Long Wharf Theatre reimagining all of New Haven as its stage
Earlier this year, Long Wharf Theatre announced it would leave its longtime home to present performances at locations throughout Greater New Haven. Morning Edition's Lori Mack spoke with Long Wharf Theatre's artistic director, Jacob Padrón, to learn more about how this itinerant production model will shape the future of the Tony Award–winning regional theater.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Lori Mack: So how will it work?
Jacob Padrón: We'll identify performance spaces — an actual theater space, a bar, a museum or someplace outside. The idea is you don't need four walls and a stage to make great theater and to tell a great story. There's a theater company located in Scotland, the National Theatre of Scotland, and one of their mottos is a theater without walls. It's not about bricks and mortar. It's about people and relationships. And so we're in that process right now of identifying those spaces where we can still present world-class theater.
When artists come to us and say we have a project that we want to work on, rather than them having to work within the confines of our existing space, we get to say to that artist, “What's the right container for your offering? What's the right space to tell your particular story?” So it allows us to expand our imagination of what a theater company can be and how we want to be in relationship to audiences.
Mack: So will you change the name?
Padrón: Definitely not! We will still be Long Wharf Theatre. We're going to take the best parts of what make Long Wharf Theatre the spectacular company that it's been: a commitment to new work, attracting world class artists, high production values, all the things that have made the theater company so special for the last nearly 60 years. We're gonna take all that good stuff as the bridge to our future.
Mack: I read that the theater was supposed to hold community forums to discuss what city residents want to see from Long Wharf in the future. What kind of feedback have you gotten?
Padrón: As you can imagine, it's been mixed. I think that there are folks who are incredibly inspired and excited about the possibilities and about the future. Then there are folks who were holding mixed emotions, holding some grief, holding maybe some anger or frustration. And what I say to those audiences during those community forums is that we hear you. We’re holding some mixed emotions too. What I say to the listeners is, please come on the journey because it's going to be about discovery and imagination. So we're going to continue to have those community forums for the next 12 months. We're actually going to go into different communities and talk about, what do you want from Long Wharf Theatre? If we say that we want to be a theater company for everyone, we actually need to hear from the residents of the city and of this region.
Mack: Have other regional equity theaters done this successfully?
Padrón: I've been asked this question a lot. And based on my research, I have not found a regional theater that has intentionally moved out of their space. It is often the case that most regional theaters or some of the off-Broadway theaters are trying to move into a space.
So we are kind of breaking some new ground, but there are lots of important theater companies, specifically culturally specific theater companies, who make work that are not about a building. And so in some ways, we stand on the shoulders of giants.
When I think about the company I came from, El Teatro Campesino, the farmworker theater, they made theater on the flatbed trucks in the fields of California. So it was not about a building, it was about using theater as a catalyst for social justice.
Mack: I know you just wrapped up a show. Can you talk about this current season? What's next?
Padrón: So the way that we've decided to structure our current season is in three acts. The first act is three play readings in conversation. We just finished a musical reading of the Tony Award–winning Jelly’s Last Jam. Our next show, which will actually be the last show that we do at Long Wharf Theatre, is a play called Flying Bird’s Diary by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel. Melissa is a native writer, she's a member of the Mohegan Tribe. It'll be directed by Madeline Sayet, also a member of the Mohegan Tribe. So there's something kind of wonderful that the final offering at Long Wharf will actually be returning the land to those who stewarded the land for many years. We're going to do an event called Homecoming. It's going to be a series of rituals as a way to say goodbye to Long Wharf Theatre, the current space, and celebrate our future into the community. And then we're actually going to return to our roots. In 1965, Long Wharf Theatre began with a two-week run of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. So we're gonna do a reading of that just to sort of circle back and to reflect on where we began our artistic journey, which is with that play. We had to really think about, how do we honor past, present and future.
Mack: Sounds exciting, challenging, and it sounds like you've got your work cut out for you.
Padrón: We sure do. It's going to be an exciting time. We want to think about building a company for the next generation. I know that I'm just a temporary steward of the mission and vision of Long Wharf Theatre. It's a company that belongs to everyone.