Top: Long Wharf Theatre's new administrative home at 70 Audubon Street on Tuesday, Oct. 4. Bottom: LWT Managing Director Kit Ingui and Artistic Director Jacob Padrón on Audubon Street in October 2020. During a press conference they attended that month, Gov. Ned Lamont announced $9 million in federal CARES act funding to arts organizations across the state. Lucy Gellman Photos.
Long Wharf Theatre has begun the process of saying goodbye to its 222 Sargent Drive home in an ongoing move to make the city its stage. Now it is also saying hello—to dozens of arts leaders, administrators, and small business owners who are its new neighbors in the Audubon Arts District.
Last month, the theater company signed a lease with the Arts Council of Greater New Haven for a second-floor office space at 70 Audubon St., which sits on the edge of downtown New Haven. As Long Wharf staff move out of Stage Two, they are finding their footing in the new building, where it's not uncommon to run into pint-sized ballerinas, teenage actors, performing artists and photographers in the hallways.
The Audubon Street space is still very much administrative; Long Wharf plans to hold performances across the city, as it did at the Stetson Branch Library earlier this year and at Clinton Avenue and Lincoln Bassett Schools in summer 2021.
"It's really exciting," said Kit Ingui, managing director at the theater, in an interview at the building Monday morning. "We're excited to be kind of in the heart of the Audubon Arts District, to be on the same street as Neighborhood Music School, Creative Arts Workshop, the Arts Council, and so many more amazing institutions. There's something that feels different about not being on the edge of town, and like, really having friends and neighbors."
Long Wharf Theatre's Sargent Drive offices. Lucy Gellman File Photo.
Long Wharf will have 24 full-time staff members and four part-time staff positions "when fully staffed," Ingui said. She added that 20 staff members will be working out of the Audubon Street offices, "with the balance of the team at another soon-to-be-announced location."
The move has been a long time coming. This fall, the theater leaves its longtime home on Sargent Drive on the road to itinerancy, a decision that it announced in February of this year. In May, it rolled out an upcoming season "for everyone" that will criss-cross New Haven, from Long Wharf to virtual space to the John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts at Southern Connecticut State University. It has been in the Sargent Drive building since 1965.
This month, it plans to hold a two-day farewell to the building titled Home(Coming), with activities at both 222 Sargent Drive and on Audubon Street on Oct. 14 and 15. Then on Oct. 22 and 23, it will close out performances at the theater with Flying Bird’s Diary, written by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel and directed by Madeline Sayet.
Dates and locations for upcoming performances, including Aaliyah Miller and Halima Flynn's film I AM: American/Muslim and UNIVERSES' spring 2023 Live From The Edge, have yet to be announced.
As Long Wharf navigates those changes, it seems fitting to land in what was once branded the Audubon Arts Corridor, Ingui said. The theatre will share the street with nonprofit neighbors including Creative Arts Workshop, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Neighborhood Music School (NMS), the Housing Authority of New Haven, and the Educational Center for the Arts, as well as Koffee?, a quiet barbershop, and the still-brand-new MINIPNG storefront across the street.
NMS Director Noah Bloom on Audubon Street in October 2020. Lucy Gellman File Photo.
In a phone call Monday afternoon, NMS Executive Director Noah Bloom said he is excited to welcome Long Wharf to Audubon Street. Since NMS opened its private arts middle school ATLAS in 2018, "they [LWT staff members] have just been so generous" in sharing resources and talking to students, he said. Two years ago, Ingui and Artistic Director Jacob Padrón joined him on the steps of NMS as the state announced $9 million in Covid relief funding for the arts. That funding ultimately helped both institutions survive the pandemic.
"I feel fantastic," Bloom said. "I think the vision we've all had for the street is about the arts beg a central part of everyone's lives, and I think having Long Wharf on the street is such a huge part of that."
As NMS continues to think about its own work in anti-racism and arts education, he added, he sees Long Wharf as a sort of accountability buddy. The organization will be part of "helping us hold each other accountable to the work that we see in front of us," he said.
City Director of Arts, Culture & Tourism Adriane Jefferson outside the Dixwell Avenue Community Q House in January of this year. "I think that's phenomenal," she said of the move. Lucy Gellman File Photo.
The excitement has already spread from Audubon Street downtown, including to City Hall. In a phone call Tuesday morning, New Haven Director of Arts, Culture & Tourism Adriane Jefferson applauded the decision, noting that she sees it as in lockstep with the city's evolving Cultural Equity Plan.
"I think that's phenomenal," she said. "The main thing, and for me the most important thing, is that they're still going to be a New Haven-based organization. I think retaining them here as the pillar that they are is so important to the city."
She added that the location already has her thinking about new cultural collaborations and partnerships that may spring from the Audubon Arts District. As an early and consistent champion of the theater's pivot to itinerancy, she stressed that the physical space on Audubon Street does not take away from an evolving citywide vision, in which all of New Haven's 18.7 square miles can be Long Wharf's stage.
"I believe it can work," she said. "I believe that you can take theater to people's front steps and give them access. They're in a new season of imagining what theater can be, and I believe it will allow them to break beyond the doors [of a physical space] ... it causes people to have to stretch beyond the traditional concept of what they have known Long Wharf Theatre to be."
Long Wharf's Home(Coming), curated by Jenny Koons, takes place between 222 Sargent Dr. and Audubon Street on Oct. 14 and 15. More information is available here.