Guild Hall: New Season, New Direction

“Diversity every day, not one day or one month, but every day,”
Pilobolus Robert Whitman

It won’t take a detective to notice a different feeling at Guild Hall this year. Exhibitions and public performances have a more heterogeneous focus, and that is intentional, according to Andrea Grover, the cultural center’s executive director.

After taking the helm in September, she has let a simple guideline define her vision. “Diversity every day, not one day or one month, but every day,” she said in her office during a recent discussion with Josh Gladstone, the theater’s artistic director.

Ms. Grover is putting an early stamp on programming with this directive. Inclusion and collaboration are no longer just aspirations, met when all other imperatives have been satisfied, but marching orders.

“These are fresh mandates,” Mr. Gladstone said, but “to have it clearly delineated is helpful. We can become more streamlined in this way.” Efforts to meet these objectives come from both new and familiar sources, at a time when he is still recovering from a serious illness. 

Ms. Grover applauded both the work of Mr. Gladstone and the staff in supporting him. Whereas “the museum world by design moves slowly and is not collaborative,” she explained, “theater is put together and broken down in a short period of time. There’s a different attitude about time, flexibility, problem-solving, and cooperation.”

The rhythm ’n’ blues and gospel singer Mavis Staples, who will appear on Aug. 9, is returning after a visit in 2015, when “she had the entire audience on their feet,” Mr. Gladstone said. Always working across musical genres, her latest collaboration with Gorillaz and Pusha T on the song “Let Me Out” shows “she’s at the height of her game. We’re lucky to get her back.”

Also on the schedule, on Aug. 5, is Sweet Honey in the Rock, an a cappella group rooted in African-American history and culture — “masters of funk, blues, and soul,” in Mr. Gladstone’s estimation. On July 31, Mandy Gonzalez, who plays Angelica Schuyler in “Hamilton,” will present an evening of Broadway classics and popular standards.

In addition to its big summer marquee exhibitions — Jackson Pollock’s  prints and “Richard Avedon’s America” in August — the museum will present “Taryn Simon: The Innocents,” opening on Saturday. The artist’s earliest body of work examines the lives of convicts who were later found innocent of their crimes. The men were photographed at significant sites, places tied to their conviction where they may have been arrested, or misidentified, or that held their alibi. Photography’s role as a neutral witness is also called into question by these images. 

On June 25, Ms. Simon will head a panel including Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, who are founders of the Innocence Project; Bob Balaban, who is affiliated with the organization, and several people who have been exonerated through its efforts.

Ms. Grover is not only committed to ethnic and program diversity, she is also seeking ways to collaborate with other organizations or individuals. One example that checks all boxes is the presentation of a lecture by Misty Copeland, sponsored by the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreation Center in association with Guild Hall. Ms. Copeland, who was the first African-American to be named a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, will discuss her life, her work, and her writing in a free event on July 20, and will sign copies of her books.

Other presentations with neighborly ties include a screening and discussion of “Larsenworld,” a film about Jack Lenor Larsen and LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, on Friday, June 23, and what is said to be the last performance of the Mamalee Rose, a local favorite, with guests including Cynthia Daniels, Inda Eaton, Michael Weiskopf, and Job Potter. 

A screening of “Barney’s Wall” on July 27 will be the first time the completed film about Barney Rosset’s unique contributions to the worlds of film and literature, as well as his obsessive quest to complete a wall mural during his retirement‚ will be shown publicly. Rosset was a longtime East Hampton resident and Williams Cole, one of the film’s producers, grew up here. 

And, of course, the annual Clothesline Art Sale, on Aug. 5, brings local artists and patrons together for an event that benefits everyone, Guild Hall included.

Dance, one of the few art forms that have not dominated the East End cultural landscape, will be given its due as well this summer, with an Aug. 18 presentation of excerpts from the New York City Ballet’s repertory. On July 15, Pilobolus, a company whose physical contortions often resemble animated sculpture, will perform.

Stephen Hamilton’s current production of “Angry Young Man” will continue through Sunday, to be followed by other theatrical presentations, readings, and one-night musical performances. “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” on July 2, directed and adapted by Hershey Felder from a book by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, tells the story of Ms. Golabek’s mother, a young Jewish pianist who is anticipating her debut at a Vienna concert hall when the Nazis began issuing ordinances that change everything. “Only a Kingdom,” another staged musical reading, focuses on the love affair of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, with Betty Buckley and directed by Michael Wilson, on Aug. 20. Bebe Neuwirth will deliver an evening of cabaret on July 21.

One-night staged readings such as Ira Lewis’s “Gross Points” (July 25),  Bob Morris’s “Assisted Loving” (July 28), and “Sweet Birds” by Eugene Pack (Aug. 27), will bring celebrities to the John Drew Theater, among them Alec Baldwin, who is Guild Hall’s president; Richard Kind, Tovah Feldshuh, Carol Kane, and others. For the bookish, “Literary Death Match,” a contest among four authors who will be judged by panelists including Dick Cavett, happens on July 7, and “Celebrity Autobiography,” when boldface names like Christie Brinkley and Mario Cantone quote from the lives of other celebrities for comedic effect, will return on Aug. 25.

Other comedy includes stand-up by J.B. Smoove from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” who sold out the John Drew in 2015, on Aug. 12. Joy Behar has a night of comedy planned as a benefit for the Retreat on Sept. 3, with some as yet unconfirmed performers whose big names should be announced soon.

G.E. Smith, a longtime Amagansett resident, along with Taylor Barton, his wife, will present “Portraits,” a series he started off-season at Bay Street Theater two years ago. This summer’s incarnation will bring Mr. Smith together with Sarah Jarosz and Paula Cole on June 30, the Bacon Brothers on Aug. 4, and Sagaponack’s Billy Squier on Sept. 1.

Returning series and events include Guild Hall’s big season spectacular on July 1 with Jay Leno. The Hamptons International Film Festival’s SummerDocs series starts on July 8. In August, look for the Stirring the Pot series of conversations with great chefs, musicians from the New York Philharmonic, the Hamptons Institute’s discussion and dissection of world affairs, KidFest, and the annual summer gala, tied to the opening of the Avedon exhibition on Aug. 11.

Although most of the summer’s attractions have been mentioned here, there are a number that have not, including some uncomfirmed dates and presentations by outside groups such as the East End Special Players’ “Trouble in Jamaica” and the Surfriders annual film screening. Guild Hall’s website is the best place for up-to-date listings, times, and ticket prices for this jam-packed 86th season.

Mamalee Rose will have its last performance at Guild Hall in July.