ADV – Leaderboard

Wilma Co-Artistic Director Blanka Zizka to Step Back After 40 Years

Co-founder of the Philadelphia company will cede leadership to 3-member artistic director cohort.

Blanka Zizka. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

PHILADELPHIA: Wilma Theater co-artistic director Blanka Zizka announced that as of July 31, she will step back from the theatre she co-founded 40 years ago. Zizka will step away from day-to-day operations at the theatre.

“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 in a statement. “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, 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.

In February 2020, Zizka and the Wilma announced a new model for artistic leadership for regional theatres, with a cohort of artistic directors taking turns sharing leadership of the Wilma. 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 onstage and off, that has paved a new way for the American theatre,” noted managing director Leigh Goldenberg in a statement. “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 in a statement. “From the earliest days on Sansom Street, in the tiny 109-seat black box, her imagination and artistic reach were always oversized, audacious, and fun to watch. Her commitment to supporting the regional theatre community, and especially the artists onstage, has been a constant throughout the entire history of the theatre. 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, maintaining 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.

Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by joining TCG, which entitles you to copies of our quarterly print magazine and helps support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism.

ADV – Billboard