Theater will spend $3.8M to update mainstage


NEW HAVEN — Its hopes to build a brand-new theater on the site of the former Veterans Memorial Coliseum a casualty of the financial downturn, Long Wharf Theatre will instead make the most of the funky space it has called home for nearly a half-century.

On March 14 LWT announced that it would spend $3.8 million to renovate its existing space at the New Haven Food Terminal. The work, which will focus on audience amenities, will be performed this summer and is expected to be completed by the beginning of the 2012-13 season.

The theater has also signed a ten-year lease extension on the 222 Sargent Drive space that it first occupied in 1965, ostensibly as a temporary space.

Of the $3.8 million needed to complete the job, roughly two-thirds has already been raised, according to Charles Kingsley, who chairs the theater’s board of trustees. Of that, $1.25 million was pledged by the New Canaan-based Tow Foundation. The main stage of the C. Newton Schenck III Mainstage Theatre will be renamed for foundation benefactor Claire Tow.

“Everyone knows that our seats are cramped and our bathroom lines are long,” acknowledged LWT Managing Director Josh Borenstein. To create more legroom for theater-goers, the rear row of seats in each section will be removed and the remaining rows move toward the rear. This will reduce the number of seats in the mainstage theater from 486 to 400. In addition, the size of the ladies room will be doubled.

The most visible change will be to the theater will be a new and more inviting exterior whose glass-and-steel entryway will “embrace the industrial aesthetic of the site,” Borenstein said.

Indoors, the theater’s lighting grid, which dates from 1965, will be replaced, which will enhance he theater’s creative capacity and reduce operation costs. In addition, the lobby will be renovated and expanded and the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units will be relocated to the roof of the building, creating more space inside.

“What happens onstage is a collaboration between the audience and the artists,” explained LWT Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein. “If the audience is cranky or uncomfortable, that collaboration is compromised.”

Lead architect in the LWT renovation is Gregg, Wies & Gardner Architects of New Haven.