Long Wharf Theatre unveiled the largest renovation in the theatre’s history, one that finally matched the patron experience with the excellence of the artistic product on the stages.
The reopening took place at a press conference Tuesday, November 27. A formal celebration will take place at the opening of The Killing of Sister George on Wednesday, December 5.
The primary objective of the renovation was to enhance patron comfort with new, roomier seating in the theatre, a bigger lobby, a new bar, and a facelift that embraces the unique industrial nature of the site, while updating it for the 21st century. In addition, new heating and air conditioning system were installed for the benefit of patrons and artists alike. A new lighting grid will allow designers more flexibility in terms of their artistic choices.
“This is an exceedingly important day in our history,” said Board Chair Charles C. Kingsley. “It is a day of celebration and thanksgiving, in a lot of ways. We were able to accomplish our objective of creating a space that would give patrons the comfort they deserve, matching the excellence of our facility to the excellence of our art.”
“It is the core of our mission to present theatre of the highest quality, and we understand that while the show needs to be superb, it is no longer enough. The Long Wharf experience starts with the first click on our website and ends as a couple drives out of the parking lot, perhaps after participating in a post-performance discussion. We need to satisfy our audience needs on all levels, and this renovation is a major investment in that direction,” said Managing Director Joshua Borenstein.
The renovation project cost $3.8 million, $1.25 of which was generously donated by The Tow Foundation. In gratitude for this gift, Long Wharf Theatre has christened the performance space The Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck III Mainstage Theatre. “Claire spent much 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 Gordon Edelstein, Artistic Director.
In addition, the theatre will acknowledge the contribution of Cynthia Kellogg Barrington by naming the new Green Room in her honor. Cynthia was a stage manager and costume designer who worked Off-Broadway, at Lincoln Center, with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and lived in Branford. When she passed away, she contributed a portion of her estate to Long Wharf for sets, lights, and costumes, some of which was used to fund the new lighting grid.
The theatre has currently raised $3.5 million of the cost of the project thus far. The support for the institution has been wide-ranging. Over 130 individuals and institutions gave donations of varying levels, and close to 200 people gave to Long Wharf in order to have a seat dedicated in the renovated Mainstage. There are still opportunities for patrons to participate by dedicating a seat.
Through the end of the 2011-12 season, Long Wharf Theatre staff and board members were in the lobby during performances, talking about the renovations. What they heard from audiences was heartening. Time and again patrons stopped to talk about fond associations with the theatre, actors they loved, or fine performances they remember. Because of those positive memories, hundreds of people enthusiastically supported the campaign.
It was a reminder that Long Wharf Theatre was important to people, a thought that was encouraging to staff members as they worked through the challenging process of fundraising. “Each night people would stop and tell me stories about Long Wharf Theatre over the years. These were people who’ve had a long relationship with us. It is humbling to hear that we’ve made an impact, and we are inordinately grateful for their devotion and loyalty,” Borenstein said.
The renovations started June 8 and were completed days before the first performance of The Killing of Sister George on November 28. In the end, approximately 5,500 man hours were spent on the project.
The design, by New Haven architect Rick Wies of Gregg, Wies, and Gardner, decided to emphasize the Food Terminal’s industrial origins, rather than masking them.
The size of the lobby has been increased by almost a third, with large bright windows. The new façade of the theatre consists of an anodized aluminum store front glazing system paired with a white porcelain cement ground-face block. Eighty clear varnished wood panels make up the interior lobby walls. The floors are polished concrete. The new bar is made of backlit resin paneling. The steel signs honoring Claire Tow and founding Board Chair C. Newton Schenck III were designed by Long Wharf Theatre graphics director Claire Zoghb, and erected by Long Wharf Theatre’s production staff.
The total impact is a radical one – a design that honors Long Wharf Theatre’s unique origins, while acknowledging patrons’ needs. The renovation itself is a reflection of the ethos of excellence the theatre has stood for over its long history.
For more information about Long Wharf Theatre’s 2012-13 Season or on ways to support the renovation, visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282. For information about donating to the renovation campaign, contact Eileen Wiseman, Director of Development, at 203-772-8237.