Transformation Event

The Wilma Theater Transforms its Artistic Development and its Façade with the

$10 Million Transformation Fund Campaign

Wyncote Foundation Provides Naming Gift of $5 million


On January 11, 2016, Wilma Founding Artistic Director Blanka Zizka and Managing Director James Haskins announced the Transformation Fund, a $10 million capital campaign that will transform the Wilma’s external façade, its internal lobby layout, and its artistic model of developing and producing content.  Zizka and Haskins were joined onstage by theatrical luminary Tom Stoppard (The Hard Problem, Wilma U.S. Premiere 2016); Wilma Board Chair David Loder; Wilma resident acting company members Sarah Gliko and teaching artist Justin Jain; and Wilma-commissioned early-career playwright Kate Tarker.  Remarks by Writers Theatre Artistic Director Michael Halberstam concluded the presentation, followed by a celebratory champagne toast in the Wilma lobby.

Through a strategic mix of endowment funds and annual project support, the Transformation Fund will secure the organization for the long-term, creating a living legacy through the work presented onstage at the Wilma each season.  The Wyncote Foundation has provided a generous $5 million lead gift to the Transformation Fund, which the Wilma will match with $5 million in raised funds.  Thanks in large part to the Wyncote Foundation’s support, the Wilma is already 75% of its way towards this $10 million goal.  In recognition of the Wyncote Foundation’s generosity, the name “Aurora” will be featured on the building’s façade: “Wilma at Aurora” will appear on the marquee, while also being incorporated into tinted glass on the lobby doors. Wyncote Foundation representative Leonard C. Haas spoke about the choice of name in memory of Chara Aurora Cooper Haas, the mother of the four Haas brothers who make up the Wyncote Foundation Board of Directors.

Additional initial pledges to the Transformation Fund, which will continue through the 2018 fiscal year-end of July 31, 2018, come from members of the Wilma’s Board of Directors, foundations, and individuals.

Transformation Through Artistic Innovation

Zizka explained that the Transformation Fund places artistic development at the forefront of how the Wilma creates living, adventurous art, with the aim of transforming the Wilma’s creative model to result in richly unique experiences for artists and audiences alike.  The Fund will offer resources for compensating and fostering artists; hiring international master trainers; and commissioning bold new projects, in addition to offering extraordinary production support. 

In keeping with this ideological transformation, the Wilma is officially launching its Wilma HotHouse resident acting company, a collaborative group of performers who will reinforce the Wilma’s commitment to cultivating and nurturing Philadelphia talent.  The Wilma HotHouse was piloted and tested during the fall and is primed to transform how theater is created and produced in Philadelphia.  It includes a company of ten actors, who meet each Monday to conduct workshops, explore texts, and further develop the Wilma’s new aesthetic.  All members are compensated annually by the Wilma, in addition to receiving union-scale actors' salaries for each show or workshop in which they perform.  Support for the HotHouse towards the hiring of international master trainers comes from a generous gift from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The HotHouse allows the Wilma to develop new works specifically for its company of actors, and the Wilma is pleased to announce its inaugural HotHouse commission with playwright Kate Tarker.  Tarker’s commission is made possible by the support of the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation’s Women Playwrights Commissioning Program, and she will be involved here at the Wilma through summer 2018. 

The HotHouse also allows the Wilma to conduct readings, intensive workshops, and other experiments with company members and guest artists; and to hone a unique theatrical aesthetic for the Wilma through rigorous actor training, which it will then disseminate to the wider Philadelphia community with classes offered through the HotHouse Studio.  This emphasis on artist training has become a core tenet of the Wilma’s work, and theater practitioners, audience members, and funders alike have cited the positive impact of this training on performances.  The initiative is committed to hosting a minimum of three extended training workshops per year, and HotHouse members are slated to participate in workshops this season led by master teachers including Stemwerk expert Jean-René Toussaint, who trains actors to find their primitive voices through vocal and physical exercises; and Hungarian director/choreographer Csaba Horváth, who will help actors explore physical storytelling. 

The HotHouse invests in the Philadelphia arts community by working with local actors, and by encouraging them to create art that is both boldly new and regionally rooted.  It represents a sizable commitment to training local talent: first by having theatrical masters conduct workshops with our HotHouse company members and, ultimately, by segueing these company members into the role of teachers themselves at the HotHouse Studio and in educational residencies at Philadelphia public schools.  In so doing, the HotHouse and its Studio will substantially enhance Philadelphia’s theatrical creativity, encouraging exploration and risk-taking for artists throughout the region.  In transforming the Wilma’s modes of operation and increasing its artistic capacity, the HotHouse will create an ever-widening community of artists who will revolutionize Philadelphia’s theater scene while serving as teachers and emissaries throughout the greater region.  The Transformation Fund will also enhance education and outreach programs, ultimately allowing Wilma HotHouse programming to tour to theaters, colleges, and universities in other regions.

The HotHouse company currently includes Ross Beschler, Taysha Canales, Sarah Gliko, Justin Jain, Jenn Kidwell, Jered McLenigan, Campbell Meaghan O'Hare, Steven Rishard, Lindsay Smiling, and Ed Swidey.  Its associate artists include Krista Apple-Hodge, Keith Conallen, Kate Czajkowski, Zainab Jah, Forrest McClendon, Kevin Meehan, Dan Perelstein, Brian Ratcliffe, Matt Saunders, and Thom Weaver.  Its membership is determined annually at the discretion of founding artistic director Blanka Zizka.

Physical Transformation of the Wilma

Haskins announced that funds from the campaign will ultimately support the transformation of the Wilma’s façade, and the conversion of the Wilma’s current lobby into a full-service, public café.  With an ideal location on the Avenue of the Arts, and a desire to welcome the Philadelphia community into the theater, the Wilma has long aimed to redesign the current lobby into a café, which will encourage audience members, local community members and employees, and theater artists alike to gather in the Wilma’s lobby for coffee, conversation, and informal programming.  In addition, the Wilma is currently applying for a performing arts facility liquor license that will enhance our concessions offerings for our audience members attending a performance and provide post-show opportunities for audiences and artists to mingle and converse about the production. With the conversion of the lobby into a café, the Wilma also plans to build a new onsite Training and Education Studio, which will be built by adding a second floor to the Wilma’s existing lobby structure.  Both the café and this new studio space will offer potential naming opportunities for donors or corporate sponsors.

The Wilma’s façade has been redesigned by Kristen Robinson, who has collaborated with the Wilma since creating her Barrymore Award-winning set design for Rapture, Blister, Burn in 2014. The café and Training and Education Center are conceived and designed by Wilma Board member Jim McGillin of McGillin Architecture, Inc. To receive images of the new design for print or online use, contact Ryanne Domingues at


The Transformation Fund will also enable the Wilma to establish a $6 million Board-restricted endowment. The Wilma will direct dividends from the endowment toward artistic innovation, ongoing upkeep and refurbishment of the theater, and future artist housing needs as the Wilma continues to engage guest directors, designers, and master trainers.

Haskins concluded his remarks of the evening by announcing that this year’s honoree at the Wilma’s annual Theater Lovers Fête on June 13, 2016 will be actor and philanthropist Leonard C. Haas.

Zizka and her vision for the Wilma’s future are featured as the cover story for the January 2016 issue of American Theatre magazine, a copy of which was given to all attendees at the announcement as they exited the theater.  The Wilma was also featured in a recent article in the Stage Directors and Choreographers Journal about the journey of the HotHouse.