Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater takes home Tony award

May 22, 2024

The performance space is the first in Pennsylvania to win the regional prize, which comes with a $25,000 grant.

By Kristin Hunt
PhillyVoice Staff

Wilma Theater Tony

Provided image/Johanna Austin

The Wilma Theater mounted productions in a 100-seat theater on Sansom Street before moving to its current, larger location on Broad Street.

The Wilma Theater has won the Tonys’ regional theater award, making it the first theater in Pennsylvania to earn the honor.

The award, which the Tonys have given out for almost 50 years, will not only raise the Center City theater’s profile but its budget. The prize comes with a $25,000 grant to further the Wilma Theater’s work.

“This honor truly belongs to everyone in the Wilma community, both past and present,” the theater’s leadership said in a statement. “This Tony Award celebrates all the actors, directors, designers, production crews, board members, staff, donors, volunteers, peer institutions, foundations, corporations, government officials and the tens of thousands of audience members who attend our shows here on Broad Street and stream our productions worldwide – you are part of the Wilma and all that we do.”

Every year, the Tonys honor one regional theater company that has “displayed a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theatre nationally.” The winner is selected on the recommendation of the American Theatre Critics Association. While no theaters in Pennsylvania have previously won, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, received the award in 2016.

The Tony Awards committee praised the Wilma for its decades of work developing local playwrights and championing original, avant-garde productions. It specifically cited the work of Blanka and Jiri Zizka, the artists-in-residence couple who mounted acclaimed projects, including an original adaptation of “Animal Farm,” after fleeing the Czech Republic in the 1970s and settling in Philadelphia. The Zizkas eventually became artistic directors of the Wilma Theater, producing plays by Tom Stoppard, Tony Kushner and James Ijames, the Philadelphia-based playwright who won a Pulitzer for “Fat Ham.” While Jiri died in 2012, Blanka continued to lead the theater until her retirement in 2021.

The awards committee also highlighted the Wilma’s more recent work in virtual productions over the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 2021 digital world premiere of “Fat Ham.” The theater launched a digital theater lab earlier this year to expand its streaming efforts.

The announcement comes ahead of the Tony Awards ceremony, which will be held Sunday, June 16, at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.