A huge announcement has been made in the Philly theater world.
The Wilma Theater, one of the few prestigious establishments lining the Avenue of the Arts, has introduced their new Artistic Director team, but instead of just one person taking the reigns, there will be three new creative and collaborative minds stepping into the role at the theater. This joint effort is unique to the Wilma and makes them one of the only regional theaters of this size in the country to do something along these lines.
Founding Artistic Director Blanka Zizka, who has been with The Wilma since 1981, will be holding on to her role, and now will be joined by Philadelphia-based performer and playwright James Ijames, co-founder of New Saloon (a Brooklyn-based experimental theater company); Morgan Green, an award-winning director with over 40 productions under his belt; and Yury Urnov. Each of these Co-Artistic Directors—personally selected by Zizka—have an understanding of the Wilma’s past artistic practices and values and will be bringing their insight, skills and artistic talents to the popular theater over the course of the next three years.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to bring what I’ve learned about people who come to the theater and it’s also an opportunity for me to experiment with what I’m curious about as an artist,” says Ijames. “It’s just re-imagining what a regional theater in Philly can look like over the next three years, and hopefully, it’s laying the groundwork for what it’s going to be like after. To just re-think and re-imagine it and see if there’s something we haven’t thought about—I think that’s the thing that is most exciting for me about it all.”
Ijames has certainly created a name for himself in the City of Brotherly Love’s theater scene, working for over 15 years as an actor, director and playwright. Having collaborated with the Wilma before, it’s a natural fit for the native Philadelphian, especially when you counter in the fact that Ijames was one of the original members of the Wilma HotHouse, the theater’s five-year-old resident artist company that trains together and incubates new work. The Wilma will be expanding on this distinctive aspect of artistry and taking it to the next level with their new Co-Artistic Directors.
Being unique has always been in the Wilma’s DNA, but now that curious part of their artistic process may have a lasting impact on the City of Philadelphia as a whole.
“The history of the theater, it’s normally run by more than one person. In a lot of ways, this model is sort of like a coming home for the Wilma. I think they thrive when there is more than one person thinking and when there is more than one person’s desire being explored. I think it’s going to be really fruitful,” says Ijames. “Theater is, at its core, a collaborative process, whether you’re talking about funding or the art that’s being made or marketing—it’s all a lot of different people talking together. So I actually think it’s really cool for the Wilma to say, we’re going to do that with artistic leadership. Already in building this first season, it’s a stronger and more interesting and more vibrant season because everybody brought what they know to the table. It’s very expansive.”
What this new sense of leadership will bring to the theater doesn’t stop at the doors—it will bleed out into the community, and provide more than one point of contact with the organization.
“We really want to hear from people; what they’re interested in and what they want up on stage. I think there’s been a little bit of a disconnect of producing what we hope people will want to see as opposed to hearing what excites you, what scares you, and what makes you want to leave your house at seven at night to travel across town and see a play? I want to know that and I’m going to spend my time finding out what that is. A part of that is that we believe really deeply in the art form and we want it to be vital and vibrant. A way to do that is to talk to the people who will be coming to watch it,” adds Ijames.
Along with the three new Artistic Directors, the Wilma also announced the appointment of new Managing Director Leigh Goldenberg. According to the release, a seasoned arts administrator in the City of Philadelphia and currently the Executive Director of Theatre Philadelphia, Goldenberg will oversee the operations, marketing, fundraising and finances of the Wilma.
The addition, the new staff members will not only enhance the audience’s experience, but hopefully ignite the love of theater in many more Philadelphians. With this new innovative and collaborative way of running shows, who knows what is possible for the coming years of Philly theater.
“This is a theater that is about extending themselves into the community and it’s not about to be elitist or cut off—we really want people to feel like they are welcome into our space,” says Ijames.
To learn more about The Wilma Theater, visit wilmatheater.org