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Long Wharf Theatre.

Long Wharf’s New Home: New Haven

After 57 years in one place, the influential theatre will become itinerant to better serve its community, though a theatre ‘hub’ anchoring its many partnerships may be in its future.

NEW HAVEN, CONN.: In 2017-18, Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre programmed a whole season around their city while their venue was under renovation; this fall Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park will stage shows in various venues while a new permanent theatre is being constructed. But today the board of directors at Long Wharf Theatre, one of New England’s major LORT theatres, took a step outside of the box for good: They will forfeit the lease on their current space, which they’ve occupied since 1965, and embrace an itinerant production model in line with the organization’s “focus on a commitment to artists, collaborators, and the communities they serve,” according to a press release. It went on to say the new vision is “guided by three core pillars: revolutionary partnerships, artistic innovation, and radical inclusion.” 

Long Wharf plans to complete its current season, with productions of Elaina Pipes’s Dream Hou$e and Madhuri Shaker’s Queen. Then, beginning in fall of 2023—following an in-depth, community-driven strategic planning phase—the theatre’s the new model will enable Long Wharf Theatre productions to be presented throughout Greater New Haven, embedding the company within the city, no longer anchoring performances to the theatre’s current space. 

Realized in phases over the next several years, the culmination of this process will be a reimagined Long Wharf Theatre campus that could include a theatre hub, as well as a network of partner venues and organizations throughout the city filled with new productions, readings, and community programs.

Jacob Padrón. (Photo by Marc J. Franklin)

Citing the challenge of balancing “artistic innovation and the desire for deeper community engagement with the ever-increasing costs of maintaining physical venues,” the new model is designed to “break this cycle and marshal…resources to become a catalyst for community-wide connection, conversation, and growth.” (Unstated in the release is the long shadow cast by the board’s firing of the previous artistic director, Gordon Edelstein, due to serious allegation of sexual misconduct.)

“I am honored to share this new vision that will meet the needs of a changing cultural landscape in pursuit of a more inclusive, emergent, and boundary-breaking new American theatre,” said artistic director Jacob G. Padrón in the statement. “Theatre belongs to the community and should reflect the world we live in today, from the makeup of the Board to the artisans working onstage and off-. This new model will allow us to build on the best parts of our celebrated past as the bridge to a visionary future, to truly be a place for everyone.”

Added managing director Kit Ingui, in a statement, “At its core, Long Wharf Theatre is about the artists, audiences, and collaborators who make us what we are, not a specific space or venue. We are energized and excited by this change and look forward to spending the coming months meeting with those who have supported and encouraged us as a theatre company of the 21st century.”

Founded with the mission of providing a world-class theatre firmly rooted in New Haven, this new model allows the theatre to strengthen its commitment to centering and enriching the city’s and surrounding region’s creative community. Among the local partnerships the theatre plans to continue are:

  • One City Many Stages, piloted for the 2020/2021 season, focuses on accessibility, responsiveness to current events, the amplification of lived experiences, and a renewed commitment to incubating new works.
  • New Haven Play Project, an initiative supported by Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art that builds community by spotlighting the life experiences of the Elm City’s Muslim residents.
  • Play on My Block, a production created by, for, and with New Haven residents in public spaces throughout the Elm City.
  • Artistic Congress for the People, a convening of local and national artists, artistic decision-makers, and institutional leaders to build a more equitable and accessible American theatre.

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