Long Wharf Theatre unveiled Tuesday its renovated facility, the largest improvement project in the theater's nearly 50 year history.
The renovation maintains "the quirky charm of this industrial space but it also makes it more comfortable and accessible [for theatergoers]," says Mary Pepe, immediate past chairwoman of the board, referring to the New Haven Food Terminal where meat packing firms share the concrete complex off the junction of I-91 and I-95.
For years the theater's leaders considered a move to downtown New Haven and a new structure but the turn in the economy made the group to reconsider the space where it has been since 1965 and which it leases. The agreement is good for at least another 10 years.
The renovation includes such amenities as a larger lobby, increased bathroom area, larger seats, more space between rows and a new and larger concessions and box office area. There is also a "green room" for the main stage actors. Other technical improvements includes a new air condition and heating system, lighting grid and signage.
The project came in "on time, on budget and looking good," says artistic director Gordon Edelstein.
The project is the latest of a wave of renovations at aging regional theaters, not only for what's on stage but audience amenities. Hartford Stage completed the first phase of its multi-stage renovation plan that not only updates its stage and equipment but makes the audience experience a more inviting one.
"It is no longer enough to put superb art on the stage," says managing director Joshua Borenstein,
but we also have to satisfy our audeince's needs, which begins with the first click they make on our website and ends with [theatergoers] driving out of the parking lot."
The project's goal was $3.8 million and $3.5 million was raised. More than 130 individuals, businesses and foundations contributed, including almost 200 people to gave to the more than 400-seat theater to have a seat dedicated.
The Claire Tow Foundation, named after longtime board member Claire Tow, gave $1.25 million to the project. The mnain stage was named the Claire Tow Stage in her honor.
The project began June 8 and was just completed. The first preview performance of "The Killing of Sister George" starring Kathleen Turner starts Wednesday. The area had been "dark" for the summer and early fall. The first show of the 2012-13 season was "Satchmo at the Waldorf" at its Stage II, also located at the theater.
Rick Wies of new Haven of the architectural firm of Gregg, Wies and Gardner says it was decided to celebrate the industrial setting "but with tender love" for patrons.
The size of the lobby increased by almost a third, with blond maple wood and increased windows, giving the area warmth, while its polished concrete floor, black and white walls and splashes of luminescent color give it a stark, contemporary feel. The new bar is made of back-lit resin paneling. Lettering for the Tow Stage and the theater's roof is in steel, designed by the theater's graphic director Claire Zoghb.
In addition, the actors' new green room is named after stage manager and costume designer Cynthia Kellogg Barrington, who lived in Branford, acknowledging a contribution from her estate, some of which went to the theater's new lighting grid.