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Philadelphia Mourning Untimely Death of Wilma Theater Co-founder Jiri Zizka

By Tim Jimenez

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Philadelphia theatre community is mourning the death of Jiri Zizka, co-founder of the Wilma Theater.

The Wilma Theater web site on Wednesday evening had a tribute to Zizka, surprising many.  Less than 60 years old, Jiri Zizka had passed away.

"We've got a community of theatre artists that are heartbroken," says Margie Salvante, executive director of the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, who credits the Prague-born director for making The Wilma a prominent theatre.

"The Wilma has established itself not only as one of the flagships of Philadelphia theatre but has garnered a national and international reputation," she said.

Zizka and his wife, Blanka, became founding artistic directors in 1981.  Throughout his career in Philadelphia, Jiri directed more than 70 productions, earning countless Barrymore Award nominations.   The Wilma Theater is located on South Broad Street (the "Avenue of the Arts") at Spruce, diagonally across from the Kimmel Center.

"That recognition is just one example of the impact he has had on this industry," Salvante says.

Jiri Zizka pursued other opportunities in 2010 but remained as a consultant to The Wilma.  Blanka Zizka is still there as artistic director.

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