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May 21, 2019 11:49 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Let's Talk Arts: Expect This To Be The Summer Of Sound At The John Drew Theater

Allman Betts Band performs at Guild Hall on July 6. TOUR MANAGER 101
May 21, 2019 11:49 AM

The summer of 2018 was a productive and creative one at Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater. The lineup of cutting-edge entertainers, artists and musicians included many whose performances leaned toward the idea of storytelling. Now, with summer once again at our doorstep, Josh Gladstone, the theater’s artistic director, offers a bit of insight into what audiences can expect to see on the stage in the coming weeks.

Q: It seems that in terms of having an over-arching theme, summer 2018 marked a new course for the theater with its lineup of artists who leaned toward narrative performance. Would you say that was true?

Last year was the “Summer of Stories,” and for whatever reason, we had a lot of avant-garde programming that was out of the box, some of it unlike any other programming we’ve done. Summer of Stories was an interesting guiding theme, and in making some broader changes, it gave us a headwind. We have momentum going into 2019 from the unusual and interesting programs in 2018.

We’re coming off a good year and moving into a better year. Now, we’ve inadvertently wandered into the “Summer of Sound.” It just sort of happened. It’s not a science, it’s about who’s available and who’s touring. There’s also some luck involved and part of it has to do with detective work—and then it starts to take shape.

Q: When it comes to curating a season, what factors do you consider in your programming choices and has anything changed in recent years to influence the schedule?

We’re looking to do fun, interesting, dynamic programming, and there is more freedom in the calendar now. We’re not doing a mainstage summer production, which is fine. Bay Street Theater does a good job at that. We’ve always gone back and forth on the question of whether we can we fit in a play, afford a play, and have a headliner to star in it. [Executive Director] Andrea Grover’s mandate to not move forward with a play has been liberating, and it opened up the budget.

Q: That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about it, but by not doing a play you really do free up the theater from multiple weeks of rehearsal and the production run.

It opens dates to make offers to artists, and it has made a difference. We’ve been able to be flexible and freer in our offers, less restrictive in terms of time, and we have money available to make offers, which we’re not tying up in Actors Equity and can give to concert artists.

We’ve always had strong lineups, we just have an across the board stronger lineup now, as opposed to a handful of great shows we’ve had before. Some of the artists we have coming this summer are fantastic.

Q: So, on that note, let’s hit the highlights. What performers are you particularly excited about in this Summer of Sound?

We knew we had Philip Glass. We said “yes” to booking him last year as an anchor. Then the Kronos Quartet came along from Sam Green’s show here last year. They said they do a thing with the Kronos Quartet and that they had time in their schedule that worked with the routing to swing down here from New Haven.

This is an act I would’ve loved to have over the last 20 years, but they were never available and out of our budget. We had a little money in our budget that could justify it, and they came down in price since they’ll be in the area.

Q: Just to clarify, Sam Green makes documentary films that are cinematic collaborations with live musicians. This concert will feature the Kronos Quartet playing live as “A Thousand Thoughts,” a documentary about them, is screened behind them.

It’s a film about the performers with narration and a critical must-see. It was a true darling on the festival circuit. The film perspective is exciting and the music is exciting. I asked Anne Chaisson of the Hamptons International Film Festival to come on board as a junior partner to help get us over the hump on the budget and get this amazing act to the community. The Kronos Quartet has never played the East End. The fact we got them is a coup.

Q: What are some of the other musical highlights ahead?

Our board chair, Marty Cohen, is involved with The New York Philharmonic, so we have musicians coming from there. Then we got pitches from Denmark and a Scandinavian klezmer group called Mames Babegenush, and from France, The Django Festival Allstars who play Gypsy music. We also have Indian sitar and tabla master Ustad Shafaat Khan in late August. We’ve never booked Indian music at Guild Hall. So, we have Indian, Danish and French music this summer.

We also had board members saying they wanted country music, so we have Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams coming. We’re also doing Guitar Masters again and have Buddy Guy, Rosanne Cash, Rufus Wainwright and The Allman Betts Band. With G.E. Smith’s Portraits series, we also have Dawes and Loudon Wainwright. We’ve brought back some cabaret and doo wop as well.

Q: It seems there is much greater community involvement and collaboration in the programming too. Is that something you’ve been working toward for a while?

We have so many community partnerships. There is strength to be had in these partnerships and providing access to the community as a meeting place is very much part of what we do. HIFF is a partnership, but we also are partnering with OLA [Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island] who are coming in on Friday of Memorial Day weekend with “Sensaciones,” with a well-known flamenco dancer and guitarists from Miami who play beautifully.

We also have a partnership with The Retreat, Planned Parenthood, Columbia University and a lot of worthwhile charities, and we have made the place available to them at a flexible rate. We have a panel discussion with the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center, a program by singer Maria Bacardi to support Project Most and The Church, which is Eric Fischl’s new artists program. There are a lot of healthy partnerships with like-minded not-for-profits that are doing some good in the world.

We’re also partnering with the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center to bring The Allman Betts Band out. They’ll be in Westhampton on July 5 and here July 6. It’s unprecedented and wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t partnered.

Q: But this summer is about more than just music, right?

It’s not like we don’t still do theater. We have the JDT Labs, new play readings and comedy. There’s literally something for everyone. We’re in an interesting state of flux with board members coming and going, new sponsors, different staff members and it all leads to a healthy eclecticism that helps us be limber. It’s always an adventure in the arts.

For details on the John Drew Theater’s summer season visit guildhall.org or call 631-324-4050. Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton.

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