Nov. 09--Jacob G. Padron, newly named artistic director of Long Wharf Theatre, doesn't start until Feb. 1. But he's already gushing enthusiasm and thinking a lot about his plans for the theater.
In a Nov. 8 phone interview after he was named, Padron expressed joy, gratitude and a little fear about doing right by the theater, audiences and community.
Padron replaces Gordon Edelstein, who was fired in January after multiple allegations of sexual harassment were reported in The New York Times.
New York resident Padron, 38, will return to live in the Elm City, where he attended Yale School of Drama and ran the Yale Cabaret for a season. "I lived in New Haven from 2005-2008 and I'm looking forward to getting back."
As for that year at the Cabaret, "It was actually the 40th anniversary of the theater, of creating bold experiments in the basement (at Park Street)," he said. "We actually wanted to commit the 40th anniversary season to all new work. So I've always had a passion for 'how do we make space for new stories and new storytellers.'"
In a release when Padron was named to the position, Laura Pappano, chair of LWT's Board of Trustees said, "He comes to Long Wharf Theatre at an ideal moment as we refresh and reset the theater for a new era, one that respects the past but also seizes on the role theater can have in public life. Jacob accentuates all the best things Long Wharf has always stood for, including a passion for new work, and a dedication to nurturing talent."
In the same release, Padron said, "The American theater has a powerful promise to deliver on: It can be a space to hold all our stories."
Padron has made a reputation for new work and diversity at The Public Theater, Steppenwolf Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But not all of Long Wharf's future work will be brand new.
"I'm actually excited about how new work can be in conversation with classic plays...," he said. "We can breathe new life into existing texts in imaginative and surprising ways. So I think that new work sort of sitting side by side with existing texts ... is really exciting. And I think that's also part of the legacy and DNA of the company, so how do we fortify that legacy but also how do we expand it?"
Padron has already begun to discuss with LWT staff how "we can go on a new journey that launches Long Wharf into a boundary-breaking future together. Because that's the conversation the American theater is having right now. We are really wrestling with what it means to make theater today and how the stage is in conversation with the world."
Padron, who hails from Gilroy, California (the garlic capital of the world and he's allergic to garlic, he laughs), comes from a family that puts a premium on service. He spent time volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, providing care for those living with HIV/AIDS in North Carolina, and he considered social work as a career.
Now, he says, "I think on its best days, theater absolutely is a catalyst for social movement and social justice. So that certainly animates my thinking as we think about the work of the theater. And that doesn't mean that it's separate from artistic excellence; that doesn't mean it's separate from actually creating really amazing plays and new work and musicals."
Long Wharf officials noted that Padron is an artistic producer by training, which differs from previous artistic directors, who were directors. But he's also a "theatrical generalist," they said, comfortable with looking at budgets and marketing and fundraising as much as scripts. "I feel like, as a producer, you have to have comfort with all of those areas," he said. "And I actually really love that."
Padron created the Sol Project a few years ago to amplify Latin voices in theater and began working with Charise Castro-Smith to produce "El Huracan," which recently completed its run at Yale Rep to solid reviews.
"But ... when I started to talk with people about this idea (the Sol Project), a lot of people said 'no.' A lot of people didn't think it could happen," said Padron. "But I think it just goes to show that we are in a moment as a country but also as a field (where) the American theater wants to be more responsive, wants to be more inclusive. So I think being able to articulate a compelling vision for the future ... is what got people excited."
Asked about plays he's proudest of for their acceptance by actors and audience, Padron said, "I've worked on over 100 new plays ... over 10 years of being a producer ... but the one that comes to mind is the play that I worked on with Tarell Alvin McCraney, who is the Academy Award-winning playwright and my classmate from Yale. ... I was the dramaturg on his play "Head of Passes," which premiered at Steppenwolf and then we brought it to The Public Theater."
The extended time with that play allowed Padron to see "how all of us came together and really wrapped our arms around this production because we knew we were in the presence of greatness. We knew we were in the presence of something that felt really special. ... It was a play about family and forgiveness and what it means to be deeply human and deeply flawed. And I think because of my relationship with Tarell, because he is an artist that I continue to believe in and continue to champion, I think that that was one of those seminal, memorable sort of productions."
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