A Conversation with Scott Schwartz

Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theater

Bay Street Theater’s Artistic Director, Scott Schwartz will celebrate the theater’s biggest night this Saturday at their 27th Annual Summer Gala on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Bay Street’s MainStage summer season continues with “Frost/Nixon” and will culminate with a staging of “Evita” in August. In an interview with The Express, Mr. Schwartz discusses the current summer season and his hopes for the future of the theater company.

Your 27th annual summer gala is this Saturday. It’s the last Bay Street Gala that will be held on Sag Harbor’s iconic Long Wharf. How important is this event in terms of the theater’s annual budget and what are you most looking forward to that evening?

I’m looking forward to the whole evening. It’s an important night for our annual budget and for the livelihood for Bay Street because we do programing for our community not just in the summer but all year-round. Our gala is the central fundraiser for the theater every year. As a not for profit institution, our ticket sales only cover less than half of our expenses to keep this theater running, so the gala is essential to our being able to do all of our programs and stay open year round.  

Having Jane Lynch, the brilliant comedian, as our Emcee is one of the things I’m most looking forward to. She’s hilarious, she’s going to sing a song with Richard Kind, and I know it’s going to just make the evening incredibly entertaining and enjoyable. I am very excited about the whole show that we’re putting together. The entire evening is called “Some Enchanted Evening” and it’s a celebration of the golden age of Broadway. So many of the greatest musicals of all time that have the greatest music that we love come from the period. We’ll have many stars including Jane Lynch, Richard Kind, Robert Fairchild and we have a special performance of Josh Bergasse, who is an award-winning choreographer and was nominated for his choreography for the revival of “On the Town” on Broadway. He’s recreating his choreography for the song “New York, New York” so we’re going to have a dance number as well.

We chose this year, because it’s our last gala on Long Wharf, to thank all of the businesses and say how much we appreciate their support not only for our gala but also for the 27 years that we’ve been here. We feel that our company as a not-for-profit, which is about creating work for our community and creating art for our community, also works with all of these businesses to make this place the destination that people are racing to come to. We’ll be having many of the businesses coming to the event and represent at the gala and they’ll come on stage and receive an award. We love working with the for-profit businesses in the community to make Sag Harbor the place to be on the East End.

With this being the last year on Long Wharf, is the theater considering a new location for next year?

We have a lot of ideas, but nothing I can share with you. We will do the event and it will be equally spectacular and special for our audience. It’s very possible that the event won’t be able to be in Sag Harbor because there just aren’t that many locations in Sag Harbor that are large enough. But we will be doing a fantastic gala very nearby next summer and we’re already starting plans for it.

Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theater

Currently Bay Street is featuring “Frost/Nixon”, how do you think this play is resonating with audience members in the current political climate?

After every performance I’ve been to, people come out saying “it’s unbelievable how timely this is.” It actually feels more-timely and more important now than when the play was originally done on Broadway 11 years ago. People talk about how precious Peter Morgan, who’s a brilliant writer he created the television show “The Crown” and the movie “The Queen,” how precious he was in writing this play. The primary reason I picked it was to focus on the relationship between the media and politics and the way our political leaders are viewed through, but also often in battle with, the media … I think the question of how media and politics relate — and the ongoing battle, which I think is a healthy battle — is important.

There are two astounding performances; Harris Yulin as Nixon is transformative. The actor disappears on stage and Richard Nixon emerges. Daniel Gerroll as Frost is equally amazing and charming and funny. While it’s about serious stuff, it’s actually really fun too. It’s kind of a political thriller like “All the President’s Men” or “The Post.”. I find humor in it and what Peter Morgan is trying to do is really give as deep and full and human a picture of both David Frost and Richard Nixon and all the people around them … I think that’s what people are responding to as well, you know the ability to look beyond the façade and see underneath.  

Next up this season, Bay Street will stage “Evita” easily one of the most celebrated Broadway musicals of all time. What are some of your plans for putting on this large production in a smaller, black box theater?

It’s both a challenge but it’s also why we’re doing it. We want to take this show that people normally see on very large stages and watch from a distance and allow the audience to get closer to it and get immersed with the characters of the world. We’re transforming that stage in the theater into a tango club, the whole show takes place in this club in Argentina and that cast kind of creates the story out of the walls in the tango club over the course of the show. We stripped it down, it’ll be a cast of 14, and it will be spectacular but it will be about getting really close and intimate with the characters.

Bay Street has grown tremendously under your direction as artistic director. How do you hope to see the theater continue to evolve over the next five to 10 years?

I see enormous opportunities for continued growth here at Bay Street. Every year, over the past five years, we’ve expanded our programming both in the summer and also year-round. We’ve expanded out staff, our budget has grown, our attendance has grown enormously, we really are known as the premier regional professional theater on all of Long Island and certainly on the East End.

I see great expansion of our education programming and our community outreach programming, to the whole east end, not just Sag Harbor. There are so many different educational opportunities and opportunities to not just learn about the theater but learn about the issues that we raise. I’d love to see our season expand. I’d love to see our programming expand because Bay Street is the Sag Harbor center for the arts, it is the place to come in Sag Harbor to experience not only theater, but performing arts all year round.