November 16, 2022

In Feb. 2022, in the wake of the twin upheavals of COVID and the Black Lives Matter protests, and with new artistic director Jacob G. Padrón at the helm, the Board of Directors of New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre announced that it was time for a change:

“Long Wharf Theatre, like many regional theaters across the country, has had to balance artistic innovation and the desire for deeper community engagement with the ever-increasing costs of maintaining physical venues, a model that has failed to evolve alongside the shifting landscape. Long Wharf Theatre will break this cycle and marshal its resources to become a catalyst for community-wide connection, conversation and growth.”

In real terms, this meant that instead of producing in its own spaces, the company would move into office space that was more central, and would henceforth create partnerships with community organizations to produce its events in their spaces. It was a move designed to make organization more nimble and responsive to the community, and its work more accessible to the audiences it’s trying to reach. 

One of the folks making this all happen is UMass alum and Locations Operations Manager Katrina Lewonczyk ’10, whose job is evolving throughout the different phases of this planned move. 

With the new production model, she said, “We will be having different partnerships with different performance spaces, different educational groups. The goal is to be able to place performances and shows in the spaces that are good for that performance. Something can happen inside of a museum; something can happen inside of an office area. The goal is to find the format for the piece as opposed to fitting the pieces into one space.”

“The whole issue is that we're in a weird place. We have great parking, but other than that we're not really accessible in a lot of ways. Like, the bus lines here are very limited. You can't walk here really, even from the train station,” she said.

The itinerant model is already taking shape. A few low-tech events were held in its old space (notably some pieces that were old favorites for the company and featured beloved performers), a community parade/block party called home(coming) celebrated the move to the new offices, and winter and spring will bring both online events as well as several produced around the community.

Lewonczyk’s job has traditionally entailed a lot of facilities management — making sure spaces are accessible, dealing with custodial — and office administration. It also expanded to include COVID compliance during the pandemic. (In terms of employees, Lewonczyk said that company contracted during the initial COVID lockdown, but has not laid anyone off as a result of the new operations model, although some folks are taking different positions.)

Currently, she said, “I’m managing all of the different aspects of the move. A lot of it's been emergent — a lot of figuring out it out as we go.”

Lewonczyk has worked at Long Wharf almost continuously since graduating, when she snagged a props residency. After a brief time away she’s cycled through a rotation of much of the company’s production and operations areas, including the shops as well as front of house.

“I’ve worked in every department other than artistic at some point or other, so I have the bigger-picture perspective of needs from different departments,” Lewonczyk said, something she feels has helped throughout the transition.

One of the most visible parts of Lewonczyk’s job recently has been a series of sales she’s called Dock Deals, to get rid of supplies that aren’t needed any longer. “We filled in really every nook and cranny on that side of the building,” Lewonczyk said, and while some stock remains, the company’s new, more centrally located space can’t accommodate “58 years of stuff.”

She noted that many of the items in the shops that weren’t sold have found their way into the personal workshops of employees and overhire workers. Meanwhile, as spaces have been cleared out, Lewonczyk and her team have found that many of the walls bear signatures of folks who constructed or worked in the spaces during the theater’s existence.

As the move winds down by year’s end, Lewonczyk’s job will shift to the spaces’ “front of house accessibility, whether spaces we're looking to use are feasible,” she said, adding, “There’ll be some permitting that will fall under me for any new space we're using.”

“It's definitely a flex for pretty much everyone,” Lewonczyk said of the new model. “Everyone who's trained in theater, you're used to having a certain amount of resources and infrastructure and processes. And we're having to remake all of those processes. But if I learned nothing else from UMass, I know that if I show up and pay attention, I can kind of do anything in theater at this point.”

That attitude is of a piece with her time at UMass. Her first 110 (Backstage Practicum) as a first year student was working front of house for The Reincarnation of Jamie Brown. She saw stage manager Anna Norcross at work during the show “and I was like, ‘What do you do? And how do I do it?’”

From there Lewonczyk met Production Manager Julie Fife, who quickly moved her into stage managing, first as an assistant and then into running her own show. 

Not surprisingly given this anecdote, Lewonczyk’s advice to students looking to make the most of their time at UMass is, “Ask questions to see what's interesting to you.” 

She cited the value of simply being around: “I just showed up for a lot of things, and then I got to do stuff, like when I was Assistant Master Electrician for Hungry Woman, despite knowing very little about lighting, but because I was willing to try.”

Lewonczyk also discovered a love for scenic design. She worked in the scene shop and took advanced scenic design classes, eventually designing Spring Awakening, a mainstage show.

“Obviously all of my little bits and bobs within the department have really helped me generally, but I do think stage management and the interpersonal part of it has made everything I've done easier. Because once you get comfortable talking to people, then everything's easier,” she said.

Katrina Lewonczyk walked in the home(coming) parade with colleagues and community members to mark Long Wharf Theatre's transition to a new modal of theater-making. (Photo courtesy of Katrina Lewonczyk)

theatre | community partners | theater-making | stage management | operations