Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein described the partnership between the New Haven Free Public Library and Long Wharf Theatre as an important one. “The history of civilization is kept on these shelves. The library preserves our history and the soul of humanity. We try to do the same thing in the theatre,” Edelstein said to a group of about 50 people at the Ives Main Library Friday evening.
LWT and the NHFPL will offer a myriad of opportunities during the 2015-16 season for education, reflection, and discourse through a series of talks, films, performances, engagements with the people of New Haven about the subjects important to us all. The season partnership will focus around the productions of Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar, and Having Our Say, by Emily Mann.
Perhaps the most important moment during the celebration of the New Haven Free Public Library-Long Wharf Theatre partnership happened just in passing. If you blinked you might have missed it. It was the announcement of a new initiative between the library and the theatre – a monthly theatre workshop for teens called Theatre Haven, held at the Ives Main Library, located at 133 Elm Street. This new class, which start October 14, will be held the second Wednesday each month from 3 – 5 pm. It’s an opportunity for teens to learn about Shakespeare, improvisation, clowning, spoken word, and other types of performance, all offered for free by Long Wharf Theatre’s education department. It is yet one more way in which the New Haven Free Public Library helps to educate the public and allows people opportunities to experience ideas in unique ways.
The previous year’s partnership reached across the city, affording residents who might not ordinarily have contact with Long Wharf Theatre an opportunity to use their library to access content inspired by the work on stage. For example, over 1,500 people were able to check out a pass from the library entitling them to free tickets to a Long Wharf Theatre production. The pass is available at every New Haven Free Public Library branch. This Fall librarians and LWT staff members have worked together to create a series of events dealing with Islam, issues of identity, and the pursuit of nonviolence in conjunction with the theatre’s production of Disgraced. “One of the library’s great strengths … is our reach out into New Haven’s neighborhoods and this program allows our branch libraries to shine. Long Wharf’s plays serve as a catalyst for illuminating and provocative conversations across the city in our library branches, giving voice to different perspectives as we wrestle with fundamental social and political issues of the day. And through the community Ambassador program and complementary theater passes available in our branch libraries, we bring new audience members to the Long Wharf, enriching the experience for theatre-goers and widening the circle of participants,” said Martha Brogan, city librarian and director.
The people attending Friday evening’s festivities were treated to a reading from the cast of Long Wharf Theatre’s upcoming production of Disgraced and a spoken word performance from New Haven poet Aaron Jafferis. Mayor Toni Harp pointed to the partnership as just one of many across the city that make New Haven a vibrant place to live and work. “We are a rich city indeed and it is because of what you do,” she said.
Perhaps the most poignant words of the evening came from Sharon Brooks, a Community Ambassador. Brooks spoke of the partnership as not just as a way to introduce people to the theatre through the library, but of a place where friendships are made and deep philosophical questions explored. She described her fellow Ambassadors as people from all walks of life – former nuns, cops, blue collar workers, children’s advocates, attorneys, long distance runners, and everyone in between. “We’ve learned a lot about other folks and ourselves … We reached across superficial dividing lines. We discarded preconceptions,” she said.
And isn’t that what a library and a theatre is supposed to do.