Philly’s Wilma Theater Getting Renamed And Major Upgrades

wilma_logoPhiladelphia’s Avenue Of The Arts, located just south of City Hall, is home to many of the city’s best known arts organizations and many of Philadelphia’s premiere performance venues. One of those venues will be a new site to see come 2017 as a much-needed makeover turns an old theatre new and adds several upgrades during the process. Today, Luner on Theatre brings you the news that Philadelphia’s Wilma Theatre is getting a new name and major upgrades in the near future!

Wilma_Theater_PhiladelphiaThe Wilma Theatre, located on South Broad Street, has been a staple of the Avenue Of The Arts for the past two decades since the 43-year-old theatre organization moved opening its venue (Pictured Right) there in 1996. Two decades later, the theatre has announced it’s time for a makeover. The Wilma has officially announced the creation of the “Transformation Fund”, which will serve to upgrade the theater’s facade, convert the theater’s lobby into a public cafe and officially establish an education center called HotHouse.

The theatre has announced it is seeking raise $10 million dollars which, according to a press release, is already 75% raised. The theatre secured a lead gift of $5 million dollars from the Wyncote Foundation and has raised another $2.5 million independently. Among the top of the list of changing elements is the name of the theater. The theatre will now be named Wilma at Aurora, after Chara Aurora Cooper Haas whose two sons sit among the board of directors at the theater currently. When speaking about the renaming, the theater made a connection to the theater’s new name and direction after nearly 50 years in the City of Brotherly Love.

“…In Roman mythology, Aurora is the Goddess of Dawn, and we liked how that definition parallels in a way what the Wilma is going through: a new dawn.”

The biggest change in addition to the name at The Wilma on South Broad will be the major facelift to the theater’s facade. Designed by Barrymore Award winning scenic designer Kristen Robinson, the design will keep much of the current feel currently on the theater’s facade while freshening up old elements, removing dated ones and welcoming the new cafe into the lobby. The windows along the front of the building will be reorganized as the neon entrance sign is expanded and colored glass is added. Here’s a first look at what you can expect the new face of The Wilma Theatre to look like:

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Another major renovation coming to The Wilma is the addition of the public cafe being added into the current lobby space. This will not only rethink the inside but spill outside the building as well! The current lobby will be cut in half moving management up to the second floor to make way for the coffee shop on the first. The cafe is set to include a fireplace, upholstered chairs and high-top tables. It will seat 64 with 40 spots inside and 24 outside. The hope is that the cafe draws in audiences headed to or from performances either at The Wilma or anywhere along Avenue of the Arts as well as students of the nearby University of the Arts. The theatre has applied for a liquor license they hope to use during performances at the venue. The hope is that the space becomes a creative hub, filled with music, books and more boosting a supportive, low-priced and creative environment along the avenue.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 4.24.04 PMWhen it doesn’t come to cosmetics, the establishment of Wilma’s HotHouse resident acting company is significant not only for the organization but for the Philly theatre scene as a whole. It was tested this past fall, with The Hard Problem serving as one of the theater’s first pieces produced in part by the company. Actor’s who commit to the program will work on 32 six-hour workshops over the course of a year taught by “master trainers” who the Wilma will bring to Philadelphia from around the world. It should be noted the Knight Foundation will pay for such an expense. These actor’s will eventually be tasked with being teachers themselves in underserved schools around the city where the classes will be open to all involved with the Philadelphia acting community.

playBlankaHowever, Blanka Zizka (Founding Artistic Director of the Wilma and Pictured Left) hopes for HotHouse to become the Wilma’s new model of production and long-term growth in the end. As opposed to having a “cookie-cutter season strategy” where the performance of the box office drives the overall ends results, HotHouse will focus more on idea-generation and organic productions. The Wilma, will essentially, be able to create productions with actors, designers, directors and playwrights they have as opposed to specifically seeking those individuals to deliver expectations for already produced works. The pairing will not only create productions, but a sense of community and bonding between the artists who are constantly working together. We should mention despite the mention of “cookie-cutter” seasons, The Wilma has won 39 Barrymore Awards (Philly’s Tony Award) for Excellence in Theatre. This is the most of any company in Philadelphia.

Luner on Theatre turns to its Philadelphia Theatre Correspondent Dan Luner (Pictured Below Right) for the Luner Lowdown on this makeover to Philly’s Wilma Theatre!

1266798_10151616421061954_1979819439_oLuner Lowdown: The upcoming facelift at the Wilma Theater is very exciting. Although many are excited about the new cafe (with hopefully an approved liquor license), I’m more focused on the educational center, which will help actors and actresses at any point in their careers while allowing The Wilma to flourish and create productions and seasons of theatre they see fit for the Philadelphia community.I look forward to the opportunity this presents to countless artists not only in the city, but also regional area.

Luner on Theatre will keep you updated as Philadelphia’s Wilma Theatre as it’s renovations and upgrades play out! As mentioned above, construction is still over a year away as the theatre raises the final funds to help secure a new look and life as they expand their footprint almost 50 years after they decided to call Philly home. Visit The Wilma’s Transformation Page for more specifics about the upcoming renovations! For more information, visit The Wilma Theatre’s Official Website, Facebook or Twitter. (Please note; Unless a photo is noted to be taken by Luner on Theatre, we do not own/claim ownership for any photos used in this post.) And of course, check out the rest of Luner on Theatre for all your theatre news you don’t only need but want to know and so much more! 

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