Long Wharf Theatre receives $1 million Mellon grant

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The Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven has received a $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, it was announced Wednesday. The grant is designed to encourage the Long Wharf as it explores new ways of programming and presenting theater as an “itinerant” progressive modern theater company under the leadership of Jacob Padrón.

The Long Wharf is one of three major regional theaters that received the grants. The others are Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky and Portland Center Stage in Oregon.

The grants, part of a Mellon project called “(Re)Seeding the American Theater,” were arranged by Stephanie Ybarra, program officer for Arts and Culture at Mellon Foundation. According to Ybarra, the grants are “organized around supporting regional nonprofits theaters in this moment of inflection. Given Mellon’s long history of supporting nonprofit theater across the country, we’re hoping to continue this practice by focusing on the myriad ways theater leaders are driving courageous, visionary change for the future.”

Long Wharf Theatre recently left its longtime building on Sargent Drive in New Haven and became an “itinerant” company, presenting shows at locations that typically do not host professional live theater events. These have including the Space Ballroom in Hamden (for the spoken word event “Live from the Edge”), several libraries and private homes (for the intimate “The Year of Magical Thinking”) and the Canal Dock Boathouse on the New Haven waterfront (for “A View from the Bridge”). The Long Wharf has also emphasized cultural, racial and gender diversity in many of its productions.

Padron is currently co-directing a play at TheaterWorks Hartford. “Sanctuary City” by Martyna Majok, co-directed by Pedro Bermúdez, which runs March 29 through April 25.

The Mellon grants are meant to address some of the difficulties regional theaters have experienced in recent years, especially around the loss of subscribers and other support structures following the COVID shutdowns of 2020 and 2021. The grants acknowledge innovative efforts by the Long Wharf, Portland Center Stage and Actors Theatre of Louisville to retain its longtime patrons while also building new audiences.

“Mellon invited the Long Wharf to apply for this grant based on the tremendous values-driven change taking place under the artistic leadership of Jacob Padron,” Ybarra said.

Ybarra and Padron were classmates at the Yale School of Drama over 15 years ago. From 2108-23, Ybarra was the artistic director of a major regional theater herself, Baltimore Center Stage in Maryland.

Asked if there were any restrictions on how the theater can use the money, Ybarra said, “The Long Wharf’s decision to untether the artistic importance from a physical venue helps create the conditions for these funds to be used to fulfill programmatic activities that will help realize Padron’s artistic vision. This includes but is not limited to piloting an itinerant producing model and supporting necessary capacity building within the Long Wharf team.

“Grant funds are designed to be flexible to a degree that allows for the professional theater makers helming these activities to use these funds as best befits their needs,” she added.

“The funds will be used to support artistic programming and enhance our upcoming 60th season through more robust audience development, increasing the scope and scale of projects and helping reinforce our commitment to arts accessibility,” said Long Wharf director of marketing and communications Avery Anderson. “We have already started receiving money and it will be used throughout the upcoming season.”

The Mellon Foundation, based in New York, has existed for over 50 years. Funding for arts and culture is one of its key interests. The foundation also funds educational institutions, libraries, museums and conservation/environmental projects.

“We are so grateful to Mellon Foundation for their generosity and vision in awarding us this grant,” Long Wharf managing director Kit Ingui told the Courant. “With this grant, Mellon has reaffirmed their belief that Long Wharf’s new production model is working and is an important component to making theatre accessible to more people in new ways.

“This past season has been groundbreaking for us,” Ingui said. “Our shows have been an extraordinary success, and there is buzz and excitement for our work in every corner of New Haven but there is still more work to be done. Thanks to Mellon, this funding will help support enhanced artistic programming and audience development for our soon to be announced 60th season and help Long Wharf continue to build a more sustainable future for our work.”

The Long Wharf Theatre has not yet announced its 2024-25 season. Remaining events in the current season include “Amm(i)gone,” created and performed by Adil Mansoor, May 28 through June 23 at the Black Box space in the Yale University Theater and Performance Studies department in downtown New Haven and a gala concert starring TV and Broadway star Darren Criss on May 13.

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