Wilma Theater remembers Vaclav Havel, Czech writer and politician

The Wilma Theater in Center City Philadelphia is remembering playwright and politician Vaclav Havel who died Sunday. The theater principals are inviting the public to write in a book of condolences in the Wilma lobby.

The former Czech president died at the wrong time.

Not that there’s a good time to die, but he shuffled off his mortal coil at the same time as North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, which buried Havel’s passing in the news.

As a leader of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, Havel had a direct hand in transforming the politics and culture of Eastern Europe. He was elected the first president of Czechoslovakia after that country shuffled off its Communist dictatorship. He was also a writer who had been persecuted and jailed for his plays and essays.

Last year the Wilma staged the U.S. premiere of Havel’s play, “Leaving.”

“I think there is something amazing about Havel—not just that he was an artist who became a politician, but he was for many years a dissident,” said Wilma artistic director Blanka Zizka, a Czech native. “He was saying, ‘We dissidents, we don’t have any power. We don’t own anything. All we have is our own skin, and so we have to be ready to put our own skin on the line to protect the words, or stand behind the words.'”

Havel was in Philadelphia in 1994 to accept the Liberty Medal at Independence Hall, and again in 2010 for the premiere of “Leaving.”

Zizka said that, instead of official dinners, Havel preferred to hang out in the coffeeshops on South Street.

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