Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater to receive 2024 Regional Theatre Tony Award

May 22, 2024
Broadway News

The 77th Annual Tony Awards ceremony will be broadcast live from Lincoln Center on June 16.

Andy Lefkowitz

The Wilma Theater, 2015 (Credit: Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

The Tony Awards administration committee has announced that the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will be the recipient of the 2024 Regional Theatre Tony Award. The honor, recognizing a regional theater company that has displayed a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theater nationally, is accompanied by a grant of $25,000 provided by City National Bank.
“We are delighted to announce the Wilma Theater as the recipient of the 2024 Regional Theatre Tony Award,” said Heather Hitchens, president and CEO of the American Theatre Wing, and Jason Laks, interim president of the Broadway League, in a joint statement. “The Wilma has made outstanding contributions to the world of theater over the course of 45 years, maintaining an unwavering dedication to contemporary theater and a commitment to the arts that began with its visionary introduction of avant-garde theater to Philadelphia in 1979.”
Established in 1973 as the Wilma Project, the Wilma set out to create theatrical productions of original material and develop local artists. From 1973 through 1979, the Wilma presented work featuring renowned avant-garde theater artists. In 1979, Blanka and Jiri Zizka, political refugees from Czechoslovakia, forged a creative relationship with the Wilma as artists-in-residence and gained acclaim for their innovative productions. The spotlight shone on Wilma, in particular, with the duo’s original adaptation of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” which featured original music.
The Zizkas assumed artistic leadership of the organization in 1981 and moved the Wilma to a 100-seat theater. Within five years, audience expansion drove the decision to expand the theater to a new location. As Philadelphia launched a plan to create an arts corridor in the early 1990s, the Wilma was chosen for a new 300-seat theater. Opening in 1996, the Wilma was the first new theater built in Philadelphia in 40 years and served as a cornerstone of the new Avenue of the Arts. Designed by architect Hugh Hardy, the theater established an ideal home for the Zizkas’ artistic vision.
In 2000, the Wilma launched a series of educational programs, through which they strove to cultivate the artists and audiences of tomorrow through meaningful engagement with the art of today: “Wilmagination” has since served more than 10,000 Philadelphia high school students. In addition, the “AllStars” after-school program has provided students with an opportunity to become more involved in the Wilma’s programming and artistic work. Through their adult theater programs, the Wilma has partnered with local organizations such as Broad Street Love, the Free Library of Philadelphia and Philly House to facilitate spaces that invite community groups to create, workshop or perform.
In 2010, Jiri Zizka stepped down from his work with the Wilma before his passing in 2012. Blanka Zizka assumed sole artistic leadership, with her production of “Our Class” inspiring what came next. She began formulating the Wilma HotHouse as a diverse ensemble of Philadelphia-based actors who would meet regularly to train. In 2016, the official Wilma HotHouse Company was formed and opened the doors for the Wilma to become an incubator for artistic experimentation. After close to a decade of training, the ensemble has developed a unique methodology, their distinctive performance style becoming synonymous with the Wilma.
Just before the 2020 shutdown, the Wilma was poised to launch an artistic leadership model merging artistic collaboration with a new operating structure. In February of that year, the Wilma unveiled the Next Chapter initiative, its iterative leadership model through which a cohort of co-artistic directors alongside managing director Leigh Goldenberg foster shared governance and artistic vision with diverse voices. James Ijames, Morgan Green and Yury Urnov joined Zizka in this leadership model. Following Zizka’s retirement in 2021, Wilma solidified the model with three co-artistic directors. Lindsay Smiling, a founding member of HotHouse, assumed a leadership role vacated by Ijames in 2023.
The Wilma remained fully staffed and operational through the pandemic shutdown. The Wilma’s 2021 digital production of Ijames’ “Fat Ham” preceded the play’s win for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Following a run at Off-Broadway’s Public Theater, in 2023, “Fat Ham” went on to Broadway, with Wilma Theater as a co-producer, and received five Tony Award nominations, including a nod for Best Play.
Wilma’s 2024-2025 season features productions led by each co-artistic director, and the return of co-founder Zizka. The slate of productions includes Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “The Comeuppance,” Inua Ellams’ “Half-God of Rainfall,” Rajiv Joseph’s “Archduke” and Jon Fosse’s “A Summer Day.”
The 77th Annual Tony Awards, hosted by Ariana DeBose, will air live on CBS and Paramount+ from the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on June 16 at 8 p.m ET.