Why SMART PEOPLE?

Tiffany Nichole Greene, Ka-ling Cheung, and Sullivan Jones in SMART PEOPLE at Long Wharf Theatre

Tiffany Nichole Greene, Ka-ling Cheung, and Sullivan Jones in SMART PEOPLE at Long Wharf Theatre

Let me introduce all you smart people to Lydia Diamond’s provocative new play Smart People. Lydia is one of the most gifted writers of her generation.  Smart People is an intellectual, emotional and erotic wrestling match among four souls in an Ivy League college town very much like New Haven.  Race has been the most significantly constant theme in American history. It would be difficult to claim that the present moment is the most divisive in our history having survived a civil war and the race riots of the 1960s. However, certainly, our conflicts over race remain painfully in the forefront of our national conversation. And gender perception, rendered often somewhat more subtlety in our national and personal dialogue, remains in the front of the battle lines of our national and personal conflicts.

Where the personal and the political meet is where Smart People lives. Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me goes the school yard retort.  Never has a well-known epigram been so patently false. Bones that break will heal in time. But verbal cruelty can break hearts for a lifetime. And everyone reading this has known many times that they have been hurt accidentally by another’s careless words and concomitantly every one reading this remembers times that they themselves have injured others inadvertently by something they said.

When it comes to race and gender and politics, the land is covered with mines, and the mines are exploding all the time. Our national and college politics are battlegrounds of misunderstanding, offense, and rage over the words we choose and the iconography we love. The semiotics of our every gesture and sentence can explode with shrapnel injuring all concerned. The name of a residential college at Yale, rules of engagement on a date, nativity scenes, the Confederate flag, and so many more have been calls to arms in our volatile times.

Smart People is a look at our new world from the perspective of four intelligent and educated people in conflict and in close personal relations. Listen as closely as you can. Test your own intellectual and emotional responses to our quartet of smart people.

- Gordon Edelstein 

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A Letter from the Managing Director on Arts Funding

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Long Wharf Theatre has many funders which enable our success: foundations both in New Haven and from around the country, corporations both large and small, and thousands of individual donors, including many of you.  I would like to focus on two particular important supporters of our work – the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the State of Connecticut’s Office of the Arts (COA).

The NEA has been an important source of funding for Long Wharf since its beginnings in the 1960’s, and it has been critical in building regional theatres, as well as many other kinds of arts organizations, for decades.  Over the last ten years, the NEA has been a key supporter of new work, especially those projects which may be a commercial risk, yet have much artistic merit and could help us invest in an exciting playwright.  Some recent projects which have used NEA funding included development workshops of The Most Beautiful Room in New York, the final show of this season; our annual Contemporary American Voices Festival (which you might have seen this past September); and new plays by Dael Orlandersmith and Samuel D. Hunter.

In addition to financial support, NEA funding also serves as a “good housekeeping seal of approval” to other funders.  Our receipt of NEA funds is a signal about the artistic integrity and ambition of our work.  As a result, we are able to leverage our grant award with both local and national funders.

The COA, which is part of the Department of Economic and Community Development, is also a major funder of Long Wharf Theatre. It is one of the few sources of general operating support left for arts organizations like Long Wharf, allowing us to apply those resources to our greatest needs.

In particular, we apply our state funding to support the various production jobs at the theatre (you may have even seen some of the positions in December’s “Chairman Challenge” video).  State funding is a critical source of revenue for arts organizations all over the country, and Long Wharf is certainly no different.

I should also note that these two funding sources are related to each other.  While the NEA does give direct grants to organizations such as Long Wharf, it also provides substantial “block grants” to states which they include in their awards to their organizations.  Connecticut receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the NEA to regrant to arts organizations statewide.

Needless to say, Long Wharf and our peers would be diminished without these revenues.

All my best,
Joshua Borenstein

Managing Director
Long Wharf Theatre

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New Haven joins August Wilson Monologue Competition

Photo by Brandon Bush

Photo by Brandon Brush

It wasn’t nothing to you but it was something to me. To have you just up and walk out like that. What you think happened to me? Did you ever stop to ask yourself, “I wonder how Vera doing–I wonder how she feel?” I lay here every night in an empty bed. In an empty room. Where? Someplace special? Someplace where you had been? The same room you walked out of? The same bed you turned your back on? You give it up and you want it? What kind of sense does that make?

These are just some of the words you can hear bouncing off the walls of CO-OP High School’s black box theater on a typical Thursday afternoon. It is here that students are working with teaching artists from Long Wharf Theatre in preparation for the National August Wilson Monologue Competition.

The AWMC founded in 2007 by Kenny Leon and Todd Kreidler at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta.Through a series of partnerships between schools and regional theaters, students from across the country get to immerse themselves in all aspects of Wilson’s work. They then perform monologues from his plays at regional competitions in their hometowns. A select few are chosen from each participating city, and these finalists are then flown to New York for a final competition at the August Wilson Theater on Broadway. The program is now in ten cities nationwide, including Atlanta, Boston, and Pittsburgh among others. New Haven is currently in its shadow year of participation and will officially join the competition next year.

Photo by Brandon Bush

Photo by Brandon Brush

During the shadow year, Long Wharf Theatre and Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School have partnered to offer an after-school program focusing on August Wilson’s work. Once a week, CO-OP students work with Long Wharf teaching artists to learn about the plays, how to embody Wilson’s characters through acting exercises, and get to work intensely on performing one of his many monologues. “Students are able to receive insight on a playwright who not only looks like them but reflects their everyday lives or the lives of their parents.” says Treneé McGee, one of Long Wharf’s teaching artists. “It is more important now than ever that we spread artistic work and knowledge, educating individuals on how to become more productive in the lives of others. Wilson’s work will always be relevant to us, especially if we as a country want to grow.”

Photo by Brandon Bush

Photo by Brandon Brush

August Wilson was a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. His literary legacy is a series of ten plays, The American Century Cycle. Each is set in a different decade and chronicles the African-American experience. August Wilson’s plays have a particular home in New Haven. The late Lloyd Richards, former Artistic Director of Yale Repertory Theatre, directed many of Wilson’s plays from their first reading all the way through production. This year, Yale Rep produced Wilson’s Seven Guitars, which represents the 1940s entry of the Century Cycle. In 2013 Long Wharf Theatre produced Fences, which is set in the 1950s. “Wilson’s plays are told with rich poetic beauty and lyricism of language. Through his extraordinary gift of storytelling, we understand the history and the identity of black culture in America,” says Barbara Hentschel, another Long Wharf teaching artist. “I look forward to seeing the students every week. It is a privilege to witness their exploration of the complex issues of race, oppression and identity in the world we live in. They are teaching me more than they will ever know!”

In May, there will be a mock competition for the students that have participated in the program this year. The hope is to build excitement amongst the students as well as other New Haven-area schools for next year, when New Haven will officially join as a participating city.

-Eliza Orleans

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The Most Beautiful Room In New York | A Note On The New Title

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LEARN ABOUT THE SHOW

Titles are magical things made by mundane means. Authors work hard at titles, compiling lists and sharing them anxiously with friends, but when a title works it just works – though whether it works because the title brought grace to the project or because the project gave the title a grace it didn’t deserve is a permanent unknown. Scott Fitzgerald worried his titles perhaps more than any other American writer, seriously considering, for his crucial third novel, either “Trimalchio in West Egg or “Under The Red, White And Blue”, both of which he favored over his editor’s plain, preferred “The Great Gatsby”— a title that let itself be filled by the book’s poetry, rather than, well, over-egging it in advance. At my own more Lilliputian level, “Paris To The Moon”, a title which has now loaned itself to fashion spreads and California boutiques, was a close-run thing right up to publication with the more wistful “The Winter Circus”.  Sometimes, titles rise to meet their objects. David Shire, the composer of our new musical, which will open at the Long Wharf in May, recalls as a student at Yale being offered two tickets to a new show opening that night in New Haven. He rejected them; on the sane grounds that the show’s title was too pedestrian to be enticing. The show? (Or, rather, the title?) “My Fair Lady”.  And he was right – it is a terrible, or at least a fatuous title, raised in memory by the great show it graced.

Like giving a name to a baby, one can either do titles decisively in advance or wait to see what the baby looks like, and do it then.  Our show was, for a very long time in its gestation called “Table”, as much from monosyllabic habit  – David’s previous shows include “Baby,” “Big,” “Waterfall” as well as his newly launched “Sousatzka” – as from long deliberation.” “Table” did do some work that titles ought to do, stating evocatively, if a little obliquely, what the show is about, while referencing my book about the philosophy of eating, “The Table Comes First”. (Whose name derives from a British chef who wondered why a young couple would ever buy a sofa or bed to begin life; didn’t they know that the table comes first?)

“While our show is about tables and the communion they bring, it is even more about a family’s fight to keep intact their home, which they believe is the most beautiful room in New York.”

But “The Most Beautiful Room In New York” had long been the name of the most purely thematic song in our show – a song intended to be not so much what’s called in musical theater the show’s “I Want!” as its “Look At What I’ve Got …” For ours, we realized as we worked on it, is a musical about someone – like Curly with his Oklahoma morning and his fringed surrey, or Tevye with his town and his traditions, to cite the highest parallels – who is fighting to keep what he loves but, before the evening is over, will have  to learn to love it in a new way. While our show is about tables and the communion they bring, it is even more about a family’s fight to keep intact their home, which they believe is the most beautiful room in New York – and it is also about a man who has to learn a broader idea of beauty than the one he’s been fighting for for most of his life. David Kaplan, our hero, learns to change and adjust and see past his one restaurant- room to the beautiful growth of his wife and children into their maturity.

And then our show, more than anything needed “New York” in its title. It’s a musical about New York, and New York’s magical, endangered, enticing and frustrating marriage of opportunity, plurality and constant change. Almost every New York love story is a love story about real estate, and so is this one. (My own new book, cheap advertisement coming, “At The Stranger’s Gate” is the tale of a young couple becoming citizens, but their homes – an insanely small Yorkville basement room and then a lovely but rodent-infested Soho loft – are characters as much as the couple is.) Every room in New York is a character, the best of them are beautiful, and beauty, there more than anywhere, is not so much made in the eye of the beholder as something the beholder has to train his eye to see where no one else does.  The question of beauty, the necessity of New York, the desire to break the one-word title spell – all of these considerations together make us glad that our musical has, at last, the title it’s been asking us, querulously, to give it all along: The Most Beautiful Room In New York.

- Adam Gopnik

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Luda’s Famous Italian Meatball Recipe

napoli meatball blog

Luda Muscolino has a way with food. “I am the best. He knows and I know it,” she delightfully says as she points at the heavens in Napoli, Brooklyn. So too do her family, their friends, the local butcher, and pretty much the whole borough of Brooklyn know of her culinary reputation. While no one can quite stuff a sausage or season a sauce the way Luda does, we thought we’d offer you a little help. Start preheating that oven and invite la famiglia over for dinner as you try your hand at Luda’s meatball recipe.

Ingredients
1 pound ground chuck
4 ounces dried bread crumbs
4 large eggs
4 ounces whole milk
6 ounces grated Romano
3 ounces grated Spanish onion
2 ounces finely diced fresh garlic
2 ounces finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 ounces finely chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray.

2. Mix all ingredients thoroughly in large bowl. If mixture seems a little loose add more bread crumbs.

3. Roll meatballs loosely about the size of a golf ball and place on baking sheet. Place into preheated oven for about 35 to 40 minutes.

4. Enjoy!

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Costuming Napoli, Brooklyn

LWT costume designers and costume shop work notoriously hard to dress each character in each show we do just right. Despite the production the process always starts the same: RESEARCH. For some shows, such as more contemporary pieces, it’s fairly simple to figure out what the characters should wear. However, for period pieces like Napoli, Brooklyn it can take a little more time and a bit of digging. Knowing that playwright Meghan Kennedy had been inspired to write Napoli, Brooklyn from stories about her own family, Costume Designer Jane Greenwood really wanted to emphasize the authenticity of the characters in the play. When Greenwood presented her research at the first rehearsal of the show she explained that she scoured the internet, books in libraries, and people’s personal photos to figure out just what real people, like the Muscolinos and their neighbors, would have been wearing in Brooklyn in 1960. Likewise she encouraged the actors to look at the research and start thinking about what their characters wear and how those fashion choices might help inform their performances. Now we invite you to take a look at her visual research and get to know the world of Napoli, Brooklyn.

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The Muscolino Family and My Immigrant Family

DiFabbio blog
In the above photo, my grandmother Caroline (wearing a white blouse) sits at a tiny kitchen table surrounded (tightly!) by her immediate and extended family. “Grandma was sick, so we all got together,” my grandmother said. The Proto family regularly squeezed themselves around a table on Friday nights to share in an exorbitant feast.

These sensory memories: the smell of fish and pasta, packing ourselves around a small yet decorative table, hearing my stomach grumble as I waited for what seemed like eternity for dinner to come out of the oven; this is how I remember meals at my grandparents’ house in East Haven, CT. And these memories are the foundation of what I know as my Italian ancestry. It starts and ends at the dinner table, I’d say.

After reading Napoli, Brooklyn, Meghan Kennedy’s stunning new play about an Italian immigrant family making a life in America, I experienced feelings of elation and sadness. The elation came from an immediate sense of connection with the characters and rituals in the play. The Muscolino women are torn between their loyalty to family and their own private aspirations. They oscillate between gracing and cursing God. There is the constant encouragement to just eat already. I understand and connect with that part of my Italian heritage.

The sadness came from the fact that I know very little about my Italian family, for one reason or another. I had heard bits and pieces of history over the years, but never thought to ask further.

Perhaps because I’ve gotten older, or because this play touched me deeply, or because we’re living in a time where some people think immigrants should be banned from this country; perhaps because of all that, I am inspired to start asking. So far, I’ve come up with a short list of answers and a much longer list of questions. I know that my grandmother, Caroline Anastasio, was born and raised in New Haven. Her father, Andrew, worked at the Sargents factory making lock parts, until he was asked to leave because he had a “big mouth.” He moved into construction shortly after. Her mother, Rose, worked at a garment factory making cuffs for men’s shirts. Her parents and grandparents spoke Italian, but refused to teach her and her siblings. I want to know why the Italian language was erased from generation to generation. I want to know what of their dreams were lost or realized in the gap between working to survive and pursuing their passions. I want to know and perfect my grandmother’s elusive meatball recipe.

Because of all this, I am happy to preach the power of theatre and how it can change hearts. The Muscolino family represents all families who uprooted themselves for the chance of a better life. In them, anyone can see glimpses of their parents and grandparents who worked hard to settle in and settle down. It sparked action in me, and I think it could do the same for anyone who has ever wanted to take a closer look at their roots.

Kennedy’s play puts front and center an immigrant family, along with all its passions, longings, and dysfunction. It finds beauty in the mess of emigration and assimilation. At this moment in our nation’s history, I encounter a story like this and I feel grateful that the story even exists to be told. Our immigrant families’ lives were far from perfect, but they lived fully, with a lot hardship and a lot of love. With this play, we celebrate full hearts, full bellies, and the fundamental belief that they deserved the chance to make all of this possible.

 -Maria DiFabbio

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Drama Notes: Meghan Kennedy

drama notes meghan kennedyIn the early 1960s, the nation was on the precipice of great social change—the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the rejection of the social conformity of the 1950s would soon rock the country to its core. Meghan Kennedy’s new play Napoli, Brooklyn is set in Brooklyn, NY in 1960 and in it, you can feel the beginnings of these momentous changes taking their course. 

Napoli, Brooklyn is, in many ways, a quintessentially American story. The play revolves around the Muscolinos, an Italian immigrant family and their three American-born daughters, trying to survive—and even thrive—in a world that’s simultaneously bursting with possibility and rife with obstacles. They are a family like so many other immigrant families living in New York during the last century—jobs are scarce, money is tight, and the ever-elusive American Dream acts as a beacon of hope. And yet, the nation—and the world—are about to change forever, and the myth of the American Dream is about to become exposed. As the Muscolino daughters come of age, so they too become awake and aware of the inequalities in the world, and the tremendous effort it will take to overcome them. 

 

Long Wharf Theatre’s Literary Manager Christine Scarfuto sat down with Meghan Kennedy to ask her a few questions about the play:

 

Q: What was your impetus to tell this story? Where did the idea for the play come from? 

 

A: Napoli, Brooklyn is loosely based on my mother’s adolescence. She grew up in a big, Italian Catholic, immigrant family. I grew up hearing stories about the plane crash in December of 1960, which happened close to her apartment, and that image always stayed with me—a girl witnessing a giant plane crash in the middle of her small, Brooklyn neighborhood. At the same time I was also interested in how the struggle in immigrant families is passed from generation to generation, particularly among girls. They had to fight so hard to find their voices, and even harder to keep them intact.

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Q: The Muscolino daughters are raised Roman Catholic, and prayer plays a tremendously important role in the play. What strength do these women find in spirituality? Why is it so vital to their existence?

 

A: There’s a Mary Oliver quote I like a lot, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” I think for these women prayer is, at least in one sense, attention being paid to their innermost selves. It is the beginning of devotion to who they are and who they might become.  The act of praying is different for each of them—for one it’s a conversation, for another it’s a battle, for another it’s a passageway. In such an oppressive environment, they are searching for a way out and a way in at the same time and prayer becomes a vital part of that search.

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Q: How do you feel the play resonates with the present moment? And why do you feel these stories are vital for us to bear witness to right now?

 

A: With the new presidential administration, I’m happy this play is going into production right now. I think we need to see a stage full of women who are fighting for survival. This is a story about women and immigrants, two groups that need as many spotlights on them as possible right now. At a moment in history when our rights are at stake and our voices are being threatened… I think it’s the perfect time to make some noise.

Plane Crash

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Theatre Community Shines A Light

GHOSTLIGHT BLOG

Ghostlights carry a somewhat magical reputation in the theatre community. For the superstitious, the ritual of placing a naked bulb in a darkened theatre after every performance is a time-honored way to ensure that ghosts and general bad karma stay far away from their company of actors and crew members. For the more pragmatically minded, the ghostlight simply shines to create a clear path for anyone who happens to stumble upon it. Whatever you choose to believe, the ghostlight is universally known as a symbol of safety.IMG_4669

Last night, on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, the New Haven theatre community joined together in solidarity to embrace that same symbol of safety with The Ghostlight Project, an event that took place at theatres nationwide. In the midst of a barrage of hate crimes and promises of exclusion from prominent government figures, a group of theatre artists decided it was time for the theatre to publicly re-establish itself as a place of welcome and equal rights for all, and especially those who feel marginalized by the incoming administration.


IMG_4671At 5:30pm, a group of about 100 theatre professionals, students, and patrons gathered at the Shubert Theatre in downtown New Haven, bringing their friends and homemade signs with messages of hope. Josh Borenstein, Managing Director of Long Wharf Theatre, kicked off the event by inviting the crowd to shine their flashlights and glow sticks into the air. The lights glowed for the remainder of the event, as Victoria Nolan, Managing Director of Yale Rep, spoke to the group: “Like the ghostlight, the light we create tonight represents our commitment to safeguard. It will symbolize safe harbor for all of our values, and for any among us who find ourselves targeted because of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, disability, gender identity, sexual identity, or dissonant actions in the coming years.”

In a moment that truly encapsulated both the reflective and progressive nature of the gathering, Aleta Staton, a local actor, activist, and educator, addressed the crowd and read Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, ‘Praise Song For The Day”, the same poem that was read during Barack Obama’s historic inauguration: (an excerpt)

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Theatre is, and must always remain, a place of inclusion. It is our job to tell other people’s stories, and that would be virtually impossible if we couldn’t first accept and respect others who are different from us as human beings deserving of freedom and happiness. As we march ahead into a future that at times feels foggy, let theatre, and the arts community as a whole, be a shining example of the world we hope to create.


-Maria DiFabbio

 

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In Memoriam | Harlan P. Kleiman

Harlan Kleiman and Jon Jory, founders of Long Wharf Theatre, Winter 1966

Harlan Kleiman and Jon Jory, founders of Long Wharf Theatre, Winter 1966

Long Wharf Theatre honors and celebrates the legacy of Harlan P. Kleiman. Were it not for his vision, skill, and determination, we would not be here today.

It took the steadfast belief exhibited by Harlan and his co-founder Jon Jory that New Haven deserved and could support a regional theatre of the highest caliber. After their time at Yale, the two men tested their ideas at a small summer theatre in Clinton, Connecticut, before making the move to the Food Terminal on Sargent Drive, one of the most unlikely theatre spaces in America. Founders of Long Wharf Theatre recalled fondly the pitch that Harlan and Jon Jory used to give to prospective patrons – they called it their “Gallagher and Shean” act – which the two men took all over New Haven to gain supporters for their fledgling theatre.

Harlan and Jon had to borrow an office for official looking meetings – they didn’t have the money to rent anything of their own. They talked about strategy in kitchens over bowls of chili. They were joyful of the old movie seats arriving at the theatre and when the first subscribers started sending in their checks – seemingly mundane tasks that were monumental in the early days of a theatre startup. It was a place of tremendous excitement and vitality, all moving towards the opening of The Crucible in July 1965. At every step, Harlan was present, guiding, and shaping,.

It was a testament to the beauty – and perhaps blind optimism – of youth that it never occurred to anyone that success was almost impossible. Yet, Harlan was crucial in overcoming the odds.

Jory himself recalled Harlan’s brilliance and his urbane sophistication. People were simply just drawn to him, Jory said, something that certainly helped in getting our beloved theatre off the ground.

Over 50 years later, millions of people have crossed through Long Wharf Theatre’s doors. We have sent more plays to NY than any other regional theatre. We have cultivated artists of all types, and Long Wharf has become one of the preeminent theatres in America. None of this could have happened without Harlan’s work.

It is clear that Harlan was a man of considerable talent, energy, and intelligence. He touched so many people throughout his life in so many different ways. We in New Haven are just a few of those people.

Right before he left Long Wharf Theatre to participate in so many amazing things, he said “A great deal of my soul is in this theatre …”

Because of this very thing, we are forever in his debt.

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