Long Wharf Theatre's Leap Of Faith

Will the dramatically new direction planned for New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre turn around its declining fortunes of the past few years and usher in a new era — and a new, more engaged audience?

Or will it drive the theater deeper into debt and decline?

When the announcement was made last November that Jacob G. Padrón would become Long Wharf’s new artistic director, it came as a surprise to many.

After all, at 38 he was the youngest LWT artistic director since Arvin Brown who, just out of college, took over two years after the theater was founded 54 years ago. Also Padrón, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, wasn’t a stage director but was a producer, having founded the Sol Project, an organization that champions Latino/Latina playwrights and helps bring their works to theaters across the country.

Perhaps most significantly, Padrón became the first Latino person to lead a major theater in Connecticut, especially one that has not been known for producing Latinx works (though the population of its host city is roughly evenly distributed among Latino, African-American and white residents).

Padrón represents not a gradual, but a dramatic departure from the theater’s recent focus, which begs the question: Will the established Long Wharf audience and — most critical to its bottom line — its funders embrace the new leader and his vision?

“We want to be a theatre company that is radically inclusive,” says Padrón, “one that is artistically innovative and that is constantly thinking about meaningful connections where art and activism can live side by side. I think this is the future.”

Long Wharf is betting the farm on it.

It’s too early to get any hard data. After all, Padrón took over full-time only on July 1 and the first season (2021-22) that will be entirely his own creation won’t even be announced until early next year.