Pressroom

Press Releases

The Wilma Theater presents the United States Premiere of 'Our Class'

July, 2011
Contact: Johnny Van Heest, Public Relations Manager
215.893.9456 x102 
jvanheest@wilmatheater.org

The Wilma Theater presents the United States Premiere of
Our Class
By Polish playwright Tadeusz Słobodzianek, English version by Ryan Craig
Directed by Blanka Zizka

October 12 – November 13, 2011

PHILADELPHIA – The Wilma Theater is pleased to present the United States Premiere of Our Class, written by one of Poland’s leading playwrights, Tadeusz Słobodzianek (ta-DAY-use swo-bode-ZYAN-eck), in an English version by Ryan Craig, directed by the Wilma’s Artistic Director Blanka Zizka. Based on a tragic, historic event that happened in the town of Jedwabne (yed-VAB-nuh), Poland in 1941, Our Class chronicles the lives of ten classmates from their childhood in the 1920s to the beginning of the new millennium. The Daily Telegraph hailed the production as “A remarkable and powerful play.”  Special programming, including appearances by authors Jan T. Gross (Neighbors) and Timothy Snyder (Bloodlands), and a panel discussion in cooperation with the National Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall, will accompany the production. The U.S. Premiere of Our Class at The Wilma Theater will begin Previews on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, Open on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 and Close on Sunday, November 13, 2011.

Members of the press are invited to attend Opening Night on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 7:30pm. To arrange tickets, please contact Johnny Van Heest at 215.893.9456x102 or jvanheest@wilmatheater.org.

“I want to be a fireman.” “I want to be a teacher.” “I want to be a movie star.” Poland, 1925. As these Polish classmates – five Catholic, five Jewish – grow up, their lives take dramatically unexpected turns as their country is torn apart by invading armies, first Soviet and then German. Friend betrays friend and violence quickly escalates, reaching a crescendo that will forever haunt the survivors. Based on true events in the Polish village of Jedwabne and inspired in part by Jan T. Gross’ controversial book Neighbors, Our Class bravely explores a subject still debated today.

In July of 1941, the Jewish residents of the village of Jedwabne were brutally murdered. For decades following World War II, a stone marker commemorated their deaths, attributing it to German troops. But in 2001, Jan Gross’ book Neighbors brought to light old charges by one of the few surviving Jewish residents that the massacre had been perpetrated by Poles, not Germans. Inspired partly by a pre-war school photograph of this survivor standing next to one of the alleged perpetrators, both smiling, playwright Słobodzianek wrote this play, which raises important questions: not only how neighbors can be moved to murder neighbors, but how does one live with the aftermath of such atrocities? How do individuals and societies live with or bury the memory of such deeds? Are there lessons that can prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future?

To prepare for the production, director Blanka Zizka traveled to Poland in June, 2011, interviewed playwright Tadeusz Słobodzianek, and visited the historic town of Jedwabne. Blanka documented her entire trip through journals, pictures, videos, and interviews that will be published at wilmatheater.org. When Blanka returned, she worked with the cast of Our Class in a week-long workshop led by leading vocal coach, Jean-Rene Toussaint, the founder and head of an actor training center in Rotterdam, Netherlands and Avanos-Cappadocie,Turkey.

About the production and her trip to Poland, Blanka Zizka remarks, “In her book A Woman from Hamburg, Polish writer Hanna Krall tells the story of Thomas Blatt, who is returning from California to his hometown in Poland. "Why are there no Jewish graves? Why is no one sad?" he asks. This summer when I was visiting Jedwabne I had the same thoughts. There are no traces of the former Jewish life in Jedwabne except for the Jewish cemetery, that has no grave stones left and is wildly overgrown by trees, and a memorial to the Jews burnt in the barn that was erected in 2001 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the massacre. How many people died and who the perpetrators were the plaque doesn't say.”  

Blanka continues,  “Hanna Krall describes Blatt's hometown as 'uglier and older. Maybe because specters are wandering about, They don't want to leave, since no one mourns for them, since no one weeps for them. From unlamented specters there is such a grayness.' Jedwabne seemed the same to me. This idea of specters, seeking an opportunity to tell their story, to be lamented, has become a key idea for developing my concept of staging for Our Class. The characters’ individual memories  are subjective and even contradictory. I admire Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s resolve to ground the play in moral rather than ideological concerns and to leave it to the audience to create their own picture, their own understanding of the events from this choir of disparate voices.”

Production History
The World Premiere of Our Class was produced by London’s National Theatre in 2009 in an English language version by Ryan Craig. Our Class received its Polish premiere in Warsaw in October, 2010 and the North American Premiere at Studio 180 in Toronto, Canada in the spring of 2011.

About the Playwright
Tadeusz Słobodzianek was born in 1955. He graduated from Jagiellonian University in Cracow in Theatre Studies. He has worked as a theatre critic, a dramaturg, and a director before he started to write plays. His first play in 1980 was for children: Historia o zebraku i osiołku (The Story of a Beggar and a Donkey). His other plays include: Car Mikołaj (Tsar Nikolai, 1985), Obywatel Pekosiewicz (Citizen Pekosiewicz, 1986), Turlajgroszek (The Pea-Roller, 1990, Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival) with Piotr Tomaszuk, Prorok Ilya (Prophet Ilya, 1991), Merlin (1992, Fringe  First Award), Kowal Malambo (Malambo the Blacksmith, 1992), Sen pluskwy (A Bug’s Dream, 2001) and Nasza klasa (Our Class, 2007). In 2003, Tadeusz Słobodzianek founded Laboratorium Dramatu (Drama Laboratory) in Warsaw, a Polish equivalent of the Royal Court Theatre in London – a combination of a theatre-studio with drama workshops held throughout the year. Some of the most successful Polish playwrights today such as Magda Fertacz, Tomasz Man, Elzbieta Chowaniec, Piotr Rowicki, Joanna Owsianko, Paweł Jurek and Małgorzata Sikorska Miszczuk developed their plays there. He also opened The School of Drama, where he teaches playwriting for young students.

About the Adapter
Ryan Craig’s plays include The Glass Room at Hampstead Theatre; What We Did to Weinstein at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which was nominated for the Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright – Evening Standard Awards 2005; Broken Road at the Edinburgh Fringe (Winner of a Fringe First Award); Happy Savages at the Lyric Studio; and The Sins of Dalia Baumgarten at the Etcetera Theatre. He has also translated Portugal for the National as part of the Channels Season and adapted Tom Sharpe’s novel Vintage Stuff for a UK tour. TV includes Saddam’s Tribe and episodes of Robin Hood and Night and Day. He was Writer-in- Residence at BBC Radio Drama in 2005 and his radio plays include The Lysistrata Project, Hold My Breath, The Great Pursuit, Portugal and Looking for Danny.

About the Director
Blanka Zizka
has been the Artistic Director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. Her most recent productions at the Wilma were In the Next Room, or the vibrator play and Macbeth, the theater’s first-ever Shakespeare production. Blanka also directed the World Premiere production of Yussef El Guindi’s Language Rooms; her productions of Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched and Tom Stoppard’s Rock ’n’ Roll garnered 17 Barrymore nominations in 2009. She recently directed Leoš Janáček’s opera Kát’a Kabanová for the Academy of Vocal Arts, as well as Ariel Dorfman’s The Other Side, starring Rosemary Harris and John Cullum at Manhattan Theatre Club. At the Wilma, her credits include the U.S. Premiere of Linda Griffiths’s Age of Arousal, Althol Fugard’s Coming Home and My Children! My Africa!, Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, the World Premiere of Raw Boys by Dael Orlandersmith, Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis (Barrymore Winner, Best Overall Production and Best Director), the World Premiere of Embarrassments by Laurence Klavan and Polly Pen, and the Philadelphia Premieres of Lillian Groag's The Magic Fire and Chay Yew's Red. In 2002 she directed the World Premiere of Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman at Manhattan Theatre Club, McCarter Theatre Center, Long Wharf Theatre, ACT in Seattle, and at The Wilma Theater. She was awarded the first Barrymore Award for Best Direction of a Play for Cartwright’s Road.


About the Cast and Design Team

The cast of Our Class consists of Philadelphia’s most sought-after talent, many who are returning to the Wilma’s stage. In the role of Abram, the lone survivor of the class, the Wilma is pleased to welcome Canadian actor, director, and producer Michael Rubenfeld who starred as Abram in the Canadian production of Our Class at Studio180.

The entire cast includes: Krista Apple (Wilma’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play and Macbeth), Ross Beschler, Kate Czajkowski (In the Next Room, or the vibrator play), Dan Hodge, Emilie Krause, Kevin Meehan (Macbeth), Allen Radway, Michael Rubenfeld, Matteo Scammell, and Ed Swidey (Macbeth).

The set is designed by Marsha Ginsberg, costumes are designed by Oana Botez-Ban (In the Next Room, or the vibrator play), lighting designed by Thom Weaver (In the Next Room, or the vibrator play), and sound designed by Daniel Perelstein (Macbeth).

Tickets
Tickets range from $39 to $66, and 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. Discounted ticket options are available for students, groups, or anyone in their 20s. Information on discounts is available at wilmatheater.org

The Balcony Restaurant at the Doubletree Hotel and The Sporting Club at The Bellevue are the Season sponsors for The Wilma Theater’s 2011 – 2012 Season. The Jewish Exponent is the Media Sponsor for Our Class.

Our Class has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative. The Philadelphia Theatre Initiative is a program of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Initiative fosters and promotes excellence, imagination, and courage in the region’s nonprofit theater.  

Special Events
Sunday, September 18, 2011:
Author Jan T. Gross discusses his book, Neighbors.
PLEASE NOTE:
There is no performance prior to this discussion.

Sunday, October 16 (Immediately following the matinee): Author Timothy Snyder discusses his book Bloodlands.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011: "America as Haven," A program of The Wilma Theater and the National Museum of American Jewish History. "America as Haven" examines the idea and reality of this country as a place where immigrants can find a new life. Director Blanka Zizka, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia, will discuss her own experience alongside others with expertise of 20th Century immigration. One or more actors from our production of Our Class will read letters from the Museum's collection written across continents between immigrants and their families.
PLEASE NOTE:
This program is held at the National Museum of American Jewish History

Mission Statement
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.

###