Established in 1973, The Wilma Theater presents bold, original, well-crafted productions that represent a range of voices, viewpoints, and styles. In 2011, former artistic director Blanka Zizka founded the Wilma HotHouse Company as an incubator for artistic experimentation and a way to create long-term relationships and collaborations with local Philadelphia artists from diverse backgrounds. Beginning in 2020, the company established a new leadership structure with artists sharing artistic leadership in a cohort format.
The Wilma Theater developed a new play, Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq, with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel and a full company of actors. Inspired by Don Juan Returns from the War (written in 1936 by Bertolt Brecht's younger contemporary Ödön von Horváth), this play tells the tale of a Marine's return home from war and his discovery that his lover is missing. Searching for her, he embarks on a surrealistic tour through the streets and history of Philadelphia. Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq is grounded in the experiences of American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who return to a country where a majority of the population has little to no connection with these wars.
Overseen and directed by Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka, the 2014 production was informed by a two-year development process that began with research and dialogue with American veterans, their families, and medical professionals. A series of workshops involving Vogel and a full cast of theater artists allowed for exploration of the research material. Homer's Odyssey and tales of Hercules and Ajax also served as touchstones as the text was created. The cast trained with Jean-René Toussaint, whose Stemwork vocal technique focuses on the voice as a fundamental building-block of acting. (Click here to see footage of a past Stemwork training session at The Wilma Theater.) In addition to creating a new play around the veteran experience, this project demonstrated how an individual artist can work directly with a theater to forge a greater connection with its community. Zizka and Vogel spoke more about this collaboration in this video. A short documentary on the production featuring cast interviews and rehearsal footage can be found here.