Press Releases

14.15 Hamlet

Contact: Sara Madden
215-893-9456 ext. 102 |

February, 2015

The Wilma Theater presents William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Director Blanka Zizka casts the powerful Zainab Jah in the title role and creates a physical environment to explore resonances in the modern world.

PHILADELPHIA - The Wilma is excited to produce what many believe to be the greatest play written by Shakespeare, and many others consider the greatest play written in the English language. The fight for the throne of Denmark, quest for moral righteousness, and complexities of vengeance will be reexamined on our stage with resonances to contemporary society. The title character in Shakespeare’s tragedy will be played by the powerful actress Zainab Jah, who appeared as Prudence in last season’s production of The Convert. Immediately following Hamlet, the Wilma will stage Tom Stoppard’s now classic behind-the-scenes comedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, both directed by Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka and using the same company of actors.

Hamlet begins on Wednesday, March 25, 2015; opens on Wednesday, April 1, 2015; and has been extended through Sunday, April 26, 2015 due to popular demand.

Critics and members of the press are invited to attend Press Night on Wednesday, April 1, at 7:30pm. For ticket arrangements, contact Sara Madden at or 215.893.9456 x102.

When asked about her choice to cast Zainab Jah in the role of Hamlet, Blanka Zizka stated, “I needed an actor who I could trust and who would trust me and who was willing to work in the physical way I approach rehearsals—experimenting and improvising, without fear. I knew I needed an actor who possessed great presence and could easily transform onstage.  I made a list of actors I would like to see working with me and it eventually became very clear to me that Zainab was going to be my Hamlet. She embodies the qualities I’m looking for in an actor exactly. In my production, Hamlet is not going to change gender because he’s played by a woman, rather, I expect that Zainab is going to transform into Hamlet.”

The Wilma’s productions of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead demonstrate Artistic Director Blanka Zizka’s evolving vision to create work around a company of artists, incorporating training and ensemble building to further develop the talents of the Philadelphia acting community. The company of actors for both productions was selected through a rigorous two-week workshop with Stemwerk master vocal teacher Jean-René Toussaint. Prior to the commencement of formal rehearsal, company members were involved in further training with Toussaint, as well as workshops with Theodoros Terzopoulos from Attis Theatre in Greece, Ivana Jocic of Troubelyn Theatre in Belgium, and fight choreographer Ian Rose. Warm-ups and exercises from the training workshops are incorporated into each day’s rehearsal schedule.

Incorporating graffiti by Street Artist CERA into the set, Matt Saunder’s design evokes a modern sensibility within a classic text. Paired with contemporary costumes with an Elizabethan flair by Vasilija Zivanic, and original, contemporary musical themes composed by Alex Games and Emma Violet, Zizka has collaborated with a design team to create a physical and aural world for the play in which corrupt royalty is surrounded by decaying society.

The focus of the direction of this production was a deliberate one.  The Wilma’s Dramaturg and Literary Manager, Walter Bilderback, explains, “Hamlet is a play of edges, of borders. The play sits uneasily astride divides: young and the old, feudalism and Renaissance humanism, Catholicism and Protestantism, individual subjectivity and social involvement. In cutting the play an important decision was that we wanted our Hamlet to be about Hamlet within his society. This meant paying attention to Polonius, Laertes, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Fortinbras, as well as the “Hamlet family,” and giving some priority to the passages dealing with Danish society and politics (many of which also imagine a degraded natural world). I think we have found a political and psychological thriller at the heart of Hamlet.”

About the Director 

Blanka Zizka has been Founding Artistic Director of The Wilma Theater since 1981. In the fall of 2011, Blanka received the Zelda Fichandler Award from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, which recognizes an outstanding director or choreographer transforming the regional arts landscape. For the past three years, she has been developing practices and programs for local theater artists to create working conditions that support creativity through continuity and experimentation. She has organized nine compensated advanced training workshops for dozens of Philadelphia artists with the goal of creating an ensemble of actors surrounding the Wilma. Most recently, Blanka directed Paula Vogel’s World Premiere Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq, Richard Bean’s Under the Whaleback, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s Our Class, Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, and Macbeth, which included an original score by Czech composer and percussionist Pavel Fajt. Blanka has directed over 60 plays and musicals at the Wilma. Her recent favorite productions are Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched, Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love and 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. For the Academy of Vocal Arts, she directed the opera Kat’a Kabanova by Leoš Janacek. She has collaborated with many playwrights including Paula Vogel, Richard Bean, 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.

Cast and Design Team
The cast features Zainab Jah (The Convert) as Hamlet; and local actors Krista Apple-Hodge (The Life of Galileo; Macbeth; Our Class; In The Next Room, or the vibrator play; Rapture, Blister, Burn) as Gertrude; Ross Beschler (Our Class, Under the Whaleback, Bootycandy) as Horatio; Keith Conallen (Under the Whaleback, Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq) as Rosencrantz and Bernardo; Sarah Gliko (Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq) as Ophelia and Fortinbras; Joe Guzmán (Arcadia, On the Razzle, The Psychic Life of Savages) as Polonius; Jered McLenigan (Pillowman, Amadeus, Rock ‘n’ Roll) as Guildenstern and Marcellus; Brian Ratcliffe (Under the Whaleback, Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq, The Real Thing) as Laertes and Player Queen; Steven Rishard (Big Love) as Claudius, Lindsay Smiling (Macbeth, Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq) as Ghost, Gravedigger, and Player King; Ed Swidey (Under the Whaleback, Macbeth, Our Class) as First Player.

The artistic team includes Set Designer Matt Saunders (Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq, Under the Whaleback, Angels in America, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Age of Arousal, and My Children! My Africa!), Costume Designer Vasilija Zivanic (Leaving, Don Juan Comes Home from Iraq), Lighting Designer Yi Zhao, Original Music and Sound Designers Alex Games and Emma Violet, Sound Designer Zachary Beattie-Brown, Lead Street Artist CERA, and Fight Choreographer Ian Rose.

In conjunction with the Wilma’s production of Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece will be co-presented with Philadelphia Artists’ Collective Tuesday, April 21 through Friday, April 24, 8pm. In the dark of night, a violent crime is committed - and nothing will ever be the same. Dan Hodge (Wilma’s The Real Thing, Our Class) adapts and performs in this one-man interpretation of Shakespeare’s epic poem, a retelling of a classic Roman myth.

Tickets are just $25 for the general public and $10 for students and theater artists. Tickets at or 215-546-7824.