Long Wharf upgrades patron comfort

The Long Wharf Theatre is planning extensive renovations.
The Long Wharf Theatre is planning extensive renovations. Photo by Long Wharf.

This summer, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre will receive a facelift.

Starting in June, the theater will undergo its biggest renovation since the 1970s, when the management added a second theater to the building. Supported by a $3.8 million fundraising campaign launched last fall, the construction will focus on improving patron comfort in the existing theaters, said Steven Scarpa, Long Wharf’s director of marketing and communications. The theater will install a new heating and air conditioning system, bigger bathrooms and improvements to the comfortability of the seating, he said.

“Long Wharf has terrific plays, but the actual coming here can be physical painful,” managing director Joshua Borenstein DRA ’02 said. The current seats are “really uncomfortable,” Scarpa said.

Now is the ideal time to upgrade the building, Borenstein said: in February 2011, Long Wharf signed a lease to stay in its current location until 2022, which means that any renovations that take place now will benefit the theater for at least 20 years.

Borenstein added that the Long Wharf is on “solid financial footing,” enabling the theater to undertake a project of this magnitude. Seventy percent of the project’s cost, $2.56 million, has already been raised, Scarpa said, $1.25 million of which comes from a donation by The Tow Foundation, a grantmaking foundation based in New Canaan. This is above industry standards for this stage in a renovation, he added, as projects are typically announced with only about half of the necessary money raised.

Construction on the theater will begin in June, Borenstein said, and should be completed by the fall, in time for the first production after Thanksgiving.

The renovation is set to tackle the various aspects of the Long Wharf’s problems with patrons’ discomfort. Expansion of bathrooms, which will double in size, ise expected to reduce wait times, while new heating and air conditioning systems are intended to combat complaints that Long Wharf is always too hot or too cold, Scarpa said. Seating at Long Wharf is so dysfunctional that playgoers now have to sit sideways in some sections because there is not enough room otherwise, Borenstein added. Scarpa said he hopes complaints will end after the 486 uncomfortable seats at Long Wharf are replaced by 405 plush seats with more legroom.

The holistic renovation will also upgrade the aesthetics of the Long Wharf Theatre, Scarpa said, describing the construction as an “overall facade face lift.” The lobby will receive new lighting and furnishings, and the entrance to the theater will be lined with birch trees.

While the exterior of the theater will retain its industrial look, the renovations will make it more visible from the road, said Rick Weiss, the project’s architect, as there is currently very little visible evidence the building is indeed a theater. After the renovation is complete, the building will feature a lit sign visible from the road, Weiss said.

In addition to improving audience members’ comfort, Scarpa said the renovations will include one modification to the stage itself. When construction is through, the theater will feature a new lighting grid, allowing artists more design flexibility.

The Long Wharf Theatre received a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 1978.

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