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With Edelstein Out, What's Next For Long Wharf?

On Monday, The New York Times ran a story detailing numerous allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior concerning Gordon Edelstein, the artistic director of the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.

On Tuesday, the Long Wharf’s board of trustees voted unanimously to fire Edelstein. They handed the interim artistic director duties to Josh Borenstein, who has been the theater’s managing director since 2011.

By Wednesday, Borenstein was talking about the future. He stood with Long Wharf board chairwoman Laura Pappano in front of an audience at Long Wharf’s Stage II space on opening night of the Julia Cho play “Office Hour.” Before they could speak, Borenstein and Pappano were greeted with a long round of applause.

Borenstein pointed out that many people in the building were sporting buttons that read “LWT is Me.” They had been created by staff members as a show of solidarity for the theater. They underscored a point Pappano had made earlier — that “the Long Wharf is not one man.”

With his short dark hair and round glasses, Borenstein’s boyish demeanor and infectious enthusiasm for the Long Wharf belies his serious businesslike approach to the theater’s continued health. He has been part of many pre-show speeches, but none like this one.

Borenstein first came to the Long Wharf shortly after graduating from the Theater Management program at the Yale School of Drama in 2002. He was the theater’s associate managing director from 2003 to 2008, including a stint as interim managing director between when Michael Stotts (now the managing director of Hartford Stage) left and Joan Channick began. In 2008, Borenstein left Long Wharf for the AMS Planning and Research Corp., where he was the lead researcher on a major national study on “the attitudes and behaviors of cultural audiences, trends in attendance at visual and performing arts events, and the motivators and barriers that affect participation.” He returned to Long Wharf as its interim managing director when Ray Cullom left that post in April of 2011; Borenstein was named managing director in November of that year.

Borenstein had attended the Tuesday board meeting during which Edelstein was fired, though he left the room while it was discussed who would assume artistic director responsibilities.

“They had to decide three things,” Borenstein said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “First, what to do about Gordon. Second, what is the first step the theater can take to get past this? And third, what to do in the interim.”

A swift, unanimous vote removed Edelstein, an official statement from the theater declared that a third party would “conduct an independent internal review of staff and board policies and procedures for reporting instances of misconduct,” and the artistic director responsibilities were handed to Borenstein — on top of his managing director duties.

“This is an interim plan, not a long-term plan,” Borenstein said of his enhanced role. His job title of managing director has not changed. “The board hasn’t decided yet what the search plan will be for a new artistic director. As we finish up this season, get next season set up, and start the internal review, that plan will take shape.

“I was able to tell Laura Pappano that the artistic staff was very strong. Much of the work on the rest of this season was already done.”

Julia Cho’s “Office Hour” had its opening night Wednesday in Long Wharf’s Stage II space, after a week of previews. The Sherlock Holmes comedy “Baskerville,” on the Long Wharf mainstage Feb. 28 through March 25, is already in rehearsals. And the final show of the season, the musical “Crowns,” is a co-production with the McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey, which is presenting it in March before it moves to New Haven in April.

As for the Long Wharf’s next season, Borenstein says that “ironically, we were ahead of schedule. We had been planning to announce the season in mid-February” — a month or two earlier than the theater has made that announcement in recent years. “We had already committed to four of the six titles. Gordon was attached to two projects. One of those is gone now, and the other is being assigned to a different director.”

That’s comforting for Borenstein, who’s now handling the top responsibilities on both the artistic and administrative sides at one of the most important regional theaters in the United States. Since opening in 1965 — in the same space at the Long Wharf food terminal loading docks that it occupies today — the Long Wharf has sent dozens of shows to New York. It has forged relationships with major playwrights and collaborated regularly with other regional theaters. It has alo built a loyal local audience of Connecticut theatergoers.

“This is a very difficult time. I don’t want to understate that,” Borenstein said. “But the community support has been amazing. The board has been fantastic.” Plus, he said, the theater has been getting encouraging calls from its patrons.

As for the artists contracted to be at Long Wharf in the coming months, “we were very proactive,” Borenstein said. “When the Times story hit, we called everybody to say ‘We’re moving ahead as planned. Do you have any questions for us?’ We have to make sure that the artists are being supported, that all that talent and good work isn’t being lost in all that’s been going on. Essentially, it’s a group of us who are dedicated to making sure the artists can do their job.

“The show must go on, right?”

Amid all the business-as-usual, Borenstein has already been calling advisers so that the Long Wharf’s internal review can get started. “We need to have an outside expert come in and look at our practices and policies, to see if we can improve them. My feeling is ‘Let’s get better as quickly as we can’.”

The shock and outrage of the past few days, and the struggle to put the theater on the right path, hasn’t diminished Borenstein’s love for the Long Wharf.

“It’s the right people and the right work for me,” he said. “It has a great staff. It attracts sophisticated theatergoers.

“Besides that, I love New Haven. It’s fantastic to raise kids here. New Haven is a college town with big city resources.”

Asked if he might be a part of the search for a new artistic director, Borenstein said: “I would have something to contribute. The managing director and the artistic director work closely together. It’s a business partnership.”

For now, it’s the same person.

“I don’t know that I’ve sorted out how that feels,” he said.

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