Gurney's Inn
August 09, 2006

Guild Hall Turns 75

"At its best, Guild Hall is more than a theater and museum for its community; it is a meeting place and a melting pot." So wrote Enez Whipple, the long time director of Guild Hall, in her 1993 book Guild Hall of East Hampton: An Adventure in the Arts.

As Guild Hall prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary this weekend, those currently connected with the Hall reiterated what Whipple wrote: what makes Guild Hall, which opened as a museum, theater and community center in 1931, distinctive is the talent it attracts and the community that patronizes and supports it.

"Guild Hall is probably a unique combination of museum and theatre . . . one doesn't have to reiterate that this is a very fertile land for artists and has been for many years," said Jim Marcus, a longtime supporter and current member of the board of directors of Guild Hall.

The breadth of material offered is even greater than many people realize, he added. "The programming has a little bit of something for everyone these days, and the institution is a great community resource. I'm not sure the community uses it as much as it should," Marcus said.

"I think we do a great job of getting a wonderful group of performers to come out," said Ellen Marcus, Jim Marcus' wife and another longtime supporter of Guild Hall.

Some of that talent will be on display in the series of anniversary celebrations planned for this weekend. A Community Day Celebration will be held on Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at Guild Hall and at Mulford Farm on James Lane. Free and open to the public, the festivities will include live bands — The Nancy Atlas Project, Bastards of Boom and Malandro — a large scale environmental project, family art workshops and a birthday cake contest.

On the same afternoon, two major art shows will open: a survey exhibition of over 100 works by Andy Warhol and the first museum showing of prints by North Fork resident Elizabeth Peyton, a portraitist. There will be free reception with Peyton from 3 to 5 p.m.; both shows run through October 22. On Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Robert Wilson's production of Persephone, which was first shown at the hall in 1995, will be performed. The John Drew Theater will be transformed into a dreamlike world, with the entire stage covered with peat moss and mulch and strung with crystal lights for the staging of the classic myth.

The community-oriented celebrations are in keeping with the current educational focus of Guild Hall. "It's become very involved in the education area, particularly for East End students," said Mickey Straus, the chairman of Guild Hall's board. The hall is trying "to engage the local community more than ever," he added.

And soon, the hall will have a new look. This fall, Guild Hall will close for an 18-month renovation that will lift away 75 years of wear and tear. The updates will bring "the theater into the 21st century from almost the 19th century," Straus explained.

He added: "I think we've engaged the community more than ever. I hope we continue to do that. And I think that we've been able to attract some great entertainment over the years and I think it's going to get better with the theater renovation."

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