At a decidedly upbeat meeting on Saturday, Guild Hall Executive Director Ruth S. Appelhof gave a virtual peek inside the ongoing renovation of the John Drew Theater.
Punctuated by a PowerPoint presentation, all the construction of the last few years was covered—the updates to Guild Hall’s three gallery spaces; the addition of the Boots Lamb Education Center, where the presentation took place; the new staff office spaces; and the ongoing renovation and updates of the John Drew Theater.
The theater renovation is the final phase of a $12 million construction project that upgraded the entire building. The project is designed to restore the details and character of the 1931 theater while allowing stagecraft, entertainment advancements and audience comfort into the 21st century.
The biggest breaking news at Saturday’s meeting was expressed subtly: The opening of the John Drew Theater has been pushed back from August to October 2008. A new technical director from Manhattan was a pen-stroke away from coming on board—and after the meeting, Todd Goldblatt was officially hired. A new head of public relations begins next week to keep the community in touch.
More news: Planning has begun for two grand celebrations to mark the end of construction and to unveil the renovated theater. One celebration will be open to the community: It will be held on October 11, during Columbus Day weekend. The second celebration, slated in June 2009, will feature a cast of national stars to dazzle in-season theatergoers.
Part of the purpose of Saturday’s meeting was to solicit ideas on how the new building can better serve the community. Artist Ruth Nasca suggested that solo shows by area artists could be held year-round in the Green Room. Artist Diana Plitt, president of the East Hampton Artist Alliance, suggested having a parade with floats made by area businesses and organizations as part of the community celebration. Inquiries were made about ensuring that hearing-impaired audience members are accommodated, and partnering with out-of-town theaters to help defray the costs of staging productions.
Dr. Appelhof also asked the audience of about 27 for their ideas for making the Community Opening Celebration a success. Each attendee received a sheet of paper, on which they were asked to log celebration activity suggestions, possible volunteer contacts, and ideas for how to spread the word about the October celebration.
“The Community Opening Celebration is something special for our community and the people who live here,” Dr. Appelhof said. “We want to welcome people to Guild Hall and give them a chance to see the changes and learn what Guild Hall can do for them.”
But mostly, Saturday’s meeting was a way to see before-and-after photos and floor plans, and to show how the changes will improve the way art and culture are presented. For instance, Dr. Appelhof showed slides demonstrating how lighting in the galleries has been improved and brightened, thanks to new systems and white ceiling panels. Art storage has been moved off site, allowing for the creation of the Boots Lamb Education Center. The addition of a kitchen makes the space conducive for art workshops and presentations with an intimate feel.
Staff office space has been moved downstairs and centralized, creating better working conditions and allowing for easier communication. The Green Room, where art shows have been held, has been made slightly smaller to make way for expansive new bathrooms. New windows, almost floor-to-ceiling, counter the smaller size and will lead into a permanent sculpture garden, Dr. Appelhof said afterward.
The most dramatic changes are still to come. From the outside, the most noticeable will be the removal of the arched storm doors, an effort to welcome visitors, Dr. Appelhof said. The lobby has been expanded to create room for 300 people to linger at art openings and theater intermissions. The gift shop will have a separate outside entrance and a portable kiosk that will roll into the lobby.
Below the theater, a catacomb of dressing rooms will make getting ready for the spotlight stress free. This includes a “Diva dressing room” with an expansive space and private bathroom. Multiple utility rooms have been created for operating the new heating, air conditioning and technical systems.
During the presentation, Dr. Appelhof described the blue-striped ceiling that’s being re-created by East Hampton painter Brian Lever, and the chandelier with the capacity for changing lights being restored by Mark Figueredo of East Hampton. She said the faux windows and box seats will be re-created as they were in 1931.
A sample of the blue velvet drapery material was on view during Saturday’s meeting. So was the blue fabric that will become part of the walls, helping to create the carnival atmosphere. State-of-the-art seating, lighting systems and film projection systems are also part of the plan.
Afterward, Dr. Appelhof pointed to the poles in the row of boxes and noted they will be candy-striped like they were in the early days of the theater. The stage floor is being built with a spring so dance troupes will have an extra edge.
All in all, the John Drew Theater will be something to marvel over when all is said and done, she said.
“We have a gem here, and soon people will really be able to see that,” Dr. Appelhof said. “There’s a lot of exciting things that are happening here. We can’t wait for all the new programming we will be able to present after the John Drew Theater has been fully restored.”