N umerous shows on the Long Wharf mainstage have received rapturous acclaim. This fall, they predict, critics will be raving about the auditorium, lobby and bathrooms.
“Better and more comfortable seating. Bigger and better bathrooms,” beamed Charles Kingsley. He’s been a Long Wharf Theatre subscriber since the theater began in 1965 and since last June has been the chairman of the theater’s board of directors.
The Long Wharf is undergoing what is being called its biggest physical renovation since its Stage II performance space was added in 1977. While elaborate rooms, fantasy playscapes and entire buildings (remember Rocket to the Moon or Playboy of the Western World?) have regularly transformed the theater’s mainstage, the building which houses those environments has stayed essentially the same for decades. Renovations to the theater have been “purely cosmetic” until now, says the Long Wharf’s Director of Development, Eileen Wilson.
On Wednesday, plans were unveiled which involve a “retiering” of the seats in the auditorium, as Long Wharf Managing Director Josh Borenstein explained. The old seats, which date back to the theater’s founding, will be replaced and refitted to allow four or five more inches of space
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between one row and the next.
Convenience and comfort are being addressed in the Long Wharf lobby as well. The bar area will be redesigned and the whole lobby will seem more open and easily navigable. A giant video screen will fill the side wall of the theater where a smaller screen already is. The outside of the theater entrance, meanwhile, will get a facelift with bigger windows and decorative trees.
Behind the scenes, actors will revel in a proper “green room”—the backstage lounge area which all theaters have but which at the Long Wharf has been a distressingly informal corner with old furniture in it. Dressing rooms will also be upgraded. Investing in new heating and air conditioning systems, and mounting them on the roof, will create new storage areas around the building.
Stage lighting designers who’ve made do for years with antiquated equipment will be thrilled with a whole new Long Wharf lighting grid. “Don’t tell the mayor,” quipped Long Wharf Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein, with Mayor John DeStefano sitting just behind him, “but I
think [the current lighting set-up] is in violation of several codes.”
The renovations “will make life so much more easy for us all,” Edelstein said, “and for only four million dollars. What a bargain!”
It’s customary that when an institution has achieved 50 percent of its fundraising goal for a major project, it’s OK to go ahead and hold the fancy press conference and officially announce the project. The Long Wharf leaders crowed on Wednesday that they had already reached nearly 70 percent of their $3.8 million goal, thanks in part to one major donor.
The key “leadership gift” comes from the Tow Foundation in honor of Claire Tow, a longtime Long Wharf subscriber and board member who, despite being wheelchair-bound from ALS and in need of constant medical treatment, still faithfully attends opening nights at the theater. Her husband Leonard Tow is the chairman of the Tow Foundation. To mark the foundation’s impressive $1.25 million gift—a third of the money needed for the renovations, from a single source—the Long Wharf stage will be named the Claire Tow Mainstage. (The theater building as a whole is still named in honor of founding Long Wharf board chairman C. Newton Schenck.)
At the press conference, the Long Wharf announced a donor opportunity which seems a cinch to collect a good chunk of the remaining 30 percent needed to reach its fundraising goal: a “name a seat” campaign. Patrons who contribute between $1500, $2500 or $5000 can have their names emblazoned on plaques adorning the armrests of the new auditorium seats.
In the movies, you can get your name up in lights. In the theater, it’s down on seats. Comfy new ones, with plenty of leg room.
Written by Christopher Arnott.