Scott Schwartz was recently named Artistic Director of Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, and although Schwartz’s theatrical inclination and experience make him an ideal candidate to fill the huge shoes of the late founder and artistic director Sybil Christopher, his connection to the Hamptons makes it personal for him.
“I actually had not been in talks with them for a while,” Schwartz explains of his new position. “This specific timing came about because [my friend] Jill B.C. Du Boff is a sound designer who works there quite frequently, and this summer she found out that they were looking for a new artistic director. Quickly, she asked me if I’d like to talk to them. I’d been an artistic associate at other companies, consulting, and I’d sort of gotten the desire to be an artistic director. So Jill [mentioned me to] Gary Hygom, the producer, and Tracy Mitchell, the executive director, and they asked me to come and talk,” he explains. “I thought that it would be the first step in a long [interview] process, but we had this fantastic dinner and it was so clear that we shared some of the same hopes and goals for Bay Street—and suddenly things went really fast!”
Schwartz, no stranger to the Hamptons, has long associated the East End with the Sag Harbor theater. “I’ve known Bay Street Theatre for almost 20 years. I remember traveling out east to see their production of a play called Blue Light that starred Dianne Wiest and Mercedes Ruehl. I was just blown away by the talent onstage, the intimacy of the theater and the overall excellent quality of the work,” he marvels. “Basically every year of my adult life, my family has traveled out to Gurney’s for a timeshare every off-season. We read Dan’s Papers, visit Sag Harbor, and have a tradition of going to the American Hotel for my mom’s birthday.”
For theater buffs, Schwartz’s name will no doubt ring a bell, and for good reason; he is the son of storied composer Stephen Schwartz, the man behind such musicals as Pippin, Godspell, Wicked and many other popular shows. But rather than try to overcompensate for being part of a theatrical legacy, Schwartz embraces it. “It’s part of my life. It’s a wonderful part of my life. My dad and I are very close,” he notes. “Listen; particularly out in the Hamptons, there are a lot of families with very successful people, and there are always questions about how one carves out a successful identity. I pursued my own work. My dad has always been very supportive of me, I value his opinion and we have worked together in the past, but I do have my own thing.”
While exposed to theater his entire life through his father, Schwartz wanted to have a well-rounded education. “I went to Harvard, where I was a Psychology/English major, but I ultimately graduated with a BA in Psychology. One of the reasons I went to Harvard was to get a good liberal arts education,” he notes. But Schwartz didn’t turn his back on performing arts. “Harvard didn’t have a Theater major, but they have a wonderful extracurricular program that does over 30 productions every semester, all done by students.”
It was through the student-run theater organization that Schwartz gained his earliest experiences as a director. “At most schools, if you want to be a director—and I knew I wanted to be one—you’re lucky if you get to direct two shows. I did seven, in several different venues.” Harvard is also the home of the American Repertory Theater (ART), an internationally renowned company Schwartz describes as “quite daring.” ART is responsible for the 2013 Tony Award–winning revival of Pippin.
Schwartz is excited to bring his experiences to Bay Street and has already begun to develop a solid vision. “I want to keep the seasons broad,” he says. “We are one of the largest performing arts organizations on the East End, and I believe we have a responsibility to present a broad range of work and give audiences opportunities to see what they want to see. For next year, what I’m starting to think of [for the mainstage season] is an established work from the theatrical canon, be it a recent play by writers who may have residences in the Hamptons, or classics from someone like Eugene O’Neill. I’d like to do some classical pieces, as well. We’ll also do either a new work or lesser-known title we feel is worthy [of a production], and it’s always exciting to do a musical.”
A full-time Manhattan resident, Schwartz wants to start splitting his time between the city and the East End. “I’m going to be ‘half-and-half.’ My wife and I own an apartment in the city, and we’ll keep that. I’ll be in Sag Harbor full-time over the summer, and the rest of the year I’ll be coming back and forth and consulting,” he says, with excitement growing in his voice. “We’re planning on getting a home in Sag Harbor, or the surrounding towns. We’d like to become a part of the community. We love it there. I’m excited to spend time here, throughout the [coming] years.” Schwartz lets out a chuckle upon being asked another personal question. “We don’t have kids yet—but we talk about it!”
Schwartz is currently directing a show in Seattle, a musical adaptation of the 2003 Warner Bros. film Secondhand Lions. After that, he’s got an important mission. “I want Bay Street to continue to be a place where the best theater artists want to work. And most importantly, I want to continue the work that Sybil Christopher began,” he says sincerely. With Schwartz at the helm of the beautiful theater by the water, it’s most definitely going to be smooth sailing from here on out.