Philly’s Wilma Theater announces socially distanced design

The new Wilma Theater's new Globe Model.
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With the pandemic situation, nothing is concrete. It seems that everyday information and situations are changing, which is conceivable when dealing with an unprecedented time in our history. However, to counteract that notion, many establishments have gotten creative when planning their future endeavors and many have opted to think completely out of the box to plan effectively. 

Take the Wilma Theater. The establishment—one of the many arts and culture organizations that lines the Avenue of the Arts—has taken the pandemic situation into their own hands and have decided to reimagine the way they are going to do things to prepare for their next season tentatively starting in late 2020 or early 2021. 

The theater group recently announced in a release that after consulting with a number of artists, designers and directors, the company has decided to plan for an innovative Wilma Globe model. Based on a number of historical models, including Shakespeare’s Globe, the Wilma Globe is the result of planning and problem-solving to keep the Wilma moving forward.

This decision is par for the course in terms of the Wilma’s innovation—the establishment is known for doing things a bit differently.

Just this year, the popular cultural establishment announced a ground-breaking leadership design with four co-artistic directors working together, making them one of the only regional theaters of this size in the country to do something along these lines. The theater also has been innovative before 2020 with its Wilma HotHouse program, a five-year-old resident artist company that trains together and incubates new work, something that is also unique in the artistic world.

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“From the very first day of this pandemic, we all agreed to take this crisis as a challenge, an opportunity to rethink and to reinvent,” said Lead Artistic Director Yury Urnov in a statement. “Flexibility and innovation are the two central principles guiding us. These principles have led us to a plan for next season, of which we are very proud. We began by asking ourselves a question: how can we stay close, yet apart? In response to this challenge, we came up with the Wilma Globe.”

How the globe design works is simple. The theater will be set up arena-style surrounded by two levels of audiences-boxes. What’s a bit different about this particular type of model is the fact that audience members will be separated from one another by wooden dividers, but open to the stage. The design is also adaptable as well, depending on the specific production and what it needs, it can be reconfigured into a semi-circle, horseshoe and more. The globe can fit audience sizes of 35-100 and will also provide more space and comfort for those trying to enjoy the show while simultaneously adhering to social distancing guidelines. This new set was designed by set designers Misha Kachman, Sara Brown and Matt Saunders with important input from video designer Jorge Cousineau as well.

The release also states that additionally, the Wilma hopes to approach video streaming not merely as a technical solution but as an opportunity for artistic invention. They intend to discreetly install about a dozen cameras inside the Wilma Globe, uniquely placed for each production. Some of these would take care of “the big picture,” while others could be as small and specific as a camera hidden on an actor’s costume. As the director is rehearsing the show, the Wilma hopes to engage a video designer who would create a “video-script” of the production, so the company can stream a high quality, artistically planned version of the play. This way The Wilma can open their productions to a much broader circle of potential audiences.

“Many important details are still being worked on, ensuring the audience and artists’ comfort and safety, from bathrooms to concessions to entering and leaving the space,” says Leigh Goldenberg, Managing Director in the release. “I am confident that we will find solutions as thoughtful and innovative to each potential concern to match our current planning. We believe this ‘hybrid’ version – a mix of in-person and streaming – will provide us with a much higher level of flexibility and preparedness to the new challenges next season will bring.”

Philadelphians can look forward to the Wilma Theater’s 2020-21 season and feel safe to secure tickets at the same time. A few previously announced productions to look forward to include Will Arbery’s ‘Heroes of the Fourth Turning,’ the New Saloon’s ‘Minor Character,’ the world premiere of James Ijames’ ‘Fat Ham,’ and Jackie Sibblies Drury’s ‘Fairview.’

For more information on the season and the Wilma Globe, visit wilmatheater.org

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