As theatres everywhere struggle with how to present live performance in the era of coronavirus, one small venue in the US has come up with an unusual plan.

The Wilma in Philadelphia plans to stay closed through autumn but when the time comes it will prevent theatre-goers from breathing on one another by separating them with wood dividers.

A model for the Wilma Theatre's new seating design.

A model for the Wilma Theatre’s new seating design.Credit:Sara Brown

The Wilma, which normally seats 300 people in a traditional auditorium, says it will build a new structure, seating as many as 100 or as few as 35, on its stage. The two-tiered structure, which can be configured in the round or as a semicircle, is based in part on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

The most distinctive feature is that each party of patrons — whether they be solo or in groups of up to four — is seated in a box, physically separated from all other parties.

“As we were thinking about how to approach next season, and recognising that even when we gather we would still likely have some sort of distancing and limited capacity, the idea of having everyone spread out in our existing space didn’t feel like it served our work,” said Leigh Goldenberg, the theatre’s managing director.

“So we looked at other models through history that allowed both distance and intimacy with the artists. We’re embracing forward motion. We want to experiment with how we can keep creating and producing, and this feels like the next step of that.”


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