Guild Hall Gears Up for its 90th Anniversary Season

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Standing ovation at A Thousand Thoughts: A Live Documentary with the Kronos Quartet and Sam Green, 2019. Jessica Dalene Photography.
In 1931, Guild Hall in East Hampton opened its doors for the first time. The vision of Mary Lorenzo Woodhouse, a local philanthropist and active member of the village, from the beginning Guild Hall was designed to be a community-centric cultural institution that sought to offer visual and the performing arts in equal measure.
In the 90 years since its opening, Guild Hall has lived up to that mission and more, also incorporating a vibrant educational component in its offerings. This summer, after a year of quietly riding out a global pandemic, Guild Hall is, once again, up and running — and for 2021, will present a full slate of theater and arts events that reflect the institution’s place in the history of the East End while also highlighting the way forward.
Guild Hall. Photo by Dane DuPuis.Much of the summer season will be guided by Guild Hall’s Academy of the Arts. In 1985, the board of trustees solidified its commitment to the artistic community by initiating an annual awards program to honor visual, literary and performing artists who live and work on the East End. Today, there are over 250 Academy of the Arts members representing a range of artistic disciplines, and for this 90th year, many of the offerings on the stage and on the walls will pay tribute to members, both past and present.

 

“The organizing principle was to let artists lead the way,” explained Guild Hall Executive Director Andrea Grover. “Using the Academy of the Arts’s 200-plus members, which includes visual artists, designers, preforming artists, media personalities and writers, we’re highlighting their work. If it’s someone from the past, we’re using the next generation of performers to bring their work to life.

“We’re also bringing in young talent to perform, including our Guild House Artists-in-Residence,” she added.

Though the John Drew Theater remains dark as the country continues to emerge from the pandemic, Guild Hall will offer a season full of outdoor theatrical events in the John Drew Backyard Theater, a venue created last summer that will continue to welcome audiences this year as well.

“We were given permission last July to create an outdoor stage in the sculpture garden,” explained Josh Gladstone, artistic director at the John Drew Theater. “We scrambled to make that happen, and built a 16-foot-by-16-foot stage right near the rear entrance of the theater.”

Jeff Muhs, winner of the 2018 Annual Guild Hall Artist Members Exhibition, will have a solo show in October.

While in 2020, only a limited number of theater-goers were permitted to enjoy shows while seated in beach chairs and on blankets in socially distanced circles, this year, audiences of up to 100 (with proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test) will be able to attend backyard performances.

“We will present all season in the backyard,” said Gladstone. “The place is beautifully lit and it highlights the architectural details. It’s a charming garden space with good sound. If it rains, we will put the artists inside and do a live stream.”

The first offering in the backyard theater, part of the new Play in the Garden series, will be “Weekend of Wasserstein” featuring Wendy Wasserstein plays produced by Jackson Gay, a 2021 Guild House artist. On Friday, June 4, at 8 p.m., six short Wasserstein plays with music will be presented outdoors, followed on Saturday, June 5, by a staged reading of “The Heidi Chronicles” with a talkback led by dramaturg Erika Rundle. Other Play in the Garden offerings by past Academy of the Arts members include: “So It Goes: A Visit with Vonnegut” (June 11) which explores the writings of Kurt Vonnegut; “A Perfect Ganesh” (June 25) by Terrence McNally, who died last year of COVID-19-related complications; “The Zoo Story” (July 8 to July 11) a play by Edward Albee who, in the early 1970s, was John Drew Theater artistic director for a summer; and “A Night with the Wolfe,” (July 23) an evening celebrating the work of writer Tom Wolfe.

The words of writer Tom Wolfe will be featured in “A Night with the Wolfe” on July 23.

Other theatrical offerings will include comedy with Colin Quinn and Nathan Lane, performances by a range of musical artists, including East Hampton’s own G.E. Smith and friends, and dance performances by members of the American Ballet Theatre participating in the Hamptons Dance Project.

“We’re very much celebrating the 90th anniversary with a focus on members of the Academy of the Arts and their work, including emerging talents and the artists in residence program,” said Gladstone. “And we also have a ton of stars coming to perform.”

The theme of artists with strong ties to the area carries over to the Guild Hall galleries this summer as well, with “Shipwrecks,” a show by Alexis Rockman running June 12 through July 26, that looks at the world’s waterways as a network by which all of history has traveled, and “Robert Longo: A House Divided,” running August 7 to October 17. This show, which considers the historical importance of Abstract Expressionism as an American art movement and offers context on current state of affairs, was originally scheduled for summer 2020.

“In the tradition of presenting artists who live and work in the area, we reached out to Alexis Rockman and Robert Longo, dynamic artists who have made the community their home for years,” explained Guild Hall Museum Director Christina Mossaides Strassfield. “Robert’s show was supposed to be last year. He gave up his slot and said he needed to do something to help Guild Hall.”

Robert Longo in the studio, 2018. Courtesy Guild Hall.

Instead of going forward with his 2020 show as planned, Longo reached out to his artist friends and asked them to donate work to Guild Hall. The donated works were sold as a fundraising campaign to help Guild Hall weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We said we’ll definitely do your show the following year,” she said.

In November, Longo will be one of the newest inductees admitted into the Guild Hall Academy of the Arts. He will join a long list of creative East End residents who have come before. In late October, Guild Hall will pay tribute to those previous artists by opening a show featuring selections from the permanent collection, including works by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Roy Lichtenstein.

“We feel we are following the tradition of showing amazing artists for 90 years — they are part of our era,” said Strassfield. “These are world class artists.”

Coming Up in the Galleries:

“Alexis Rockman: Shipwrecks” curated by Andrea Grover, June 12 to July 26

“Robert Longo: A House Divided” curated by Christina Mossaides Strassfield, August 7 to October 17

“Jeff Muhs: Winner of the 2018 Annual Guild Hall Artist Members Exhibition,” October 30 to January 2

“In Honor of Our 90th: Selections from the Permanent Collection,” October 30 to January 2, curated by Christina Mossaides Strassfield

Coming Up in the Theater:

Play In The Garden: “Weekend of Wasserstein,” Friday, June 4, and Saturday, June 5, at 8 p.m. Directed by Jackson Gay. June 4 features six short plays with music — “Bette and Me,” “Tender Offer,” “Workout,” “Medea,” “Boy Meets Girl” and “The Man in a Case.” June 5 will feature a staged reading of “The Heidi Chronicles,” with a talkback led by dramaturg Erika Rundle. Cast includes Joanna Feuer, Frank Harts, Quinn Jackson, Nate Janis, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Addison Takefman, Shelley Thomas, and Georgia Warner. Tickets $50.

Play In The Garden: “So It Goes: A Visit with Vonnegut,” Friday, June 11, at 8 p.m. Directed by Lisa Rothe. An evening of letters and readings of Kurt Vonnegut’s work, performed by luminaries of stage and screen. Featuring Irene Glezos, Ingrid Griffith, Ronald Guttman, Paul Hecht, and John Kroft. $50.

Art and Cinema: A conversation with Alexis Rockman and Carter Burwell, moderated by Andrea Grover, Saturday, June 12, at 7 p.m. A lively conversation on the links and inspirations between all artistic media and the culmination of such into cinematic presentations. Free.

Kaki King, Saturday, June 19, at 7 and 9 p.m. Brooklyn-based guitar-iconoclast Kaki King plays a selection of songs from her 20-plus year career as well as new material from her most recent album, “Modern Yesterdays.” $60.

Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street, East Hampton. For tickets and a complete rundown of all the events being offered this summer, visit guildhall.org.

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