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East Hampton’s Guild Hall Offers Innovative Ways To Engage The Hamptons Community In The Arts

Chelsea Katz

The stage view from the intimate John Drew Theater in the Dina Merrill Pavilion at Guild Hall. (Courtesy Photo)

Created during The Great Depression in 1931, Mary Woodhouse bought and donated the plot of land across the street from her personal library to start an arts establishment for East Hampton.

The culture center, located on Main Street in East Hampton, was founded during The Great Depression and has since been creating new ways for Hamptons residents to enjoy the arts. The staff brings in extra programming, reducing ticket prices for younger members of the community, honoring artists who participate in their programming and highlighting hot topics in today's society.

"Our venue is small," said Barbara Jo Howard, the director of marketing and communications, said of a typical experience at Guild Hall. "It's always been looked upon as being a jewel box."

Ruth Appelhof, the executive director, is proud that the board of trustees has allowed Guild Hall staff to bring in innovative programming. For example, the New York City Ballet will be performing at the culture hall. They will also be giving free dance lessons to younger members of the community.

Guild Hall offers a variety of shows, programs and exhibitions throughout the year. (Courtesy Photo)

"I call it a renaissance," Appelhof said of the change in programming she has seen over the past 13 years. "Maybe that's a bit too much bragging."

In addition, Guild Hall invites celebrities to perform their own memoirs in their annual "Celebrity Autobiography" event. Last year, the company invited Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Christie Brinkley (who is returning this year.) This year, Guild Hall is bringing Brooke Shields and Jennifer Tilly. Another program that Appelhof and Howard are excited for this summer is "Classic Album Live," where musicians will play The Beatles' "Abbey Road" album note for note.

To attract more young people to their new programming, Guild Hall has set up a special "student rush" program. It is very similar to the typical Broadway-style student rush in Manhattan where students receive reduced-price tickets.

Richard Gere and Alec Baldwin at Guild Hall during the 2012 Hamptons International Film Festival. (Photo: Nicole B. Brewer)

Students arrive at the box office just before show time. If there are enough seats left, the students can see the show for free.

"It is important for our community that we reach out to young people and make it as much a part of their lives as for the adults," Appelhoff said.

Parents or guardians who accompany their children do not get to participate in student rush and not all events, like The Upright Citizens Brigade, in The John Drew Theater are eligible for student rush fares.

To celebrate writers and artists who have loaned works to the culture hall, Guild Hall hosts an annual softball game (which is partially sponsored by Hamptons.com).

While the actual softball game is on August 17, an exhibit of works solely from the artists and writers who play in the game will be on display from June 15 through July 28.

The show, itself, will be co-curated by Elena Prohaska Glinn and Christina Mossaides Strassfield.

Inside The Museum at Guild Hall. (Courtesy Photo)

"They worked very hard to make sure only artists who played in the game are put in the exhibit," Appelhof said.

Aside from artistic ventures, Guild Hall also makes an effort to expose Hamptons residents to contemporary issues through others mediums. The Hamptons Institute, which is taking place this year on June 15, brings in scientific experts to discuss what is going on outside the arts world in education, climate change and world politics.

"These people really are thought leaders in the world," Appelhof said. "And they're not necessarily involved in cultures but they are the movers and the shakers who are making a different task for us. It is as equally important as the arts."

Appelhof said they chose to bring in people who specialize in today's headlines. Jacqueline Adams, a former CBS News Correspondent, will be moderating "Innovations in Education." Dava Sobel, author of "Longitude and Galileo's Daughter" will moderate "After Sandy: What Can We Do About Climate Change?" Elizabeth Economy, the director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a C.V. Star Senior Fellow, will be moderating "The United States & China: Future Prospects."

"Defining unique experiences is really what Guild Hall is all about," Appelhoff said. "There is something here for every mind."

Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information call 631-324-0806 or visit www.guildhall.org.

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