Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater has an idea for bringing audiences together in the age of social distancing, and it involves a design as old as Shakespeare.
The theater Wednesday announced plans for the Wilma Globe, an arena theater modeled on, among other things, Shakespeare’s Globe. It would be built within the current Wilma Theater and would place audience members, individually or by small groups, into two tiers of stalls separated by wooden dividers and facing the stage. With a flexible configuration it could seat as many as 100 people or as few as 35.
In addition, about a dozen cameras will be installed to provide multiple angles for productions that could be streamed to a broader audience.
But while the companies of Shakespeare’s time had no access to cameras, they did have the benefit (or drawback, on rainy days) of theaters that were largely roofless, and thus open to the air. Patrons of the Wilma Globe would still be gathering inside.
Set designers Misha Kachman, Sara Brown, and Matt Saunders helped design the arena, according to the Wilma, with input from video designer Jorge Cousineau.
“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 Wilma lead artistic director Yury Urnov in a statement. “We began by asking ourselves a question: How can we stay close, yet apart?”
Wilma managing director Leigh Goldenberg said “many important details” are still being worked out, “from bathrooms to concessions to entering and leaving the space.”
Regardless, she said, “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.”