Long Wharf Theatre renovations complete

The Long Wharf Theatre’s renovations, which include a lighting grid for the main stage, cost $3.8 million.
The Long Wharf Theatre’s renovations, which include a lighting grid for the main stage, cost $3.8 million. Photo by Long Wharf Theatre.

New Haven’s historic Long Wharf Theatre unveiled its most recent renovations Wednesday night at the public premiere of “The Killing of Sister George.”

The highly anticipated theater renovation cost $3.8 million and added roomier seating, a bigger lobby, a new bar area and a lighting grid for the main stage. Construction on the theater began on June 8 but finished just days before the first performance of “The Killing of Sister George,” which was performed primarily for theater subscribers, said Steven Scarpa, Long Wharf’s director of marketing and communications. Both the renovated theater and the show have received rave reviews so far.

“I’m really proud we were able to do this,” said Long Wharf Theatre Managing Director Joshua Borenstein DRA ’02. “[People] end up cutting things usually, but we really kept the same scope through the whole thing.”

Long Wharf, which is now in its 48th season, produces revivals of classic theater as well as world and American premieres. In the past, Long Wharf has produced more than 30 plays that have been performed on Broadway or Off-Broadway including “My Name is Asher Lev,” “February House” and “The Glass Menagerie.” In addition, Long Wharf won the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 1978.

Scarpa said Long Wharf’s rich past gives the renovations more meaning.

“[It is] humbling to see we had this kind of impact on a 50-year history,” he said.

Although Long Wharf has had countless pre-show receptions over the years, Borenstein predicted Tuesday that the preshow reception for “The Killing of Sister George” would be “extra special” since it marks the completion of the renovation. Donors have been waiting a long time to see the project finished, he explained, adding that for the occasion, Long Wharf’s second stage was used as a banquet hall.

One of the main goals of the renovation was to upgrade patron comfort. So far, patrons have been pleased with the changes, theater officials said. Those who attended the previews of “The Killing of Sister George” said they were impressed by the extra legroom in the seats, Scarpa said. Theatergoers have also commented on the reduced line in the ladies’ room, Borenstein added.

In addition to making the theater more comfortable for patrons, the architecture and aesthetics of the theater were revamped. Rick Wies, the project architect, said he does not know what his favorite architecture change is because “all the pieces are like children,” although he said he is extremely proud of the new ceiling and the bar area which both took substantial work.

Wies said that he was glad to be involved in the project, adding that he considered its completion a positive reflection on New Haven’s arts community.

“It really makes it clear how hard the arts community works to do what they do and how difficult it is to marshal the resources to upgrade facilities that are so badly needed for this theater and for others elsewhere,” Wies said. “It was so gratifying to see it all get pulled together and the community to get together and support it financially.”

Scarpa said $3.6 million of the $3.8 million is already raised, adding that he is “really confident” in the theater’s ability to raise the rest of the money.

The Tow Foundation donated $1.25 million for the renovation.

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