When Long Wharf Theatre was founded in 1965, the Food Terminal was intended as a temporary stop on the way to a different, permanent home. As Long Wharf Theatre established itself as one of the preeminent theatres in the nation, this intimate and industrial space became part of its unique charm and identity.
“However, as time has gone on, we have realized that charm alone can only go so far. Everyone knows that our seats are cramped and our bathroom lines are long. Our artists know that the lighting grid is inadequate for modern lighting instruments. We know that the heating and air conditioning system is inefficient and antiquated,” said Managing Director Josh Borenstein.
After recently signing a lease that will keep the theater in its historic home until at least 2022, Long Wharf Theatre, a forerunner of the regional theater movement, is getting a much needed makeover. With designs by Gregg, Wies & Gardner Architects in New Haven, the renovation makes improvements to the facility that will focus on the newly christened Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck III Mainstage Theatre.
“Claire [Tow] spent most of her time dedicated to issues related to social justice, children’s needs, medical research, and the arts. Claire is a warm and wise soul. She has been a key part of Long Wharf Theatre for many years,” said Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein.
To address these important issues, the theater launched a $3.8 million renovation campaign in fall 2011 to fund improvements. Long Wharf Theatre has currently raised approximately $2.56 million – close to 70 percent of the goal, which includes The Tow Foundation’s generous leadership gift of $1.25 million.
“Long Wharf Theatre is an essential and vital part of New Haven’s cultural arts community. The Tow Foundation is pleased to support the launch of this exciting moment in the theatre’s history,” said The Tow Foundation Executive Director Emily Tow Jackson.
In addition to recognition on the lobby donor wall for donors of $10,000 and more, there will be numerous opportunities for Long Wharf Theatre supporters to make an impact, including naming a seat on the Mainstage.
“This is a truly exciting time in Long Wharf Theatre’s history. This renovation project will create a comfortable, welcoming experience for everyone,” said Board of Trustees Chair Charles Kingsley.
Theater leaders and trustees believe the theatrical experience begins the moment an audience member exits their car to walk up to the theater. There is also the belief that the theater’s appearance should, at long last, reflect the caliber of the artistic works it presents while embracing the industrial nature of its surroundings.
“These renovations will create a more inviting and welcoming atmosphere for our wonderful patrons. In addition, the world-class artists who work here will do so in a more comfortable and favorable environment,” said Edelstein.
To that end, the renovations will create a new and more inviting entrance to the facility. New dramatic lighting and signage will invite audiences into the space and contribute to the experience of attending a Long Wharf Theatre performance. The streamlined glass and steel entryway will embrace the industrial aesthetic of the site.
One of the biggest complaints about Long Wharf Theatre will finally be addressed — the cramped Mainstage seating will be replaced with new, roomier seats, each with significantly increased legroom between rows, making Long Wharf Theatre comfortable for all patrons, no matter how tall. This will decrease the number of seats from 486 to just more than 400.
The Mainstage lobby will be renovated and expanded to create an open, inviting area. The addition of a new concessions bar and increased restroom capacity will allow for a more pleasant experience for patrons. The lobby will be decorated in warm wood panels, with projections and exhibitions providing context and information about the current play and upcoming events.
Another significant improvement is new heating and air-conditioning units, allowing for more comfort on the Mainstage and throughout the entire theater.
Also original to the theater’s founding, the Mainstage lighting system consists of cumbersome, labor-intensive, and woefully out-of-date theatrical lighting grid. It restricts designers’ creativity, impedes the theater’s ability to co-produce with other theaters, and limits the nuance and atmosphere that great lighting can add to a production. A new lighting grid will allow designers and staff to work with modern lighting equipment and technology, adding to the theater’s creative capacity and reducing operating costs.
For more information about the theatre’s renovation project and to find out how to help, visit www.longwharf.org.