FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 2015
Ryanne Domingues, External Relations Manager
The Wilma Theater continues its 2015-2016 season with the United States Premiere of Tom Stoppard’s newest play, The Hard Problem
Tom Stoppard’s first new play since Rock ’n’ Roll introduces us to Hilary, a 22-year-old psychology student applying for a coveted position with the Krohl Institute for Brain Science. As Hilary prays for strength to move beyond personal regrets, she passionately explores the blurred lines between science and psychology with her colleagues and her sometimes-lover Spike. Ethics are called into question as they delve into the “hard problem” of consciousness versus gray matter, and debate whether altruism even exists. Following a sold-out run at the National Theatre in London, the Wilma—“America's foremost interpreter of the playwright's work” (Philadelphia Magazine)—is proud to be among the first to bring The Hard Problem to U.S. audiences.
The Hard Problem begins on Wednesday, January 6, 2016; opens on Wednesday, January 13, 2016; and has been extended through Saturday, February 6, 2016. Critics and members of the press are invited to attend Press Night on Wednesday, January 13, at 7:30pm. For ticket arrangements, contact Ryanne Domingues at Rdomingues@wilmatheater.org or 215.893.9456 x109.
Tom Stoppard draws upon a wide range of brain research, game theory, and cognitive philosophy in The Hard Problem, which takes its title from philosopher David Chalmers’ name for the question of consciousness. “There’s a moment of discontinuity where form—brain activity—becomes content,” Stoppard describes, “and that is our mystery; it’s what makes us human.” This mystery prompted Stoppard to dig deeper into the question of human consciousness with The Hard Problem: “Human beings are of course animals,” he says, “but are we just very, very sophisticated animals, or does being human mean something beyond biology—and if it seems to, is that something only our illusion, our conceit?” The Hard Problem allows Stoppard to explore what makes us human, and its characters are shaped by their understanding of what life and existence mean. Rather than delving into their pasts, Stoppard focuses on how these characters’ ideologies clash. For director Blanka Zizka, the piece’s power lies in the questions that it poses: “How does one explain consciousness?,” she asks, “What does it mean to be good? Does true altruism exist? Is it necessary to have motives in order to be good—and can we prove what these motives are?” As the play grapples with these complex ideas, its use of language is vividly important, and Zizka has stripped her production down to its bare minimum in order to showcase the text’s musicality. “Hilary, the main character, carries a past decision with her like a frozen moment of time,” says Zizka, and she gives voice to this frozen time with a live saxophone player, Michael Pedicin, who performs onstage. “This musician becomes Hilary’s observer, inner voice, sorrow, and hope— her consciousness,” she describes, giving Chalmers’ multifaceted “hard problem” a personified emotional core.
About the Playwright:
Tom Stoppard wrote his first play, Enter A Free Man, while working as a journalist in Bristol. He was introduced to American audiences in 1967 with the Broadway hit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which was followed by Jumpers, Travesties, Dirty Linen, Newfoundland, Night and Day, The Real Thing, Artist Descending A Staircase, The Real Inspector Hound, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, The Coast of Utopia, Rock ’n’ Roll, and his newest play The Hard Problem. His off-Broadway productions include Enter A Free Man and the double bill of Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth. For television, Stoppard’s work includes the highly-acclaimed adaptation of the 1889 British novel by Jerome K. Jerome called Three Men in a Boat, seen on American public television in 1979. Professional Foul, a play he wrote for television, has won awards from BAFTA and the Broadcasting Press Guild. Most recently he won awards for Best Screenplay from Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming and the Writer’s Award from the Broadcasting Press Guild for his work on the five-part BBC/HBO/VRT television miniseries Parade’s End. His radio plays include If You’re Glad I’ll Be Frank, Albert’s Bridge (Italia Prize Winner), ‘M’ Is for Moon Among Other Things, The Dissolution of Dominic Boot, Artist Descending a Staircase, and Darkside. Tom Stoppard has written screenplays for the films Despair, The Romantic Englishwoman, The Human Factor, Brazil, Empire of the Sun, The Russia House, Billy Bathgate, Tulip Fever, The Golden Compass, he is co-screenwriter of Shakespeare in Love for which he received an Academy Award, and most recently he wrote the screenplay for Anna Karenina. He directed and wrote the screenplay for the film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The Wilma Theater productions of Stoppard’s plays include Arcadia, Travesties, On The Razzle, The Invention of Love, The Real Inspector Hound, Indian Ink, Night and Day, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, Rock ’n’ Roll, The Real Thing, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and now The Hard Problem.
About the Director:
Blanka Zizka has been Founding Artistic Director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. In the fall of 2011, Blanka received the Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, which recognizes an outstanding director or choreographer transforming the regional arts landscape. For the past three 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 organized compensated advanced training workshops for dozens of Philadelphia artists, with the goal of creating an ensemble of actors surrounding the Wilma. Most recently, Blanka directed back-to-back productions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead, 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. Blanka has directed over 60 plays and musicals at the Wilma. 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 also 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 Kat’a Kabanova by Leoš Janacek. 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.
Cast and Design Team:
The cast features Shravan Amin (Wilma Theater debut) as Amal; Krista Apple-Hodge (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Hamlet; Rapture, Blister, Burn) as Ursula; Ross Beschler (Antigone; Our Class; Under the Whaleback) as Spike; Taysha Canales (An Octoroon) as Julia; Sarah Gliko (Antigone; Hamlet; Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq) as Hilary; Steven Rishard (Antigone; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Hamlet) as Jerry; Lindsay Smiling (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Hamlet; Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq) as Leo; Jeena Yi (Wilma Theater debut) as Bo; and Gaby Bradbury (Under the Whaleback) as Cathy.
The artistic team includes Set Designer Matt Saunders (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Hamlet; Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq; Under the Whaleback), Costume Designer Vasilija Zivanic (Hamlet; Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq; Leaving), Lighting Designer Thom Weaver (Rapture, Blister, Burn; The Real Thing; Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq), Original Music and Sound Designer Daniel Perelstein (Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq). Philadelphia-based jazz bandleader Michael Pedicin will be playing the saxophone onstage in the production. The production’s resident stage manager is Patreshettarlini Adams; its dramaturg is Walter Bilderback; and its production manager is Clayton Tejada.
Special Events and Opportunities:
College Night: Wednesday, January 6, 6:30pm
College students are invited to join classmates and meet students from other colleges and universities for a complimentary pre-show reception. Before the show they can enjoy food, friends, and win prizes!
Beer Tasting pre-show reception with Naked Brewing Company: Friday, January 8, 7pm
Join us for a pre-show beer tasting in our lobby from 7 to 8pm with Naked Brewing Company—complimentary for ticket-holders to that evening's performance!
Directors Gathering Dialogue: Tuesday, January 12
Immediately following the performance, a member of the Directors Gathering will join The Hard Problem director and Wilma's Founding Artistic Director Blanka Zizka for an audience-led conversation to discuss her work with the play and the behind-the-scenes process of making The Hard Problem.
Post-Show Chats: Thursday, January 14 and January 21
Learn more about the production through discussions with artists and audience members following the performance.
Young Friends pre-show reception: Friday, January 22, 7pm
For audience members 40 and under, this performance includes a complimentary pre-show food and drink reception at the Wilma from 7 to 8pm!
Coffee Chat: Wednesday, January 27
Chat with literary staff about The Hard Problem and enjoy complimentary coffee from Saxbys Coffee following Wednesday’s matinee performance.
Open Captioning: Saturday, January 30, 2pm
“Altruism and The Hard Problem” Panel: Saturday, January 30, 4pm:
A major concern of Tom Stoppard’s new play is whether altruism exists or whether, as one character puts it, “Self-interest is bedrock.” Join us for a lively discussion around current studies in philosophy and psychology, including David Rand, director of Yale University's Human Cooperation Laboratory; and Cristina Bicchieri from the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton School of Business. Tickets are free for this event, but reservations should be made with the Wilma’s Box Office by calling 215.546.7824, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or coming to the theater, located at 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia.
Tickets: Under our new Wilma WynTix initiative all tickets, including subscription tickets, for all days and times throughout the full four-week mainstage run will be enjoyed by the general public at the subsidized rate of $25 or $10 for students and theater artists with valid ID. For the production’s week-long extension, February 2-6, tickets will return to their non-subsidized rates of $45 general admission. Tickets are available at the Wilma’s Box Office by calling 215.546.7824, visiting wilmatheater.org, or coming to the theater, located at 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia.
Mission: 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.
What: The Hard Problem, by Tom Stoppard, directed by Blanka Zizka
Where: The Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
When: January 6 - February 6, 2016. Opening Night: January 13, 2016. Reviewing members of the press are invited to attend opening night and may reserve tickets
by contacting Ryanne Domingues, External Relations Manager, at Rdomingues@wilmatheater.org
Summary: Tom Stoppard’s first new play since Rock ’n’ Roll introduces us to Hilary, a 22-year-old psychology student applying for a coveted position with the Krohl Institute for Brain Science. As Hilary prays for strength to move beyond personal regrets, she passionately explores the blurred lines between science and psychology with her colleagues and her sometimes-lover Spike. Ethics are called into question as they delve into the “hard problem” of consciousness versus gray matter, and debate whether altruism even exists. Following a sold-out run at the National Theatre in London, the Wilma—“America's foremost interpreter of the playwright's work” (Philadelphia Magazine)—is proud to be among the first to bring The Hard Problem to U.S. audiences.
Tickets: Under our new Wilma WynTix initiative all tickets for all days and times throughout the full four-week mainstage run will be enjoyed by the general public at the subsidized rate of $25, or $10 for students and theater artists with valid ID. For the production’s week-long extension, February 2-6, tickets will return to their non-subsidized rates of $45 general admission. Tickets are available at the Wilma’s Box Office by calling 215.546.7824, visiting wilmatheater.org, or coming to the theater, located at 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia.
Shravan Amin as Amal
Krista Apple-Hodge as Ursula
Ross Beschler as Spike
Taysha Canales as Julia
Sarah Gliko as Hilary
Steven Rishard as Jerry
Lindsay Smiling as Leo
Jeena Yi as Bo
Gaby Bradbury as Cathy
Director: Blanka Zizka
Set Design: Matt Saunders
Costume Design: Vasilija Zivanic
Lighting Design: Thom Weaver
Original Music and Sound Design: Daniel Perelstein
Musician: Michael Pedicin
Dramaturg: Walter Bilderback
Production Manager: Clayton Tejada
Resident Stage Manager: Patreshettarlini Adams
Ryanne Domingues, External Relations Manager