Tag Archives: New Haven

Edited Bunker in New Haven

Here’s how you would lead a tour of Yale’s science campus during my Bright College Years:

• Start at Phelps Gate, top of the Green, cross the Old Campus (Nathan Hale went to Yale, Benedict Arnold went to Hahvahd), hope that no one is tossing dummies from Harkness Tower (James Gamble Rogers, 1921)* that day, and proceed north on High Street.

• Genuflect in Sterling Memorial Library (Rogers, 1930), then lead the group through Cross Campus and into Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Gordon Bunshaft, 1963). Allow them to ooh at the glow of the veiny panels, hand around a sample piece of marble, and explain how in the event of attack all the oxygen in the glass-walled stacks is replaced by carbon dioxide and any librarian in there at the time has seconds to chokingly bid the world farewell as the stacks descend into an impenetrable underground chamber.

• Back outside, have them lean over to see Noguchi’s Sunken Garden, then cut through the Bicentennial Buildings. Deploy armored vehicle-launched bridge to get your unit across Grove Street. Visit state-of-the-art Davies Auditorium in Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center (Marcel Breuer, 1970). Make the screen go up and down or something.

• Sneak through to Hillhouse Avenue (“the most beautiful street in America”—Dickens, supposedly) and stroll its tree-lined length, admiring the Italianate mansions converted to social science departments, the School of Management, and the President’s and Provost’s Houses.**

• Point out the Peabody Museum of Natural History as you begin to climb Science Hill. Looming at the summit and howling in the wind: Kline Biology Tower (Philip Johnson, 1966). Pop into Kline, then head for Osborn Memorial Laboratories (Charles Haight, 1913). Trudge upstairs, have them squeeze themselves into wooden desks in a lecture hall where Alfred Russel Wallace would have felt at home, and bring the tour to a close (applause, sometimes).

The science campus tour guides were the second string. It wasn’t based on your knowledge of science: I was a history of art major. In Osborn, I milked the one science course I took, Biology of Reproduction taught by Clement Markert (editor-in-chief, Journal of Experimental Zoology, 1963-1985), part of the team that created Sixy, the first hexaparental mouse. Non-biology majors couldn’t enroll in the lab, in which things that ain’t natural were done to cute little white mice and their embryos.

The only reason I was admitted to the course in the first place was that I got a 4 (out of 5) on my Advanced Placement Biology exam in high school. I’m telling you all this because this week’s post is somewhat technical in nature. No rodent embryology, but we’re going to be talking about neuroplasticity, permeability, and symbiosis.

You know, of course, that a neuron is “an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals [Wikipedia].” Get a few of these scrawny characters firing at each other and you’ve got a neural pathway.

Neuroplasticity is when neural pathways alter or form anew in response to “changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury [Wikipedia].”

When someone has a stroke, the flow of blood to his or her brain cells (neurons and glial cells) is interrupted. Neurons die, disrupting neural pathways. The good news—and the reason why neuroplasticity is such a popular topic at Ruth’s Chris—is that it is possible for the brain to rewire itself, at least partially restoring lost function.

Brief break for green tea…and we continue. Think of the science campus tour route as a neural pathway, the stops along it as neurons, the people on it as blood cells (I’m a platelet, obviously). Some of the neurons—Beinecke, for instance—are easily penetrated by blood cells of any type. Others—Becton, for instance—are only accessible to Old Blue blood cells. Because the blood flow and neural stimulation are relatively meager, this pathway is emerging very very slowly.

Compare Chapel Street (and Baltimore’s Charles Street, as described in last week’s post, “Table at the Stable”). Named in 1784, Chapel Street eventually became the longest street in the Elm City. It forms the southern border of the New Haven Green, the center square in a grid of nine two-block-by-two-block squares laid out during the founding of the colony in 1638.

The Chapel Street Historic District runs west for five blocks or so (what, no surface parking?) from Temple Street to Park Street. If you’re in town on November 29, Orchestra New England will present its 35th annual Colonial Concert on Temple Street at United Church on the Green. At the other end, a couple doors down from Park Street, is Group W Bench, “The oldest running head shop on the planet.”

In the middle of this stretch, at 1080 Chapel, is the Yale Center for British Art, the gift of Paul Mellon, class of 1929. Its architect, Louis Kahn, also the architect of the Yale University Art Gallery (1953), died in 1974 (count how many people cry in the 2003 documentary My Architect by Nathaniel Kahn). Marshall Meyers and Anthony Pellecchia completed the designs for the interiors and the Center opened to the public on April 19, 1977.

That fall I wandered into the place and, upstairs, with many others, looked out into an interior courtyard filled with natural light and chamber music. Most Yale buildings are impermeable, that is, off-limits to the outside world (much more so now than in my day). But with a large entrance on the corner of Chapel and High, the British Art Center welcomes the public for free, as does the Art Gallery. In other words, the blood cells that flow up and down Chapel Street can penetrate the membrane.***

If that were the extent of its permeability, the Center would still be a bunker, if not an arch bunker (see my post of two weeks ago, “Arch Bunker in Dublin”). In the original plans, it was a bunker joined to another bunker, the Art Gallery, by a bridge over Chapel Street. But inflation took its toll on Mellon’s generous cash gift—the collection was also his—and the scheme was simplified.

Though I don’t know who came up with the idea—Kahn, Mellon, Yale President Kingman Brewster, New Haven Mayor Dick Lee, his successor Bart Guida, or Professor and founding Director Jules Prown (the only one still alive)—“It was the first museum in the United States to incorporate retail shops in its design [Center website].”

I can’t think of one since then, but what a concept: you avoid interrupting the Chapel Street neural pathway—and giving New Haven a stroke—and you offer more reasons to come to your building. Besides, l’Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers. Here we have not an arch bunker that doesn’t play well with others, but a much more accepting “edited bunker.” (Edith: Mike is family. Archie: Gloria is family. What’s standing behind me is an accident of marriage.)

You can enter the museum shop, in a storefront space, either from the lobby or from High Street. Atticus Bookstore, 1082 Chapel, opened a year before the Center itself, expanding and adding a Kramer Books-inspired café a few years later. The rest of the line-up is: Hello Boutique at 1090, Indo-Chic at 1092, and Derek Simpson Goldsmith (almost as old as Group W Bench) at 1094.

Then there’s an outdoor staircase leading down to a restaurant with a patio. In my impoverished studious years (plus ça change), the tenant was West of Eleven, a name derived from its address, 1104 Chapel Street. We called it Chapter 11, though, because no restaurant in that spot was in business for long (coming any minute: Harvest Wine Bar).

It should be a great location for a restaurant, because it’s next door to Yale Repertory Theatre, a terrific adaptive reuse of the former Calvary Baptist Church (Rufus Russell, 1871). Around the corner are the School of Architecture (Paul Rudolph, 1963) and the School of Drama’s University Theatre (Clarence Blackall, 1924, with renovations by Rogers). And from there a path leads to the Yale Cabaret (built in the 1920s for Phi Gamma Delta).

This part of Chapel is one of the best examples of symbiosis—ideally a mutualistic relationship: read about the clownfish and the anemone—between the nonprofit sector and the for-profit sector, Gown and Town, attractions and destination. Unfortunately, it is the exception to the rule, even in New Haven.

You’ve heard the saying, “The operation was a success, but the patient died,” right? That’s next week’s topic.

* Wikipedia: The witticism, attributed to various modernist architects, that had he to choose any place in New Haven to live he would select the Harkness Tower, for then he “would not have to look at it,” is apparently apocryphal, derivative of a similar story told of Alexandre Dumas and the Eiffel Tower.
** See the May 3, 1979, Harvard Crimson article by Jeffrey Toobin[!]: “Goldstein, Yale Provost, Quits After Home Remodeling Dispute.”
*** If there are any real biologists reading this, you know how I‘m fudging the blood-brain barrier. It was a good analogy while it lasted.


Killing It on the Boards

Heading north on I-95, look to your right as New Haven harbor comes into view. Through a break in the line of tractor-trailers, you’ll be able to spot a 166-year-old lighthouse, Five Mile Point Light, named for its distance from the New Haven Green.

The following instructions are for passengers only: Crack the window, take a breath of salt air, and mentally transport yourself to that distant spit.   

Here we are, then, at Lighthouse Point Park. Stand on the slippery, snail-studded rocks and look back at the skyline. The kids love riding the restored carousel (seasonal, but, what the heck, this is all in your mind). Hearing an announcement to assemble on the beach, we dismount and make our way over.

“Ladies, gentlemen, and children of all ages…it is my thrill and pleasure to present to you…New Haven’s own…Long Wharf Theatre Surf Team!” [Applause, whistling.]

Six mostly well-muscled men and women stand before us in their colorful boardshorts, with one exception, and bikini tops, where applicable. Each holds a longboard (Hawaiian: papa he’e nalu) imprinted with the Long Wharf logo. Their teeth and bodies, thinly coated with seawater, seem to glisten. As the names are read off, the applause fades and resurges:

“First up, at left, The Underpants.” What Steve Martin would look like if he were younger and a woman. “So good to see you here today,” she says, with a European accent.

“To the right of The Underpants, Fences.” An African American man in old-fashioned trunks. He briefly waves.   

The Consultant.” A youngish white woman, neatly turned out and energetic. Nudges the guy to her left.

4000 Miles.” Young, tanned, vegetarian-looking. Half a smile.

The Shadow of the Hummingbird.” A little boy, some kind of prodigy. Another surprise when he opens his mouth: “I’m quite chuffed to be here an’ all!”

“And, at far right, The Last Five Years.” White, about 30, with a grin. He begins to sing “Under the Boardwalk,” gestures to the crowd, and those of us old enough to know the words join in.

Okay, fun’s over, everybody back in the car. There is no Long Wharf Theatre Surf Team. There aren’t even any waves to speak of at Lighthouse Point. (The theatre itself is located back near where you were driving. What’s left of the historic Long Wharf is buried in landfill under the highway.) These imaginary surfers are unauthorized personifications of the six plays that make up Long Wharf’s 2013-14 season:

  1. A German comedy of 1911, Die Hose, adapted by Steve Martin.
  2. A Pulitzer Prize-winning play from August Wilson’s American Century Cycle about an African American family in Pittsburgh, directed by Phylicia Rashad.
  3. The world premiere of a play about a young woman consultant and a middle-aged adman.
  4. A Pulitzer finalist about a young man who bicycles from California to Greenwich Village to visit his left-wing grandmother.
  5. The world premiere of a grandfather-grandson play by 81-year-old South African playwright Athol Fugard, starring Fugard.
  6. A Drama Desk Award-winning musical about “the joys and heartbreak of relationships in the Big City.”

In last week’s post, “Act 1: Autumn in the Country,” I lobbied for the revival of the full-season subscription model—left behind in a forest of Pick 4s—in keeping with the 80/20 rule of thumb, that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. Here are the slightly rounded-off Long Wharf numbers:

  • Four of the shows will have 30 performances in the 400-seat (actually 408, reduced from 486 during a recent renovation) main theatre = 48,000 seats.
  • Two of the shows (Nos. 3 and 5, the world premieres) will have 40 performances in a 200-seat space = 16,000 seats.
  • 80% of the total inventory of 64,000 seats = 51,200 seats.
  • 51,200 seats divided by 6 = 8,533 seats per show.

It follows that for subscription sales to account for 80% of inventory, Long Wharf would need to secure 8,500 six-play subscribers, give or take. Assuming that most subscriptions are for two people, the goal would be roughly 4,250 subscriber units.

(How realistic is this? I don’t know, but I think I hear Long Wharf staffers, whom I have not consulted, scoffing. Since my speculations aren’t based on actual sales data, I’m treading somewhat blindly here, hoping to make a few strategic points in a memorable and constructively provocative way. Corrections, revisions, and opposing points of view will be shared.)

What does it take to convince 4,250 couples to spend $700, say, for a pair of season tickets to events that take place not on a field but on a stage?

A Saturday-night subscription in a center-section seat at Long Wharf goes for $369, or $61.50 per ticket. Single center-section tickets to a show in the main theatre are $79.50, so the subscriber discount is close to 25%. This means that subscribers are, in effect, getting one and a half plays for free.

In addition, per the website: “With a subscription to Long Wharf Theatre you get access to the best seats in the house, free and easy ticket exchanges, and discounts at area restaurants with our Subscriber Benefits Card.” The approach I’m suggesting calls for more—and more compelling—benefits. What would truly set subscribers apart as VIPs? Behind-the-scenes events, receptions with the artists, travel opportunities, a gorgeous magazine, birthday cards—I’d pour it on.

Then there’s the appeal of the season as a whole. I like the idea of getting one and a half shows for free. It gives me license to experiment. And if I decide to skip one entirely, no problem. But my inner New Yorker disagrees:

Steve Martin, you know that’s gotta be funny. Fences? Good writing, good acting. I saw it on Broadway with James Earl Jones, whenever that was. The office play, I can take or leave. Same for the grandma play. Fugard, now him I wouldn’t miss. But the musical, who needs it?

So he just talked me out of a subscription, even a Pick 4. And it’s not that it’s not an impressive line-up. But it’s a line-up, like the LWT Surf Team, without a through-line.

To return to the ‘surfer publicity’ concept of two posts ago [“Vevo-va-voom!”]: When a surfer—a play, in this case—catches a green wave, he or she rides most of the way, ideally 80%, on subscription sales. The remaining 20%, minus any group sales, is the single-ticket sales opportunity, separating the hellmen from the crumbeaters (and house-paperers). This is where publicity, including social media, comes in. (We’ll get to advertising, too, someday.)

In the Long Wharf example, there are 12,800 seats left to sell. That’s 2,133 single seats per show, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,100 pairs of tickets.

As a publicist, now, instead of a subscription marketer, what am I thinking? I’m thinking STEVE MARTIN (and why in the world he would adapt this play, long-forgotten and in German). I’m thinking PHYLICIA RASHAD (and Tony Awards in 1987—the Yale Rep production—and 2010). I’m thinking The Office and Mad Men. I’m thinking emerging women playwrights (The Consultant and 4000 Miles). I’m thinking old lefties and their grandchildren. I’m thinking ATHOL FUGARD (a name to conjure with, with earlier premieres at Long Wharf). And I’m thinking a new generation of Broadway composers and lyricists.

But none of the six shows is topical in the sense of linking to a current event, trend, or controversy. So our surf team may find it tough going. We’ll look in on them, and check out the line-up of another Connecticut theater, the Hartford Stage Company, in a future post.