NEW HAVEN, CONN.: Long Wharf Theatre has selected Jacob G. Padrón as its new artistic director. Padrón will take on the role beginning Feb. 1, 2019. He succeeds Gordon Edelstein, who was fired last January following allegations of sexual misconduct.
“The board has made a perfect choice,” said managing director Joshua Borenstein in a statement. “Jacob is the total package. He will continue to make Long Wharf an artistic home for the country’s most exciting theatre artists. By living here, he will be attuned to the tastes and interests of our community. Also, he is a kind, generous, and thoughtful individual, who will make a terrific partner and leader. I am greatly looking forward to our work in the coming years.”
Padrón is the founder and artistic director of the Sol Project, a national theatre initiative that showcases Latinx playwrights and artists of color through collaborative partnerships with leading theatres in New York City and across the U.S. He served as senior line producer at the Public Theater, where he worked on new plays, musicals, Shakespeare in the Park, and Public Works. Padrón previously served as the producer at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where he oversaw the artistic programming in the Garage. He also worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as an associate producer from 2008 to 11. In addition Padrón served as a producer of Suzan-Lori Parks’s 365 Days/365 Plays for Center Theatre Group, a collaboration that included 50 theatres working to launch Festival 365. Prior to his work in theatre, Padrón spent time volunteering in North Carolina with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, providing care for individuals living with HIV/AIDS. He was an inaugural recipient of Theatre Communications Group’s SPARK Leadership Program, and has adjudicated on grant panels for TCG, the Network of Ensemble Theaters, the Drama League, SDC Foundation, United States Artists, and the American Theatre Wing. Most recently, Padrón was on staff at WarnerMedia (HBO, Warner Bros., and Turner), where he helped lead the company’s philanthropy in theatre and film. He is on the faculty at Yale School of Drama, where he teaches artistic producing in the graduate theatre management program, and he sits on the board of directors for People’s Theatre Project.
“The American theatre has a powerful promise to deliver on: It can be a space to hold all our stories,” said Padrón in a statement. “But we, the theatremakers, are the architects of fulfilling that promise, and I feel blessed to continue this work at Long Wharf. I am committed to supporting stories that are in conversation with the world—stories that are brave, inclusive, intersectional, and reflect the glorious kaleidoscope of our city and our country.”
UPDATE: Padrón was able to hop on the phone with American Theatre senior editor Diep Tran last week after a day of doing interviews and meeting with the staff of the Long Wharf. Though he begins his new job in February and plans to relocate to New Haven from New York City, he won’t be planning his first Long Wharf season until the 2020-21 season.
“I’m excited to have time to get my bearings and really get to know the community, the staff, the culture, the audience,” he says with his usual characteristic brightness. He notes happily that New Haven is actually a “very diverse” city, and he hopes to bring those folks into the theatre.
He will also continue to lead the Sol Project, stating that it will continue to grow. “We are in active conversation to figure out how the work of Long Wharf can support the work of the Sol Project, and vice versa.”
Below Padrón goes into detail on what he plans to bring to the Tony-winning theatre.
DIEP TRAN: You founded the Sol Project with the intention of diversifying American stages and making sure more Latinx artists are represented. How do you plan on bringing those values to Long Wharf?
JACOB PADRÓN: I really led with that in this selection process. I talked very openly and passionately about the need for our stages to be kaleidoscopic. We have to do better in terms of our stories being kaleidoscopic, intersectional, and inclusive. I think a lot about something [Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director] Bill Rauch once said: “Diversity is a fact, inclusion is what you do with that fact.” I remember saying that during the process. I think that the value of inclusion, of telling artists of color, “I see you, I want to celebrate you, I want to make space for you”—I think that absolutely has to live within the center of our companies, and it’s certainly a value that I plan to bring to Long Wharf.
I feel like sometimes what happens, there’s this idea of, oh wait, if you bring in all those artists of color, is it going to disrupt the status quo, or displace the audience who have been coming? I think that kind of thinking doesn’t allow for imagination, it doesn’t allow for innovation. I think we have to invite our current audiences, which are primarily white, into a conversation; we have to say, “Can you actively join us in the work of making our theatres reflect the community that we aim to serve? You are part of the transformation, you are part of the innovation. Join us because your life and your story is going to be bigger if you experience theatre with people who look and sound different than you.”
I spoke to Joseph Haj, the artistic director of the Guthrie, about this last year. He said at the time that because he’s the only person of color leading a LORT institution, there was a pressure to not fail because then future POCs won’t be given the same opportunities. As another POC coming into a LORT institution, do you feel similar pressures?
[sigh] I think so. I think the pressure that I feel is the pressure I imagine Stephanie Ybarra feels, and Maria Goyanes and Hana Sharif feel. We have an opportunity, and these kinds of opportunities unfortunately don’t find their way to people like us, and so we feel like we’re in this together and we feel like we want to buoy each other and support each other throughout this process. But absolutely, it feels like there’s a lot riding on this.
The thing that I did say to the search committee and the staff this morning when they announced me as the new artistic director is: I know that stakes must feel incredibly high for this company, and this company has undergone a lot. But when I think about the future success of this organization, it’s not going to be about me, it’s not going to rest with one person. That success is going to live with all of us and we’re all going to be architects of our success and together we have to make the path for a future American theatre that we all can get behind and that will sustain us and inspire us and propel us to greatness. I think in some ways it’s like: I’m not a unicorn! [laughs]
I certainly recognize that I am human and I’m not going to have all the answers and I’m going to mess up. But I pledge to do the best job I can, to work hard, to build a culture of generosity and joy and affirmation, because I also think that’s the pathway to making great art.
Again, the success of the company and all of these companies—with Woolly Mammoth and Center Stage and Repertory Theatre of St. Louis—is that we have to all join arms and rise together. And that’s actually the key to our shared liberation.
And theatres aren’t in competition with each other.
Right, and I think we have to move away form the mentality of scarcity to one of abundance, which I know is hard to do because we’re all under-resourced as companies, we’re all undercapitalized. I recognize that mentality of scarcity drives our operations, but I’m excited by how we can engage more, not in coproductions, but in partnerships, meaningful partnerships. What are the things that we can actually learn with each other in working together with different organizations?
And what I mean by that is, say that Long Wharf decides to partner with New York Theatre Workshop. Of course there will be a sharing of financial resources and costume and props and things like that. But what I’m more interested in is, what are the values, what are the conversations, what are the ways that New York Theatre Workshop works that can inspire the way we do things? And what are the ways New York Theatre Workshop can learn from Long Wharf? How can we make our art? What are the conversations we’re having with our artists? And what can they learn? I think that is the way of the future in terms of how we actually build and sustain a vibrant theatre ecology and just a vibrant national community.
How do you plan on engaging with New Haven’s communities of color and to bring them into the theatre?
I want to do it thoughtfully for sure, and I want to be really respectful. I do plan to do a lot of deep listening. I think the way I’m going to be most useful and be the best leader I can be to this company in this moment in time is to begin to understand the culture of the organization and the audience and to know what they are wrestling with. To get to know the community and community partners in a deep way. All of that needs to happen through an active listening tour, where I become a part of the community. After I do that work of building those relationships and those authentic relationships, then I can begin to think about how do we activate and fulfill a vision for the future of this company.
I do plan to support and fortify the artistic community that Long Wharf has built over a long period of time. There are some really amazing artists that that company has supported: Anna Deavere Smith, Lisa Peterson, Julia Cho—these are fantastic artists and I hope they will continue to feel like Long Wharf is their artistic home. And I also hope to bring my community of artists that I have built, people like Tarell Alvin McCraney, Shaina Taub, Sean Graney, Hillary Bettis, Charise Castro Smith, and Suzan-Lori Parks. These are artists I care about, and I’ve tried to champion their voice.
I spoke to Long Wharf managing director Joshua Borenstein after what happened with Gordon Edelstein’s firing, and he talked about the need to create a safer, more open company culture. What do you think that entails?
Thank you for asking that. This is really for me where the rubber meets the road. I think the future of the American theatre in many ways really rests with building and sustaining a vibrant, safe, and joyful culture in our theatre. I have always cared deeply about staff culture; I have always cared about the staff feeling deeply connected to the work onstage. I have always cared about, how do we really take care of the people who are inside the organization, who do the hard work of being stewards of the mission and vision of the company?
I find it fascinating that we are in the business of telling stories, and yet as a staff, we often spend so little time getting to know each other’s stories. I think that is so key in terms of building a community inside the organization that is safe and joyful and affirmation. So my leadership is so anchored by a spirit of generosity, a spirit of joy and collaboration. I will absolutely bring that to my leadership and model that to the staff and encourage staff to model that to each other.
And the thing that was made clear to me when I spoke to the staff is, they feel like they’re done healing, they have done the reflection and they’re ready to go, they’re ready for a new era and they’re forward looking. And I’m excited about that. They’re ready to do the work of building a boundary-breaking future together.