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Wilma Theater Announces 2019-2020 Season

The Wilma Theater has announced its 2019-2020 Season, featuring a lineup of new and innovative plays from some of the most exciting emerging voices in the field of theater. The season begins with a limited run of a world premiere stage adaptation of Etel Adnan's famous poem There, which will be co-presented with FringeArts in the 2019 Fringe Festival, co-created by Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka and world-renowned visual artist Rosa Barba.

Next up, 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist Dance Nation by Clare Barron, a hilarious and moving story of a competitive girls dance troupe (portrayed by women of all ages), directed by New York-based stage director Margot Bordelon. The season continues with the Obie award-winning Describe the Night by Rajiv Joseph (author of the Broadway hit Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo), a historical fantasy of Soviet Russia, spanning the Stalin and Putin regimes and tracing the fine line between history, conspiracy, and "alternative facts," directed by Zizka.

Next will be a limited presentation of Renaissance in the Belly of the Killer Whale by Jaylene Clark Owens, Hollis Heath, Janelle Heatley, and Chyann Sapp, a multidisciplinary performance piece blending spoken word poetry, dance, song, and storytelling that chronicles the gentrification of Harlem from the perspective of three native residents. The season will close with Aleshea Harris' Is God Is directed by lauded Philadelphia theater maker James Ijames; winner of the 2016 Relentless Award and fresh off its groundbreaking debut at Soho Rep, this darkly comic revenge saga follows two twin sisters on a bloody journey from the Deep South to California on a quest of Old Testament justice.

There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other
By Etel Adnan
Co-Created by Blanka Zizka and Rosa Barba
A co-presentation with FringeArts for the 2019 Fringe Festival
September 11-22, 2019 (A Limited Engagement)

Who are we, if not you and me? Renowned visual artist Rosa Barba and Artistic Director Blanka Zizka team up to create this world premiere adaptation of There: In The Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other (or There, for short) by Lebanese poet Etel Adnan. Visual, poetic, and theatrical worlds collide in this wild journey through memory, history, identity, and fantasy.

This piece has a storied connection to Wilma's HotHouse Company, their resident core of actors and theater makers; the text of Adnan's poem was read at the inaugural Wilma HotHouse rehearsal and had been revisited several times before the production came together. Zizka notes, "I have been obsessed with this poem for years." Searching for an opportunity to adapt it for the stage, it presented itself when Zizka met Barba and discovered that she too shared a passion for Adnan's work. When Zizka brought up her idea for a stage adaptation, Barba agreed to join the project. Fitting for a challenging work, the two have committed to the project as "co-creators," rather than the traditional roles of director or designer. Barba's work will focus on the creation of a physical environment within which the HotHouse Company will embody the text, with performances directed by Zizka. Experimental music composer Alex Dowling and lighting designer Thom Weaver round out the impressive creative team. There will be presented as a limited engagement, co-presentation with FringeArts for the 2019 Fringe Festival.

Dance Nation
By Clare Barron
Directed by Margot Bordelon
October 22-November 10, 2019

In this raucously funny 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist, a competitive dance troupe of teenage girls - played by women of all ages - vie for the national trophy. Every plié and jeté hurdles them towards self-discovery. You'll be moved to tears and laughter as you watch them learn about their bodies and desires, and witness their burgeoning strength through the lens of the women they'll become.

Fresh off two landmark productions, Dance Nation had its premiere at Playwrights Horizons (included in the New York Times' Best Theater of 2018) and a successful run across the pond at London's Almeida Theatre. This self-described "ghost play," was winner of the inaugural 2015 Relentless Award from the American Playwriting Foundation in memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Zizka is thrilled to bring Dance Nation to the Wilma stage. She notes, "Clare's storytelling is unexpectedly hilarious, tender, ferocious and insightful about the wonderful and terrible complexity of girlhood."

Describe the Night
By Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Blanka Zizka
January 28-February 16, 2020

When we say that something is true, it becomes true. When we say that something is false, it becomes false. This 2018 Obie Award Winner explores the blurred lines between lies, history and conspiracy theories, as it tracks back and forth across 90 years of Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Rajiv Joseph's (Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo) sharp-witted dialogue and historical juxtapositions bring to mind Tom Stoppard's and Tony Kushner's best works.

An epic fantasy that weaves historical figures into imagined happenings of the past, featuring a Putin-esque KGB officer, the play deftly incorporates the tension and intrigue of a spy thriller with a touching dive into the realm of magical realism. Another featured character, writer Issac Babel, executed by Stalin after his work was deemed anti-Soviet, was a profound influence on Zizka, who herself defected from her native Czechoslovakia to escape persecution by the Soviet government. She is inspired by the way Describe the Night "touches upon the ambivalent and mysterious nature of art. It is hard to overstate how funny, smart and powerfully engaging it is."

Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale
By Jaylene Clark Owens, Hollis Heath, Janelle Heatley, and Chyann Sapp
Directed by Jaylene Clark Owens
February 26-March 1, 2020 (A Limited Engagement)

Meet Bridget, Shayla, and Toni; three women who chronicle the gentrification of their beloved Harlem, journeying through the streets, history, landmarks, and changing culture of their neighborhood. Through a fusion of theatre, dance, song and spoken word poetry, Renaissance will draw you into these women's youthful stories in deeply moving and uproariously funny ways.

After Wilma HotHouse actor Jaylene Clark Owens was inspired to turn a Facebook post about the burgeoning gentrification of Harlem in 2011 into her award-winning poem "SoHa", Owens teamed up with fellow spoken word poets and Harlemites Hollis Heath, Janelle Heatley, and Chyann Sapp to create an evening-length performance piece. Since its premiere at the American Negro Theatre at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Renaissance has received dozens of presentations across the Northeast, most recently a successful limited engagement at Theater Horizon. Following the Wilma's much-praised 2018 production of HotHouse Affiliated Artist James Ijames' Kill Move Paradise, Zizka is proud to continue that tradition of showcasing Wilma HotHouse Company's multi-talented members. She notes that Renaissance "has a vital energy. I love how these three women bring their humor, energy, and sarcasm into a very serious subject that every city, particularly Philadelphia, is grappling with."

Is God Is
By Aleshea Harris
Directed by James Ijames
May 26-June 14, 2020

Their mother's dying wish jump starts the blood-soaked journey of scorned twin sisters Anaia and Racine. They venture from the deep South to northern California to seek vengeance against their father in an epic saga of wickedly dark humor, family trauma, and Old Testament justice. Winner of the 2016 Relentless Award, Is God Is blends "tragedy, typography, the Spaghetti Western, hip-hop and Afropunk" says playwright Aleshea Harris.

After Zizka saw a performance of the play's earth-shaking world premiere at Soho Rep, she knew that she needed to bring the play to the Wilma HotHouse, so she arranged a reading. After the reading, says Zizka, "two things were immediately apparent: first, the women of color in our company really took to the material. Second, the play had us on the edge of our seats the entire time." Also present at the reading was Wilma HotHouse Affiliate Artist and Philadelphia favorite James Ijames. Ijames had loved the play since he first read it and was immediately approached to direct. Ijames has had a banner year in Philadelphia after opening Wilma's 2018-2019 Season with his Kill Move Paradise (winner of the 2019 Kesselring Prize for Drama) and directing a much lauded production of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean at the Arden Theater. Ijames notes of the piece, "I think the use of genre (western, revenge tragedy) is beautifully married to an Afrofuturist aesthetic that I'm hungry for in the theater. This play is not concerned about being judged or being respectable. Its main concern is with being ruthlessly honest."

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