The Wilma Theater has announced its 2019-2020 Season, featuring a lineup of new and innovative plays from some of the most exciting emerging voices in the field of theater. The season begins with a limited run of a world premiere stage adaptation of Etel Adnan’s famous poem There, which will be co-presented with FringeArts in the 2019 Fringe Festival, co-created by Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka and world-renowned visual artist Rosa Barba. Next up, 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist Dance Nation by Clare Barron, a hilarious and moving story of a competitive girls dance troupe (portrayed by women of all ages), directed by New York-based stage director Margot Bordelon. The season continues with the Obie award-winning Describe the Night by Rajiv Joseph (author of the Broadway hit Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo), a historical fantasy of Soviet Russia, spanning the Stalin and Putin regimes and tracing the fine line between history, conspiracy, and “alternative facts,” directed by Zizka. Next will be a limited presentation of Renaissance in the Belly of the Killer Whale by Jaylene Clark Owens, Hollis Heath, Janelle Heatley, and Chyann Sapp, a multidisciplinary performance piece blending spoken word poetry, dance, song, and storytelling that chronicles the gentrification of Harlem from the perspective of three native residents. The season will close with Aleshea Harris’ Is God Is directed by lauded Philadelphia theater maker James Ijames; winner of the 2016 Relentless Award and fresh off its groundbreaking debut at Soho Rep, this darkly comic revenge saga follows two twin sisters on a bloody journey from the Deep South to California on a quest of Old Testament justice.
There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other
By Etel Adnan
Co-Created by Blanka Zizka and Rosa Barba
A co-presentation with FringeArts for the 2019 Fringe Festival
September 11-22, 2019 (A Limited Engagement)
Who are we, if not you and me? Renowned visual artist Rosa Barba and Artistic Director Blanka Zizka team up to create this world premiere adaptation of There: In The Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other(or There,for short) by Lebanese poet Etel Adnan. Visual, poetic, and theatrical worlds collide in this wild journey through memory, history, identity, and fantasy.
This piece has a storied connection to Wilma’s HotHouse Company, their resident core of actors and theater makers; the text of Adnan’s poem was read at the inaugural Wilma HotHouse rehearsal and had been revisited several times before the production came together. Zizka notes, “I have been obsessed with this poem for years.” Searching for an opportunity to adapt it for the stage, it presented itself when Zizka met Barba and discovered that she too shared a passion for Adnan’s work. When Zizka brought up her idea for a stage adaptation, Barba agreed to join the project. Fitting for a challenging work, the two have committed to the project as “co-creators,” rather than the traditional roles of director or designer. Barba’s work will focus on the creation of a physical environment within which the HotHouse Company, with performances directed by Zizka. Experimental music composer Alex Dowling and lighting designer Thom Weaver round out the impressive creative team. There will be presented as a limited engagement, co-presentation with FringeArts for the 2019 Fringe Festival.
About Etel Adnan
Adnan was born in 1925 and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, Paris. In January 1955 she went to the United States to pursue postgraduate studies in philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, and Harvard. From 1958 to 1972, she taught philosophy at Dominican College of San Rafael, California. In 1972, she moved back to Beirut and worked as cultural editor for two daily newspapers—first for Al Safa, then for L’Orient le Jour. She stayed in Lebanon until 1976. In 1977, her novel Sitt Marie-Rose was published in Paris, and won the “France-Pays Arabes” award. In the late seventies, she wrote texts for two documentaries made by Jocelyne Saab, on the civil war in Lebanon, which were shown on French television as well as in Europe and Japan.
About Rosa Barba
Rosa Barba was born in 1972, in Sicily, Italy and now lives and works in Berlin. She has had solo exhibitions at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge MA; MAXXI, Rome; and the Tate Modern, London. In addition her work has been included in numerous group exhibitions including MASS MoCA, Massachusetts; Akademie der Künste, Berlin and La Cinémathèque Française, Paris. She has participated in the 8th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art; 19th Biennale of Sydney; 2010 Liverpool Biennial and the 52nd and 53rd Venice Biennale. Subconscious Society, a Feature was awarded the 2016 International Prize for Contemporary Art, Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco.
Major support for There has been provided by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.
By Clare Barron
Directed by Margot Bordelon
October 22-November 10, 2019
In this raucously funny 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist, a competitive dance troupe of teenage girls – played by women of all ages – vie for the national trophy. Every plié and jeté hurdles them towards self-discovery. You’ll be moved to tears and laughter as you watch them learn about their bodies and desires, and witness their burgeoning strength through the lens of the women they’ll become.
Fresh off two landmark productions, Dance Nation had its premiere at Playwrights Horizons (included in the New York Times’ Best Theater of 2018) and a successful run across the pond at London’s Almeida Theatre. This self-described “ghost play,” was winner of the inaugural 2015 Relentless Award from the American Playwriting Foundation in memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Zizka is thrilled to bring Dance Nation to the Wilma stage. She notes, “Clare’s storytelling is unexpectedly hilarious, tender, ferocious and insightful about the wonderful and terrible complexity of girlhood.”
About the Playwright
Clare Barron is a playwright and performer from Wenatchee, Washington. Other plays include: You Got Older (Page 73; Steppenwolf) which received two Obie Awards for Playwriting and Performance, a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Play, and was a Susan Smith Blackburn finalist and the #1 most-recommended play on the Kilroys’ List;I’ll Never Love Again (The Bushwick Starr); and Baby Screams Miracle (Clubbed Thumb; Woolly Mammoth). She is the recipient of a Whiting Award for Drama, the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award at The Vineyard, and the Page 73 Fellowship; and is a member of New Dramatists.
About the Director
Margot Bordelon is a Brooklyn based director who specializes in new work. Recent projects: Eddie and Dave by Amy Staats (Atlantic Theater Company); Plot Points in Our Sexual Development by Miranda Rose Hall at LCT3; Wilder Gone by Angela Hanks (NYT’s Critic’s pick) (Clubbed Thumbed); Do You Feel Anger? (ATL’s Humana Festival), A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler (The Playwrights Realm) (NYT’s Critic’s pick), and Okay, Bye by Joshua Conkel (Steppenwolf), among others. She is a proud graduate of the Yale School of Drama where she received an MFA in Directing, and Cornish College of the Arts where she received her BFA in Theater with an emphasis in Original Work. She’s currently on faculty at PACE University in Manhattan where she teaches BFA acting.
Describe the Night
By Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Blanka Zizka
January 28-February 16, 2020
When we say that something is true, it becomes true. When we say that something is false, it becomes false. This 2018 Obie Award Winner explores the blurred lines between lies, history and conspiracy theories, as it tracks back and forth across 90 years of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Rajiv Joseph’s (Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo) sharp-witted dialogue and historical juxtapositions bring to mind Tom Stoppard’s and Tony Kushner’s best works.
An epic fantasy that weaves historical figures into imagined happenings of the past, featuring a Putin-esque KGB officer, the play deftly incorporates the tension and intrigue of a spy thriller with a touching dive into the realm of magical realism. Another featured character, writer Issac Babel, executed by Stalin after his work was deemed anti-Soviet, was a profound influence on Zizka, who herself defected from her native Czechoslovakia to escape persecution by the Soviet government. She is inspired by the way Describe the Night “touches upon the ambivalent and mysterious nature of art. It is hard to overstate how funny, smart and powerfully engaging it is.”
About the Playwright
Rajiv Joseph’s play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama and also awarded a grant for Outstanding New American Play by the National Endowment for the Arts. His play Guards at the Taj was a 2016 Obie Winner for Best New American Play and 2016 Lucille Lortel Winner for Best Play. His play Archduke received its World Premiere this spring at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Other plays include Gruesome Playground Injuries, The Monster at the Door, Animals Out of Paper, The Lake Effect, and The North Pool. Rajiv has been awarded artistic grants from the Whiting Foundation, United States Artists and the Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. He is a board member of the Lark Play Development Center in New York City, where he develops all his plays.
Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale
By Jaylene Clark Owens, Hollis Heath, Janelle Heatley, and Chyann Sapp
Directed by Jaylene Clark Owens
February 26-March 1, 2020 (A Limited Engagement)
Meet Bridget, Shayla, and Toni; three women who chronicle the gentrification of their beloved Harlem, journeying through the streets, history, landmarks, and changing culture of their neighborhood. Through a fusion of theatre, dance, song and spoken word poetry, Renaissance will draw you into these women’s youthful stories in deeply moving and uproariously funny ways.
After Wilma HotHouse actor Jaylene Clark Owens posted on Facebook about the burgeoning gentrification of Harlem in 2010 and was asked by a former teacher, if she could expand the post, which featured the titular line “Harlem is looking more and more like the belly of a Killer Whale,” into a spoken word play. Owens teamed up with fellow Harlemites Hollis Heath and Chyann Sapp, along with Jeanelle Heatley, who hails from the Bronx but was actively involved with the Harlem community, to create the full length piece, which premiered at the American Negro Theatre at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 2011. Renaissance has received dozens of presentations across the Northeast, most recently a successful limited engagement at Theater Horizon. Following the Wilma’s much-praised 2018 production of HotHouse Affiliated Artist James Ijames’ Kill Move Paradise, Zizka is proud to continue that tradition of showcasing Wilma HotHouse Company’s multi-talented members. She notes that Renaissance “has a vital energy. I love how these three women bring their humor, energy, and sarcasm into a very serious subject that every city, particularly Philadelphia, is grappling with.”
About the Writers
Jaylene Clark Owens is a Philly resident from Harlem, NY. She is a highly acclaimed poet, as well as an AUDELCO and Barrymore Award winning actress. Her debut book of poetry, AfroPoetic, is now available on Amazon. Her poem, “My Voice, My Choice” was a runner-up in the 2018 Button Poetry Video Contest. Jaylene is a member of Wilma HotHouse Company. Some of her credits include Passage (The Wilma Theater); The Revolutionists (Theatre Horizon); WHITE (Theatre Horizon); An Octoroon (The Wilma Theater).
Hollis Heath is an AUDELCO- award winning theater artist, youth strategist and writer from New York City. She earned her Master’s in Educational Theatre from The City College of New York and was featured as “Great Grad” upon graduation. In her final commencement address as First Lady, Michelle Obama commended Hollis for her work as a theater artist and champion for girls. In addition, she’s received awards from the YMCA, Harlem Arts Alliance, and NYC Office of Equity and Access.
Janelle Heatley is an AUDELCO award winning actress, spoken word artist, DJ, and high school Theater and Spoken Word teacher. She holds a Masters in Educational Theater at City College. Janelle has produced over 100 theater productions for New Heritage Theater Company and was one of the assistant producers for Harlem Week 2006 and 2007. Heatley works with youth in the NY tri-state area to help develop their craft as young artists.
Chyann Sapp is a civic leader with professional experience in the public and private sectors, currently the Associate Director of Government and Programs at a tech-based nonprofit. Ms. Sapp believes that the key to igniting an engaged citizenry is investing in transparent and targeted outreach. In 2011, she became the first Youth Voter Coordinator of New York City. Chyann Sapp is a Harlem native and holds a BA in Africana Studies and Romance Languages from Hunter College.
Is God Is
By Aleshea Harris
Directed by James Ijames
May 26-June 14, 2020
Their mother’s dying wish jump starts the blood-soaked journey of scorned twin sisters Anaia and Racine. They venture from the deep South to northern California to seek vengeance against their father in an epic saga of wickedly dark humor, family trauma, and Old Testament justice. Winner of the 2016 Relentless Award, Is God Isblends “tragedy, typography, the Spaghetti Western, hip-hop and Afropunk” says playwright Aleshea Harris.
After Zizka saw a performance of the play’s earth-shaking world premiere at Soho Rep, she knew that she needed to bring the play to the Wilma HotHouse, so she arranged a reading. After the reading, says Zizka, “two things were immediately apparent: first, the women of color in our company really took to the material. Second, the play had us on the edge of our seats the entire time.” Also present at the reading was Wilma HotHouse Affiliate Artist and Philadelphia favorite James Ijames. Ijames had loved the play since he first read it and was immediately approached to direct. Ijames has had a banner year in Philadelphia after opening Wilma’s 2018-2019 Season with his Kill Move Paradise (winner of the 2019 Kesselring Prize for Drama) and directing a much lauded production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at the Arden Theater. Ijames notes of the piece, “I think the use of genre (western, revenge tragedy) is beautifully married to an Afrofuturist aesthetic that I’m hungry for in the theater. This play is not concerned about being judged or being respectable. Its main concern is with being ruthlessly honest.”
About the Playwright
Aleshea Harris is a playwright, performer and educator who received an MFA in Writing for Performance from California Institute of the Arts. Her work has been presented many places, including: the Costume Shop at American Conservatory Theater, Playfest at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, VOXfest at Dartmouth, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Theatre @ Boston Court, L’École de la Comédie de Saint-Étienne, National Drama Center in France and in the 2015 anthology, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. Harris has been commissioned by American Conservatory Theater (Crack.Rumble.Fly., 2016) and CalArts’ Center for New Performance/La Comedie de Saint-Etiénne (The Gap, ongoing). Aleshea is a MacDowell Fellow, Hedgebrook Alum and winner of the American Playwriting Foundation’s 2016 Relentless Award in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman for her play Is God Is.
About the Director
James Ijames is a Philadelphia based theater maker. He won the 2014 Barrymore Award for Outstanding Direction of a Play helming The Brothers Size at InterAct Theater. James’ plays have been produced by Flashpoint Theater Company, Orbiter 3, Theatre Horizon, Wilma Theater, The National Black Theatre (NYC), Ally Theatre (Washington DC) Definition Theatre (Chicago IL) Shotgun Players (Berkeley, CA) and have received development with PlayPenn New Play Conference, The Lark, Playwright’s Horizon, Clubbed Thumb, Villanova Theater, The Gulfshore Playhouse, Wilma Theater, Azuka Theatre The National Black Theatre and Victory Garden. James is a 2017 recipient of the Whiting Award and a 2019 Kesselring Prize for Kill Move Paradise. James is a founding member of Orbiter 3, Philadelphia’s first playwright producing collective. He received a B.A. in Drama from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA and a M.F.A. in Acting from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. James is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Villanova University and resides in South Philadelphia.
About Blanka Zizka
Blanka Zizka has been the Artistic Director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. She has directed over 60 plays and musicals for the Wilma. Zizka most recently directed Romeo and Juliet, Kill Move Paradise, the world premiere of Passage by Christopher Chen, and the world premiere of her own play Adapt! In April 2016, Zizka was awarded the Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Theatre, 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. In the fall of 2011, Zizka received the Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, which recognizes an outstanding director or choreographer transforming the regional arts landscape; and she was a Fellow at the 2015 Sundance Institute/LUMA Foundation Theatre Directors Retreat. For the past three years, Zizka has been developing practices and programs for local theater artists to create working conditions that support creativity through continuity and experimentation. The result of this vision, Wilma’s HotHouse Company, was piloted with the fall 2015 production of Antigone and formally launched in January 2016. Zizka has collaborated with many playwrights, including Yussef El Guindi, Doug Wright, Sarah Ruhl, Tom Stoppard, Linda Griffiths, Polly Pen, Laurence Klavan, Lillian Groag, Jason Sherman, Amy Freed, Robert Sherwood, and Chay Yew.
About the Wilma HotHouse
Wilma HotHouse is, at its heart, Wilma’s investment in the artistic community of Philadelphia. It serves as the central vehicle to bring our work to audiences. Launched in 2016, Wilma HotHouse has become an incubator for artists, artistic exploration, learning, and practice; allowing us to dive more deeply into new projects and develop them over longer periods of time. The core group of actors performing on our stage are members of Wilma Hothouse.
The Wilma Theater creates living, adventurous art. We engage artists and audiences in imaginative reflection on the complexities of contemporary life. We present bold, original, well-crafted productions that represent a range of voices, viewpoints, and styles.
Season Packages may be purchased online at tickets.wilmatheater.org or by calling the Box Office at 215.546.7824. Packages for the 2019/2020 Season begin at $90 and $45 for Student or Industry members. Single tickets go on sale on August 5, starting at $28 dollars and $15 for Student/Industry.