Along with its major renovation and capital improvement project, resulting in a facility-wide upgrade, Guild Hall is putting some talented new hires in place ahead of their planned reopening. Among them is new Director of Performing Arts Nick Schwartz-Hall who brings more than three decades of experience creating shows at world-class venues and working with acclaimed artists.
Set to begin his tenure at Guild Hall in April, Schwartz-Hall was chosen through a year-long, comprehensive national search. He last worked as Senior Producer at The Music Center, Los Angeles, where he championed intercultural relations, and developed programs such as the Summer SoundWaves outdoor concert series featuring Latin and African diaspora artists, Max Richter’s SLEEP in Grand Park, and Joni 75, a birthday celebration of the music of Joni Mitchell.
Schwartz-Hall also established the Music Center’s producing department and oversaw the annual Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance season.
He comes to Guild Hall with limited experience of the East End, but Schwartz-Hall has an open mind and already appears to understand the weight of the institution’s powerful heritage and what it means to the community after more than 90 years supporting the arts locally.
A Chat with Guild Hall Performing Arts Director Nick Schwartz-Hall
“I was contacted when the search was launched for the Guild Hall position, and I wasn’t really looking to move or anything, but it’s just such a unique and remarkable opportunity to work across all areas of the performing arts in a beautiful location with a great legacy. A lot of people and artists I work with, they told me just the loveliest things about it,” Schwartz-Hall says, speaking on the phone from Los Angeles, adding, “Basically, in a nutshell, it was just too good an opportunity to pass up on.”
The new director points out that he spent 10 years at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) before moving to L.A., and they did a fair amount of work with Robert Wilson in Water Mill during his time there. He also went fishing off Montauk every summer, so the area isn’t completely new to him.
“I’ve paid two visits to East Hampton and I’ve seen what the theater is going to look like when it’s done, and I think it’s exciting,” Schwartz-Hall says. “It’s under renovations so it’s a little hard to say, but it’s a super interesting combination of the historic architecture and a complete modern upgrade in terms of sound and building in positions for cameras — I think it’s kind of the best of both,” he continues noting that things like the John Drew’s circus-tent ceiling design will remain in place.
“I don’t know the history, but I can see and feel how important the space is to the community in East Hampton, and my sense is that (Guild Hall Executive Director) Andrea Grover and the leadership, and the architects and the technical side have really tried to be very careful and respectful about maintaining what it is that feels special about that space, at the same time trying to put upgrades in, in terms of how comfortable the seating will be and the acoustics,” he says. “I’m excited to see what it will be like when we finally get in there next year.”
Schwartz-Hall has an extensive background in theater and music, but he remained cagey about his vision for exactly what people should expect on the Guild Hall stage. “I’ve had at least four different versions of a vision so far. Not to be coy, but I’ve literally just started the conversations with Andrea, and I’m not the kind of programmer who’s just like, ‘It’s all about what I see as important and everybody else just shows up for it,’” he explains, describing a desire to truly get to know the community and be “both innovative and responsive.”
He has a love for contemporary dance, intimate theater productions, spoken word and storytelling, and he shares excitement about podcasts, along with shows like The Moth on National Public Radio and even stand-up comedy. “I’m really aware and intrigued that Spalding Grey was part of the community there when he was still alive and active,” he says. “I think that space could be a fantastic place for monologue and new work like that.”
“Nick is a rare find with an astounding breadth of professional accomplishments and versatility in genres,” Grover says of Schwartz-Hall. “But what Nick and the search committee most connected on was a deep love for artists and a belief that art helps us become better neighbors and global citizens. As Nick says, ‘The arts provide us with ways to speak with each other about our common humanity, share values and perspectives, and uphold creativity and innovation in our communities. And, to enjoy ourselves together.’”
And he’s worked with some of the best and brightest — such as Laurie Anderson, Ina Garten, Philip Glass, Ira Glass, Ethan Hawke, Kronos Quartet, Tom Stoppard, Twyla Tharp and many, many others — so there’s no doubt Schwartz-Hall has the skills to deliver at the highest possible level.
“I am very grateful to join such an accomplished team and supportive board in a place with a remarkable legacy of creativity and deep and meaningful relationships with the surrounding community. I have been struck repeatedly by how people speak about Guild Hall’s importance and impact on their lives… Now with the prospect of reopening our historic and newly renovated venue, with galleries, a state-of-the-art theater, and spaces for learning and gathering, we have the creative opportunity and challenge of opening our doors as widely as possible.”
Visit guildhall.org to keep up with the Guild Hall renovation and what’s coming when it reopens.