Renovations complete, Guild Hall rolls out big plans

 
April 7, 2009
It's safe to say that a lot of people are very happy that Guild Hall in East Hampton has, at long last, completed the bulk of a top to bottom renovation and makeover that began as a gleam in the eyes of the museum and cultural center's board of trustees more than 10 years ago, in the late 1990s.

And it's also safe to say that no one is happier about the completion of the final phase of the project—the restoration and renovation of Guild Hall's John Drew Theater—than the theater's artistic director, Josh Gladstone.

"It really is amazing," Mr. Gladstone said in a telephone interview this week, following up on a presentation and tour for the press at Guild Hall last Friday. "I feel very fortunate to be here now and to have the opportunity to play with this state-of-the-art space.

"We can now offer top-notch shows that will look and sound like dynamite. After years of working in a space that was flawed, it's going to be great."

To celebrate, and show off, the theater's new capabilities, Guild Hall and Mr. Gladstone have put together what can only be described as a boffo grand opening for Memorial Day weekend: Alec Baldwin will host the debut of the John Drew's new movie projection equipment on Friday, May 22; Liza ("with a Z") Minnelli will bring Broadway back to the theater on Saturday, with a gala dinner to follow at a nearby estate; and on Sunday, the community is invited to the official grand reopening ceremony along with a full day of free family events that will include a live local bands marathon, free admission to the Artist Members exhibition, open children's art workshops, and light refreshments in the gardens.

Named for John Drew (Jr.), the celebrated actor of the early 20th century who was the uncle of Lionel and John Barrymore and great-uncle of Drew Barrymore, the theater has been home to hundreds of Broadway, summer stock and community productions since it was built in 1931. With a nod to this proud heritage, Mr. Gladstone will be donning his producer's hat this summer for a professional production in July of "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams, directed by none other than the East End's own Harris Yulin, the accomplished stage and screen actor who won acclaim last year for his production in Chicago of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful."

Other programs offered throughout the summer will continue to showcase the theater's strengths, from both a technical perspective and in terms of the quality of audience experience. In addition to films offered in partnership with the Hamptons International Film Festival, Guild Hall will have its own film series. There will be cabaret performances, staged readings, children's theater, live bands and the return of the perennially popular "American Musical Theater Salutes ..." series.

The renovation of the theater, which took about two years under Robert A.M. Stern Architects working with such consultants as JaffeHolden for acoustics and audio and Fisher Dachs Associates for theatrical issues, combined the latest modern technology with an effort to honor the historical significance of the building's original elements.

To that end, restoration of the painted tent ceiling in the interior was achieved by using laser sighting to re-create perfect stripes. A forensic team removed a swatch of material from the trellised wall fabric and analyzed it so that the new flame retardant material could be woven as a perfect match. The signature balloons chandelier in the theater was rebuilt from scratch with more durable materials and new wiring, along with a winch so it could be lowered to change bulbs.

When Alec Baldwin introduces "The Cove," which won the the 2009 Audience Award for best documentary at Sundance, on May 22, the screening will make use of the theater's new digital state-of-the art, hi-definition 14,000 lumens and Blu Ray projector with Dolby Digital surround sound processed though more than 20 EAW speakers. And John Drew technical director and production manager Todd Goldblatt will keep the theater's 35 mm and 16 mm projection equipment on hand as the best means of showing independent and art films not processed digitally.

With a new sprung stage floor for dancers, the flexibility to remove the first three rows of seats so that a thrust can be built, and an array of other technical improvements, Mr. Gladstone is looking forward to a new era of entertainment at the John Drew.

"The idea is to keep it humming," Mr. Gladstone said, "to recapture the vitality. The hope is that audiences and artists will notice the difference and want to come back."


Renovations complete, Guild Hall rolls out big plans for John Drew Theater
By Andrew Botsford - The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press