The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage Announces 2011 Philadelphia Theatre Initiative Grant Recipients

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage Announces 2011 Philadelphia Theatre Initiative Grant Recipients

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage has awarded $1,013,000 through the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative (PTI) to 10 theater companies, performing arts presenters, and independent theater artists.

This year's funded projects revolve around moments of laughter, tragedy, and magic, offering theater-goers in the Philadelphia region an exciting variety of dramatic experiences from which to choose. Highlights include the first and only U.S. performance of an eye-opening work about disability and difference in our society; a multilayered magic show from a local theater artist who has deep roots in the art of illusion; a powerful work from a Polish playwright that dramatizes the atrocities of the Holocaust and examines its lasting legacies of hatred, grief, and shame; and an exploration of women and comedy that will explode female comedic stereotypes and celebrate everyday humor.

“All of this year's grants involve either the creation of new work or American premieres,” says Fran Kumin, director of the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative. “Philadelphia audiences will be the first in the U.S. to see a broad range of ambitious productions.”

Back to Back Theatre, an award-winning Australian ensemble of actors with intellectual disabilities, will travel to the U.S. for the first time to perform Food Court at the 2012 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe. Back to Back has received critical acclaim for its unconventional work that challenges audience assumptions and prejudices about intellectually disabled individuals and the role of difference in society. Performed with a live original score by experimental jazz band The Necks, Food Court has been lauded by the Australian press as “a work of devastating honesty” and has been featured at prestigious international venues, including The Barbican in London and the Sydney Opera House. Artistic Director Bruce Gladwin and Back to Back cast members will speak with audiences and mixed-ability actors from the Philadelphia theater community in pre- and post-show discussions about their creative process and background.

Theater artist and 2006 Pew Fellow Geoff Sobelle will produce the world premiere of Elephant Room, a multilayered show that Sobelle calls an “ode” to his early career as a working magician. Centered on three magicians who perform feats of levitation, mentalism, and illusion, Elephant Room will walk the lines between art and entertainment, as well as reality and deception. Sobelle will further explore the themes of deception and self-promotion, as they relate to magic, with a Web site that offers detailed, inventive histories of each magician, speaking to their accomplishments as if the characters were real. Sobelle is the Co-Artistic Director of performance group rainpan 43 and a member of Pig Iron Theatre Company; he will premiere Elephant Room at the 2011 Live Arts Festival and then follow up with a 2012 production at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

Following recent productions of Macbeth and Scorched, which addressed challenging themes of political/personal trauma, fear, and guilt, The Wilma Theater will open its 2011–12 season with the U.S. premiere of Our Class by Polish playwright Tadeusz Slobdzianek. Our Class is a historically driven and evocative play that follows 10 students over 80 years as they live through the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Poland; during this time, latent anti-Semitism takes hold within the group and results in disturbing acts of hatred and violence. The characters of this play, caught in some of history's darkest moments, will speak directly to the audience, reflecting on legacies of shame and hatred, resulting in a powerful theatrical experience that “leaves no one indifferent.” Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka will direct the production, and traveled to Poland this summer to meet with Slobdzianek and visit the site of a Holocaust massacre that served as the playwright's inspiration.

1812 Productions will create The Women and Comedy Project, to be researched and developed in 2011–12 and produced during the company's 2012–13 season. Artistic Director Jennifer Childs will lead the various stages of this two-year process in collaboration with Philadelphia-based physical comedian and former Pig Iron Theatre Company member Emmanuelle Delpech. A series of “generational labs”—workshops with small groups of local female performers and artists, organized by age—will explore and dissect female stereotypes often seen in comedy (the airhead, the diva, etc.) and provide a forum for discussion, storytelling, and improvisation. Childs will also conduct more than 50 interviews, speaking with famous female performers and comedians as well as a diverse group of women from the Philadelphia region, representing multiple age categories, races, and economic backgrounds. The resulting script, informed by these labs and interviews, will present 1812 audiences with a unique homage to a woman's comic voice that tackles stereotypes and aims to create a sense of community through shared laughter.

For the complete list of 2011 Philadelphia Theatre Initiative grant recipients and full project descriptions, please see the attached list or visit

Philadelphia Theatre Initiative grants are selected by a distinguished panel of theater professionals from around the country with broad knowledge of the field. These grants represent the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative's commitment to the theater artists and organizations that serve, entertain, and educate the citizens of Philadelphia and its surrounding regions. For a full list of 2011 panelist names and respective credentials, please see the attached list of 2011 grantees or visit

The Philadelphia Theatre Initiative was established in 1995 and has since funded 202 theater performances and projects, investing over $10.7 million in stimulating artistic development in the theater community and bringing outstanding theatrical programming to the region's audiences.