|Lucy Gellman Photo.|
Update: As of Sept. 24, Kit Ingui had been named Managing Director rather than Acting Managing Director.
Diversify audiences. Create work that is by, for, and with members of the community. Get back to talkbacks and champion voices that don’t always make it onto a main stage. Achieve financial sustainability for years to come—all while putting on a full season.
That is just some of the work Kit Ingui is anticipating this year at Long Wharf Theatre, as she becomes acting managing director at alongside Artistic Director Jacob Padrón. Joshua Borenstein, who served as managing director for the past 13 years, ended his tenure in late July.
“Kit is a strategic thinker with strong financial skills who understands the for-profit and non-profit theatre landscape,” said Board Chair Laura Pappano in a press release from the theater. “She will be a powerful partner with Jacob.”
In her new role, Ingui will be working closely with Padrón to execute his artistic vision, which includes greater inclusivity on stage and in the audience, increased partnership with the New Haven community, improved staff culture, and long-term sustainability for the organization.
“For me it’s really exciting,” she said in an interview at Koffee? earlier this week. “I got to learn a lot from Josh while he was here, and from the staff of the theater. It’s been very educational learning from them and from their experiences … my hope is to work with Jacob to move towards creating this really exciting and inclusive culture. I want to support that work.”
Ingui first joined Long Wharf as associate managing director in January 2017. A few years earlier, she had crossed paths with Borenstein and former Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein in New York, when the two brought Satchmo At The Waldorf to Broadway in 2014. Two years later, she found that she was looking for opportunities outside of New York City, where her 500 square foot apartment in Brooklyn had become too small for a family of three.
When she saw the posting at Long Wharf in 2016, “it felt like the right opportunity,” she said. During the initial interview process, she recalled watching a talkback for Meteor Shower and feeling moved by the theater’s choice to involve its audiences in a larger discussion about the play. As she watched, then-Literary Manager Christine Scarfuto guided the audience through a discussion that was less about who they had just seen onstage, and more about unpacking their own reactions.
“It was really talking about the play with the full community of people who were in the audience, and I found that so exciting and inspiring,” she recalled. “I was blown away by this commitment to sharing the story with each other, and not just having what was on stage be the end. Of continuing the experience that you have with a play in community.”
When Ingui arrived at Long Wharf in January 2017, her position took on different components, from daily operations to human resources. She said that her biggest lessons came—and still come—from the staff, particularly in the wake of Edelstein’s termination in early 2018. She praised Borenstein for his leadership during that time, as he guided the theater through a transition, period of internal review, and appointment of Padrón last year.
But she also saw a theater that didn’t reflect New Haven in its staffing, season, or audience development. While the theater offers free tickets through the New Haven Free Public Library and has a handful of neighborhood-based community ambassadors, the majority of Long Wharf’s ticket buyers do not come from the city of New Haven. As acting managing director, Ingui wants to change that. She said that the theater is trying to shift its marketing tactics, working with an outside agency to explore “how we connect with New Haven itself.”
“A huge part of it is embracing the community that we are a part of, and making sure that we are creating theater that is for them, by them,” she said. “The theater we are producing is still theater for everybody. It’s just also theater for people who have been sidelined, who haven’t had their stories on our stage.”
In addition, it means setting up a plan for fiscal sustainability, so that Long Wharf can survive “for many more generations,” Ingui said. In its most recent season, Long Wharf didn’t hit the financial benchmarks for which it was aiming, with lower attendance for several of its shows (it experienced huge success with An Iliad, Ingui noted). Internally, that also means finding funding to raise staff salaries, an amount for which Ingui did not want to comment on the record. In the past weeks, Long Wharf has already made a move toward greater financial transparency, posting compensation in its most recent job descriptions.
As she sculpts a strategic plan alongside Padrón, she said she also plans to hone in on three pillars that he has identified: meaningful connection, artistic innovation, and radical inclusion. With those guiding principles in mind, she envisions Long Wharf becoming what Padrón has called “a place where art and activism can live side by side, walk hand in hand.”
“That’s really an exciting and inspiring idea to me,” she said. “The idea that we can actually use theater to create a place for social justice conversations, for actually changing the world. That has always been what I thought theater had the power to do.”
She said she expects audiences to feel that change in the upcoming season, which opens with the world premiere of Ricardo Pérez González On The Grounds of Belonging in October.
“Our place is the place that the theater has always been,” she is. “Which is an opportunity to hear a story that you wouldn’t have heard somewhere else. To learn about something that you wouldn’t have learned about somewhere else. And I’m really excited to see how we directly engage with the challenges in the world right now.”