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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