Long Wharf Theatre’s new artistic director said he aims to restore the historic theater company’s soul with a bit more sol.
Long Wharf announced Tjursday that it has named Jacob Padrón, a 38-year-old California native, Yale School of Drama adjunct professor, and former producer at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, to fill the artistic director position at the 53-year-old regional theater.
Padrón is also the founder and director of The Sol Project, a national theater initiative that connects Latinx playwrights with theater companies throughout the country with the goal of celebrating the voices of contemporary Hispanic artists.
Just this fall, The Sol Project helped bring Charise Castro Smith’s “El Huracán” to a three-week production at the Yale Repertory Theatre.
“I want to support and amplify stories that are in conversation with the world,” Padrón said in a phone interview about his new role at Long Wharf. “My job will be to nurture a culture of reflection, of generosity, and of joy.”
Click here to read Long Wharf’s press release about its recent hiring of Padrón.
Padrón will replace the Long Wharf’s former artistic director, Gordon Edelstein, who helmed the theater for over a decade before he was fired in January amidst multiple accusations of sexual harassment.
Padrón’s hiring is the result of the theater’s months-long search for a new artistic director, who will be in charge of selecting plays and artists to bring to Long Wharf each year.
Coming in the long wake of Edelstein’s firing, Padrón will also be charged with working alongside Long Wharf Managing Director Joshua Borenstein and Long Wharf Board Chair Laura Pappano in realizing the theater’s plans to foster a more communicative, inclusive, and safer workplace culture.
“Our focus will be on the future,” Padrón said. “And on building relationships with the community, with the board, with the staff, with the audiences. I think that the future success of Long Wharf actually rests with all of us.”
Padrón grew up in Gilroy, Calif., which is about an hour-and-a-half south of San Francisco. (Padrón said that Gilroy is the garlic capital of the country. A cruel irony, he said, since he is allergic to garlic.)
His love of theater began in San Juan Batista, Calif., where he attended plays put on by El Teatro Campesino, a Latinx-focused company that was founded in 1965 on a grape strike picket line of Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers Union.
A commitment to social justice lead him to work at the Jesuit Volunteer Corp, and then to a Raleigh, N.C.-nonprofit that cares for people with HIV/AIDs, and then to Baltimore Center Stage, where he helped realize community engagement programs that brought Baltimore public school students to the theater and encouraged them to share their life experiences through art.
“That’s where I realized there is a way to intersect my passion for social justice with telling stories,” Padrón said.
Padrón first moved to New Haven in 2005 to attend the Yale School of Drama. After graduating in 2008, he landed an assistant producer job at the Oregon Shakesepeare Festival. Four years later, he left for a job as producer at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.
And then in 2016, he founded The Sol Project, soon thereafter landing an adjunct professor job at the Yale School of Drama, where he teaches artistic producing in the theater.
Padrón, who currently lives in New York City but plans to move to New Haven before he begins the new job in February, said he did not have much of a relationship with Long Wharf prior to this hiring: he had never produced any shows there, and had only attended a handful while a student and living in New Haven.
But as artistic director, he said, he plans to immerse himself in the city, make extra efforts to engage New Haven’s Latinx community, and make sure that each employee at the theater feels like he or she has some stake in every play that the theater produces.
“I always find it so fascinating,” he said, “that in the American theater, we tell stories for a living, and yet we spend so little time understanding the stories of people on staff.”
He said that, under his tenure as artistic director, he plans to go out of his way to make sure that staff get to know one another and do not feel siloed, let alone intimidated, by management.
As for the plays he wants to bring to Long Wharf, he has his eyes on celebrated young playwrights of color like Tarell Alvin McCraney, Suzan-Lori Parks, Christopher Núñez.
“I am deeply committed to new plays,” he said. He said he sees his new role at Long Wharf as providing the historic theater with an “opportunity to bring new voices” to American theater audiences.
“I am deeply committed to creating a culture where everyone can thrive,” he said. “I believe in a leadership of connection.”