Long Wharf Makes Room

Allan Appel Photo“The only people who liked our seats were the orthopedists, because we sent more people to them.”

That was Gordon Edelstein’s review of the erstwhile seating at his Long Wharf theater main stage. As Long Wharf’s artistic director Edelstein has presided over a decade of shows, many of which his audiences have raved about—despite the uncomfortable seats into which they were crammed.

That’s now a thing of the past, as Edelstein along with his staff, board, and builders Tuesday unveiled the bad news for local orthopedists: 404 suavely upholstered, contoured, charcoal-colored brand new seats that are wider and with more leg room.

The $3.8 million privately-funded renovation also includes new bathrooms with more stalls and seats (bad news for urologists?), a lobby expanded by a third, more out-going box office windows, a genuine “green room” for actors to relax in,  a new facade, and a new lighting grid for the main stage.

“It’s the biggest renovation in Long Wharf history,” said the theater’s board chairman, Charles Kingsley. He ought to know. In his formal remarks he recalled attending the very first play done at the Long Wharf, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

Until today the seats have not been altered since those witches danced back in 1965.

By shaving one or two seats off each row, the architect, Rick Wies of Gregg, Wies & Gardner, created seats far roomier for the legs and tush, Long Wharf Director of Marketing and Communications Steve Scarpa said as he tried one of them

Four years ago, Long Wharf was considering solving its seat problem and others by moving downtown and building a new $40 million theater from the ground up on the site of the former New Haven Coliseum.  When the economic downturn hit, the theater reversed course and has since signed a lease to remain at the food terminal until 2022.

The board determined to make the new/old long-term home as comfortable as possible for patrons.

“Fate has a way of taking you [back] where you belong,” said the former board chair and current building committee Chair Mary Pepe. When the theater decided to stay put, “patron comfort and accessibility became very important,” she said.

Lights, Urinals, Savings

That includes an expanded women’s bathroom off the lobby as well as a few more urinals, all waterless and designed to save the Long Wharf money, said Tom Smith, the construction program manager for the Gilbane Building Company, which did much of the work.

Smith said that the renovation also includes entirely new mechanical air conditioning and heating systems with digital controls that will enable theater managers to adjust comfort levels; for the last 47 seasons, the heat or air conditioning was simply either on or off, period. No longer. As a result, the theater expects to save money.

As to the seats, they should be good to go for at least 20 years, Smith said.

You can buy one too if you want. To help fund the renovation, the theater is selling seats at the $1,500, $2,500, and $5,000 levels. More than 200 have been “sponsored,” said the theater’s managing director, Josh Borenstein. You get your name in a shining plaque on the arm rest. Other people, not just the donor, can sit in the seat.

Of the $3.8 million total cost, all has been raised except for $350,000, said Kingsley.  The main stage area, including the comfortable new seats, was officially named “The Clair Tow Stage” in honor of Claire Tow, whose Tow Foundation gave $1.25 million toward the renovation.


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posted by: anonymous on November 27, 2012  5:04pm

Beautiful work. Thank you LWT and generous donors.

posted by: Stylo on November 27, 2012  9:26pm

While it would’ve been great to have the theater downtown to bring more foot traffic and activity there, this is still good news. Hopefully another theater will open downtown at some point, especially a music theater. Toad’s alone is not cutting it for touring acts.

posted by: Rosas on November 28, 2012  7:28pm

Hooray! I’ve actually avoided LWT sometimes because I always left their excellent productions with a backache. I’ll definitely be seeing more shows there.