Bay Street Theatre, the Gem of Sag Harbor

The Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor concluded its 2011 season on Sunday, September 4, but Artistic Directors Sybil Christopher and Murphy Davis and Executive Director Tracy Mitchell are already hard at work planning the next season of performances.

The trio is passionate about the theater and each of them strives to choose three plays or musicals that will not only sell tickets, but also expose audiences to something that will leave them thinking.

“Our sensibility has to meet first,” Davis said, explaining the process in which he and Christopher choose the Bay Street lineup. The next question to ask, Davis said, is, “How does our taste intersect with the audience’s taste?” [expand]

Mitchell, who handles the business end of things, said the audience always gives feedback, but in the end, it’s the vision of the artistic directors that drives content in the theater.

“Sometimes we don’t know what they’re going to like,” Davis said, noting that the hit plays often take him, Christopher, and even the audience by surprise. For that reason, he said the season must include plays that excite him and Christopher before any thought about audience is involved.

This season’s July play, Betty’s Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang was the most controversial play Bay Street has yet produced, Davis said, but the “dark and angry comedy” left audiences with something to think about, love it or hate it, and that’s rare for a comedy.

“That, to me is good theatre,” Mitchell said, explaining, “Good theatre resonates.”

Christopher, who has been with Bay Street for 20 years, said audiences at Bay Street always get to experience a variety of work from different playwrights, genres and eras. “After Labor Day they see they’ve been on a journey with us,” she said.

As artistic directors, Christopher and Davis agreed that the success of a play is largely based upon the people involved. Christopher noted that Trip Kelman was the perfect director for Betty’s Summer Vacation because he loves Durang.

“A big part of being artistic director is choosing the right cast,” Davis said. He said a big name actor will definitely help attendance, but more important, pairing a really good play with a really good cast will almost always result in a successful production.

The first Tuesday preview for each of the season’s three plays is performed for a pay-what-you-can ticket price. Christopher said it makes Bay Street accessible to anyone and it really helps spread the buzz.

While the season may be over, Bay Street will remain quite active during the quiet months. The theater continues to create programs for young people, including the Young Playwrights program and Literature Live!, and it will be showing three films for Sag Harbor’s annual HarborFest celebration.

For HarborFest, Bay Street will be showing the Laurence Olivier classic film Wuthering Heights at 8 p.m. on Friday, September 9 for $5. On Saturday, September 10, they will be running a continuous loop of Joyous Garde, a documentary about John Steinbeck’s Sag Harbor home, from noon to 4 p.m., and they will be screening Flight 93 for free in honor of the 10th anniversary of September 11th at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Davis noted that Sag Harbor native Linda Kristine Gronlund Esq. was a passenger on that flight and her mother Doris is a friend of the theater. “The director really shows the human spirit in the face of death,” Davis said of the film. “It was amazing, I mean, I get chills,” he added. “That group of people saved the White House.”

Bay Street Theatre is always looking for generous supporters. You can contact them at baystreet.org.

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