater to Philadelphia in 1979.”

Established in 1973 as The Wilma Project, Wilma challenged Philadelphia’s cultural community to create theatrical productions of original material and develop local artists. From 1973 to 1979, Wilma presented works with renowned avant-garde theater artists. In 1979, Blanka and Jiri Zizka, political refugees from Czechoslovakia, forged a creative relationship with Wilma as resident artists and won praise for their bold and innovative productions. With a dynamic, physical production style and original musical accompaniment, the Zizkas’ original adaptation of George Orwell’s work Farm focused new attention on the Wilma.

The Zizkas assumed artistic leadership of the organization in 1981 and moved the Wilma to a 100-seat theater on Sansom Street. Within five years, Wilma’s audience had grown dramatically, prompting the decision to expand the theater to a new home. When Philadelphia launched a plan to create an arts corridor in the early 1990s, the Wilma Theater was chosen for a new 300-seat theater located at Broad and Spruce streets in the city’s center. Opened in 1996, the Wilma was the first new theater built in Philadelphia in 40 years and a cornerstone of the new Avenue of the Arts.

During the Zizkas’ tenure, the Wilma Theater gained a national reputation for its provocative theater. Over the years, the theater produced unforgettable works by Tom Stoppard, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright James Ijames, Pulitzer and Obie Prize winner Paula Vogel, and Obie Award winner Danai Gurira. In addition to hundreds of Philadelphia artists, Wilma has worked with Oscar nominee David Strathairn, Obie Award winner Zainab Jah, and Tony Award-winning actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

In 2010, Jiri Zizka left his job at Wilma before passing away in 2012. Blanka assumed sole artistic leadership and his production of Our class it became a catalyst for his next daring step. She began formulating Wilma HotHouse as a diverse ensemble of Philadelphia-based actors who would meet regularly to train their voices, bodies, and breathing in search of emotional richness, physical freedom, deep trust, and shared theatrical language. In 2016, the official company Wilma HotHouse was formed and opened the doors for Wilma to become an incubator for artistic experimentation.

Following Zizka’s retirement in 2021, Wilma solidified her model with three co-artistic directors. HotHouse founding member Lindsay Smiling has taken on a leadership role in 2023.

Wilma’s 2024-25 season features productions directed by each co-artistic director and the return of co-founder Zizka and includes The deserved punishment (Branden Jacobs-Jenkins), The half-god of rain (Inua Ellams), Archduke (Rajiv Joseph), and A summer day (Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse).