Philly's Blanka Zizka Named Fichandler Award Recipient; DC's Howard Shalwitz Is Finalist

News   Philly's Blanka Zizka Named Fichandler Award Recipient; DC's Howard Shalwitz Is Finalist Director Blanka Zizka of Philadelphia's The Wilma Theater is the 2011 recipient of The Zelda Fichandler Award, recognizing an outstanding director or choreographer transforming the regional arts landscape, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF) announced.

The $5,000 award, presented by and announced by SDCF president Karen Azenberg, "heralds both accomplishment to date and promise for the future, and commends courage and deep commitment to a community."

A peer review committee selected Zizka from 55 nominees from the Eastern region of the United States.

Selection Committee co-chair Sharon Ott said in a statement, "Even within what was an extraordinary pool of candidates, Blanka's continued courage and dedication, both as a producer and director, attracted the committee to her. She has made a deep commitment to the arts in Philadelphia, promoting theater, dance, and utilizing a European-style rehearsal process at the Wilma. She has been bold in her selection of material and artists, and now launches into a new phase of her career, taking on the role of sole artistic director at the Wilma after years of collaboration with Jiri Zizka. The Fichandler Award will be a wonderful way for her to begin this new chapter in her vital, interesting, and courageous career>"

Zizka said in a statement, "I'm much honored, thrilled, and humbled to receive the Zelda Fichandler Award. The remarkable regional theater movement that Zelda started in 1950 has grown into a myriad of distinctive artistic voices, missions, and aesthetics that is epitomized in Philadelphia. This city, where I have been working over the last 30 years, has turned into a fertile ground for making theatre. I'm very grateful for the support I have received from the Philadelphia community of theater makers and theatergoers. Theatre is the most collaborative of all art forms; no one can do it alone. I'm extremely thankful for my many encounters with inspiring artists who have challenged me to learn and grow."

The committee chose to honor Howard Shalwitz of Washington DC's Woolly Mammoth Theatre as Distinguished Finalist. Three additional finalists were named: Richard Garner, producing artistic director and co-founder of Georgia Shakespeare in Atlanta; Joseph Haj, artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company of Chapel Hill, NC; and D. Lynn Meyers, producing artistic director of Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati.

Moisés Kaufman, a co-chair of the Selection Committee, said in a statement, "This committee was unanimous in this decision. Mr. Shalwitz is a risk taker, a community builder, and a generous collaborator with his peers. His work is consistent in its excellence, its transformative power, and its ability to repeatedly challenge the status quo. It is undeniable that his work has had a great impact on us all individually and on the field as a whole."

The award will be presented on Oct. 24 at a free public presentation at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. The evening will feature Halo Wines, Zelda Fichandler, Michael Halberstam, Jonathan Moscone, Jennifer Nelson, and Tom Moore, among others.

Blanka Zizka has been founding artistic director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. She is currently in rehearsals for the U.S. premiere of Our Class by Tadeusz Słobodzianek, the winner of the Nike Prize, the highest literary prize in Poland. She most recently directed Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room, which received eight Barrymore awards, including Best Direction and Best Production, and Macbeth, which included an original score by Czech composer and percussionist Pavel Fajt. She has directed over 60 plays and musicals at the Wilma. Her recent favorite productions are Wajdi Mouawad's Scorched, Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice (which featured an original score by composer Toby Twining, now available from Cantaloupe Records), Brecht's The Life of Galileo, Athol Fugard's Coming Home and My Children! My Africa! and Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9. She collaborated closely with Dael Orlandersmith on her plays Raw Boys and Yellowman, which was co-produced by McCarter Theatre and the Wilma and also performed at ACT Seattle, Long Wharf, and Manhattan Theatre Club. Blanka was also privileged to direct Rosemary Harris and John Cullum in Ariel Dorfman's The Other Side at MTC, and for the Vocal Academy of Arts, she directed the opera Kata Kabanova by Leos Janacek. She has collaborated with many playwrights including Yussef El Guindi, Doug Wright, Sarah Ruhl, Tom Stoppard, Linda Griffiths, Polly Pen, Dael Orlandersmith, Laurence Klavan, Lillian Groag, Jason Sherman, Amy Freed, Robert Sherwood and Chay Yew. Her favorite production is, even after all these years, Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love.

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In establishing this award, named after Zelda Fichandler, a founder of the American regional theatre movement, SDCF recognizes the profound impact of the founders of regional theatre and honors their legacy. This award is given annually within rotating regions of the U.S. The Fichandler Award serves as a complement to the "Mr. Abbott" Award, presented last night to George C. Wolfe in recognition of lifetime achievement in theatre, and the Joe A. Callaway Award for excellence in direction and choreography, to be presented in New York on Nov. 14. The three awards are the only awards given to theatre directors and choreographers by their peers. This year's Selection Committee was comprised of professional directors and choreographers throughout the region: Timothy Bond, Robert Cacioppo, Moisés Kaufman, Mark Lamos, Mark Lutwak, Vincent Murphy, Jennifer Nelson, Sharon Ott and Leigh Silverman.

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