Long Wharf Theatre Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein recalled the words of political operative James Carville when reflecting upon on the two decades of service rendered to the city of New Haven by former YaleUniversity president Richard C. Levin and outgoing Mayor John DeStefano.
“Carville said ‘outside of a person’s love, the most sacred thing a person can give is their labor. And if you can combine labor with love, you have made the most important merger,’” Edelstein said.
Levin and DeStefano were honored with the theatre’s Founders Awards on Wednesday, October 9 during a luncheon at the Union League Café. The awards are given to those whose commitment and dedication to Long Wharf Theatre reflect those of the institution’s founders 50 years ago.
“Everyone in this room, everyone in greater New Haven, and everyone in the Yale community which reaches around the globe, knows that Rick and John have given us their most sacred of gifts, the gift of their work and of their love,” said Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein. “Their historic partnership has made New Haven a safer, happier, and more prosperous place to live and in the particular matter of this luncheon, a better, more commodious, more welcoming place to make theatre.”
Both DeStefano and Levin used the occasion to reflect on their time serving in New Haven. New Haven in early 1990s, when both men ascended to their jobs, was a very different place. Wracked with problems, the impetus to work together to create positive outcomes for both the city and the university was paramount in their minds.
“It was a different time for the university and it was a different time for the city and there were lots of questions about the direction of the university and the direction of the city,” DeStefano said to the group of about 60 Long Wharf Theatre supporters. “In addressing the questions of our particular responsibilities, we worked together to do that,” he said.
Long Wharf Theatre’s history inspired a couple of different thoughts from DeStefano – the importance of team work and long term, prolonged excellence. “The fact is if we are not totally obscured by our ego and have some kind of self awareness, we recognize our limitations and the talents of other people. We take that persistence and that teamwork and we employ it to some greater good … by our efforts our labor and our love, we heal some part of the world.”
DeStefano linked his collaboration with Levin to the community collaboration that has been a hallmark of Long Wharf Theatre over the years. We aren’t just connected to each now, in the present, DeStefano believes, but we also connected over time.
“Frankly a lot of our hard work and successes are built on the vision, effort of those who came before us, in this case the founders of Long Wharf Theatre. If you think about it, there is no reason why LongWharf should still be alive. And what holds it together, the stickiness to me of Long Wharf, is that people understand that they are part of something bigger than themselves and people struggled and fought really hard to keep going,” DeStefano said.
Levin recalled the importance of the arts in his own life, growing up with a grandmother who designed costumes for the San Francisco Opera, patronizing theatre and the visual arts during his time studying abroad, and embracing the arts scene as a professor in New Haven. “Arts have always been a big part of my life,” he said.
He believes that the efforts on the part of both Yale and the city to the arts have gone a long way towards improving the quality of life in New Haven. “There has been a considerable commitment to making New Haven and Yale centers for the arts. Yale has invested considerably in updating its facilities and programs in the arts … the Mayor had the vision to see what the arts could bring to the city in terms of attracting visibility and improvement in New Haven’s national image,” Levin said.
The luncheon provided both men perhaps the final opportunity to address their own working relationship over the past two decades. DeStefano described his relationship with Levin as one of the defining ones of his professional life, a sentiment Levin echoed.
“What a wonderful coincidence it’s been that the two of us came in at the same time. We had in many many ways a common vision for what this city could be. We had our differences, but deep down we shared the same passion and commitment in making this a better place. It was a troubled place in 1993 and it is a much better place today,” Levin said.
For more information about Long Wharf Theatre, visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.