It has been my privilege these last 15 years or so to interview and get to know many of the iconic cultural stalwarts of the Hamptons. Painters, writers, actors, producers, directors, and yes, even prized journalists – not to mention the numerous local musicians.
I have been called upon to write previews and reviews of plays, movies, books and festivals. Each of the interviews was an opportunity for me to come up close and personal with talent, wit, creative spirit and on rare occasion pure genius of the very people responsible for the performing and non-performing arts on the East End. Over my East End career, I have had conversations with internationally renowned talents like Edward Albee and Albert Maysles, along with the local talent such as artistic directors like Michael Disher, Scott Schwartz, Josh Gladstone, and notables such as Andrew Botsford, Diane Marbury and others.
I have been humbled to witness how illuminating the lights of East End talent, cultural leadership and innovation can brighten up stages’ theaters, libraries and community halls that were always filled with appreciative audiences.
During this COVID 19 pandemic, these voices have not been silenced, but forced to be called into action to keep the heart of the East End arts beating. They have answered the call. Every week new and more innovative ways of presenting the arts to the East End are evolving. The famous, beloved venues like Guild Hall and Bay Street Theater are thinking outside the box from just being of a theater with empty seats.
The one common thread in all my interviews is the enthusiasm each person has about their next project. Whether it’s a Jeremy Sisto or Abigail Hawk of the TV world, Peter Asher, John Sebastian or Moody Blues members John Lodge or Denny Laine of the music world. They all had a spark promoting the “what’s next” in their careers. Spending an hour on the phone with comedian, actor and personality Robert Kline was special. Especially the parts about his college days at Alfred University, much that never made it into the post.
However, it has been uniquely special to witness first-hand the determination of the performing arts community to use technology to release their talent to entertain. Anna Tonna, a renowned international opera star, recently said to me not doing her craft in a theater has been tough. She said she missed the buzz and energy of the crowd enjoying the live performance. She explained how she gets energy from the other opera singers on stage and feeds off their energy. She admitted singing opera for the lens just is not the same, but she was happy to do anything other than sit at home and wait for the news that never came this last year; the news that it was safe to go back into the theaters to do live shows.
I am married to playwright Cindi Sansone-Braff. This pandemic has given Cindi an opportunity to enter a new field of writing. She now has written a trio of ten-minute Zoom plays that are actually written for Zoom and a live online audience. Her first effort, To the Zoom and Back, was about two seniors doing online dating on Long Island. Somehow it was picked up by a theater group in Illinois and they have now produced two of her other plays via Zoom and their network. It only goes to show that this pandemic has also helped to create new avenues for the arts.
The conclusion of this sixty-something column is you just can’t keep the folks behind the cultural heartbeats of the Hamptons down. They are creators who now are creating new ways to share their talents and creation within the borderlines of the safe protocols now in force to protect the public.