Guillermo Calderón's KISS to be Presented at The Wilma Theater This Month

In KISS, a group of American actors performing a Syrian soap opera are shocked to realize the limits of their own cultural understanding.

By: Jan. 17, 2023
Guillermo Calderón's KISS to be Presented at The Wilma Theater This Month

The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia will present KISS, a daring play by Guillermo Calderón, on stage Jan. 31-Feb. 19, 2023.

In KISS, a group of American actors performing a Syrian soap opera are shocked to realize the limits of their own cultural understanding.

The play begins with two couples having an evening in to watch a soap opera. Things at first seem comedic and melodramatic, with an unexpected profession of love, an untimely proposal, and a stolen kiss. But when the soap opera gets interrupted, the tables are turned on the performers ... and the audience.

KISS is directed by Syrian-born University of the Arts Professor Fadi Skeiker, making his Wilma debut, and features members of the Wilma HotHouse Company.

"The play asks: What does it mean when someone else is representing you?" Skeiker said.

KISS is of particular interest for Skeiker because, as a Syrian immigrant, his work focuses on using theater as a tool to address the social and emotional wellbeing of Syrian refugees and diasporic immigrant communities. In more than a decade of research and practice, Skeiker has led applied theater workshops with Syrian and other refugees in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.

"While I consider myself expert on the Syrian narrative in general, I am also an active citizen in the American community, and know exactly how troubled the American perception of Syrian stories can be," Skeiker said. "I believe that KISS will trigger a necessary conversation about the Syrian Refugee Crisis and our responsibilities as Committed Artists to expose their narratives in Philadelphia and beyond. In addition, the play will be a catalyst to discuss issues of refugees and representation in general."

Soap operas play an important role in Syrian culture, and their production has continued during the war. Skeiker trained at The Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts in Syria, which is considered the incubator for actors, directors, and screenwriters for the country's soap opera industry. Though he continued his studies in the United States, this undergraduate experience gave him unique insight into the central role those melodramas play in that country and culture.

Behind-the-scenes, KISS will feature groundbreaking video projections from Alan Price, the director of the University of the Arts' Center for Immersive Media (CIM). The CIM opened in November 2019, and this is the first professional theatrical production that will utilize their cutting edge projection mapping technology.

Projection mapping is a specialized technique of casting video onto irregularly shaped objects to create immersive, hyper-realistic looks. For KISS, four projectors will be used to recreate scenes of Syria.

"These casting images will be in the background of a 'normal' theater scene where the actors are trying their best to act the Syrian story correctly, but however hard they try, they are not even getting close to how it feels to live in a war-torn country like Syria," Skeiker said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Wilma has been a leader at the intersection of digital media and live performance. The Wilma's digital production of Heroes of the Fourth Turning was named the best of the year in 2020 by The Wall Street Journal and nominated for a Drama League Award. The Wilma's 2021 filmed production of Fat Ham by James Ijames (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama), directed by Morgan Green, was named one of the best virtual productions by The New York Times, which stated that "The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia perfected beautiful film-stage hybrids."

"Utilizing immersive projection mapping is the next step in the Wilma's evolution as a forward-thinking theater company that marries live performance with digital technology," Managing Director Leigh Goldenberg said. "In the past, we've captured performances to share digitally with audiences across the world. Now, we bring digital technology onto our stage for our in-person audiences to experience."

KISS was a hit when it had its American Premiere in DC at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where it was directed by Yury Urnov, who is now one of the Wilma's Co-Artistic Directors. The Washington Post called Urnov's production "urgent and gripping." Skeiker is the first Syrian director to helm this play.

Tickets to KISS are $25-$59, and can be purchased at, by calling our box office at 215-546-7824, or when visiting our box office at 265 S. Broad Street in Center City. Discounts are available to students and those working in the theater industry.

The cast of KISS includes Wilma Theater HotHouse Acting Company Members Justin Jain, Taysha Marie Canales, Sarah Gliko, Anthony Martinez-Briggs, and Steven Rishard, along with performer Lois Abdelmalek, who is making her Wilma debut. The creative team includes Set Designer Jian Jung, Lighting Designer Reza Behjat, Costume Designer LeVonne Lindsay, Assistant Director Zaina Dana, Dialect Coach Fajer Al-Kaisi, Covid Safety Officer Elliot Greer, Sound Designer/Composer/Music Director Damien Figueras, Stage Manager Patreshettarlini Adams, and Dramaturg Rayya El Zein.


Open Captioning and an Audio Describer will be available on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. Please contact the Box Office at 215-546-7824 if you plan to use these services and/or need special accommodations.



Members of the KISS creative team will stay for a post-show discussion, led by a member of the Wilma HotHouse Company. KISS Director Fadi Skeiker will be among the discussion guests. This insightful post-show conversation will be held after the 2 pm performance on Sunday, Feb. 5 in the theater. This event is free with ticket purchase.


Wilma HotHouse Company Member Jaylene Clark Owens is hosting an open mic inspired by the Wilma's production of KISS on Monday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. The featured artist is Rachel O'Hanlon-Rodriguez. The event will be in-person, in the Wilma Theater Lobby. The open mic has a suggested donation of $5.00. Pre-registration is appreciated, though registration is available at the door.


Fadi Skeiker is a Syrian-born theatre practitioner/scholar/educator based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he is Associate Professor of Theatre at University of the Arts teaching directing, theatre collaboration, and script analysis. He holds a BA from The Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts in Damascus, Syria, an MA from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, and a Ph.D. in Performance as Public Practice from the University of Texas at Austin. His practical work includes more than a decade of applied theatre work with refugees and other marginalized communities in countries such as Jordan, Egypt, German, Portugal, and the U.S. Fadi's extensive applied theatre practice provided the context for his 2020 Routledge publication, "Syrian Refugees, Applied Theatre, Workshop Facilitation, and Stories: While They Were Waiting." Prior to joining the UArts community, Fadi held faculty appointments at the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan, and University of Minho in Portugal and was a visiting researcher at Free University of Berlin in Germany. His recent directing credits include RHINOCEROS by Eugène Ionesco and I WANT A COUNTRY by Andreas Flourakis.


The Wilma Theater creates living, adventurous theater. We engage artists and audiences in imaginative reflection on the complexities of contemporary life. We present bold, original, rigorously crafted productions that represent a range of voices, viewpoints, and styles.

Established in 1973 as The Wilma Project, the Wilma challenged the Philadelphia cultural community to create theatrical productions of original material and to develop local artists. From 1973 through 1979, the Wilma dazzled the Philadelphia public by presenting work with renowned avant-garde theater artists, including the Bread & Puppet Theatre, Mabou Mines, Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, The Wooster Group, Ping Chong & the Fiji Company and Spalding Gray.

In 1979, Blanka and Jiri Zizka, natives of Czechoslovakia, forged a creative relationship with the Wilma as artists-in-residence, and gained acclaim for their bold, innovative productions. The Zizkas assumed artistic leadership of the organization in 1981, and during their tenure the Wilma Theater established a national reputation for provocative work ranging from the international drama of Bertolt Brecht, Athol Fugard, Eugene Ionesco, Joe Orton and Tom Stoppard to new American plays by Tina Howe, Romulus Linney, Quincy Long, Doug Wright, Amy Freed and many others, as well as premiering Jiri Zizka's original adaptations of classic novels. CBS News called the Wilma "one playhouse that has emerged from the shadow of the Great White Way to make history on its own."

In February 2020, the Wilma radically changed its leadership structure. Founding Artistic Director Blanka Zizka invited three additional artists from a variety of histories and experiences to share leadership in a cohort structure, which will last until spring of 2023. Each year, one cohort member acts as lead Artistic Director, with input and support from other cohort members. It is an experiment in shared leadership. In Summer 2021, Blanka stepped back from the Cohort for a consulting role as Artistic Director Emeritus; the Cohort now includes Yury Urnov, James Ijames, and Morgan Green. They work alongside Managing Director Leigh Goldenberg as the leadership of the organization.

During the pandemic, the Wilma has become a leader in digital theater. The digital production of HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING was named the best of the year in 2020 by The Wall Street Journal and nominated for a Drama League Award. The Wilma's 2021 digital production of FAT HAM by James Ijames, directed by Morgan Green, was named one of the best virtual productions in 2021 by The New York Times, which stated that "The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia perfected beautiful film-stage hybrids." FAT HAM was honored with the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.