Recipe for Recovery: Wilma Theater designs arena of the future, rooted in the past

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Through the coronavirus crisis, we've learned that survival is all about the pivot and the idea of reinvention.

A nearly 50-year-old theater in Philadelphia is building an innovative new space to meet this moment of COVID-19.

While it may look like the theater of the future, the Wilma Theater took its inspiration from the past.

The Wilma Globe is being modeled after theaters of the past, like Shakespeare's Globe and Rome's Colosseum.

It's a theater built to bring live audiences into the space safely: socially distanced, yet still present and still physically connected to the arts we've been desperately missing.

"As soon as I stepped in here, it just felt so melancholy," says Leigh Goldenberg, the managing director of the Wilma Theater. "It just reminded me of the loss of gathering and being with our artists and our audience."

Right now, silence fills the typically vibrant and bustling Wilma Theater. Stages have been dark since March, but the show must go on.

Like many theaters, the Wilma quickly took its creative content to a digital, virtual space.

But now, they say it's time to re-imagine the day audiences return, and what that will look like.

"What are ways that we can make people feel comfortable, but still feel close to the art," Goldenberg says.

The Wilma Globe will be an arena, surrounded by two levels of audiences-boxes that are separated by wooden dividers, but still open to the stage.

"So it might be one if you are buying a single ticket, there might be up to four people in a box if your whole family is attending," Goldenberg says.

Those boxes can be reconfigured and reused, depending on the show. They can also be set for as few as 35 audience members and as many as 100.

They're also working on installing cameras around the stage to simultaneously live stream the productions.

"It will be a live feeling that some people get just being in the space as it's happening. There will also be some people who will see this in a different way, maybe from their home."

It's a new time, with new concerns. But when those lights come back on, the Wilma wants to be ready.

"We know that the whole world is changing and we're going to change and lead along with that change," Goldenberg says.

The Wilma Theater says it will build it over the next few months, and then hopefully have it ready for the day theaters get the green light to reopen their doors.
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