Pictured Above: NFCT President Mary Motto Kalich at the theater, which is undergoing a ground-up renovation.
The North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck is in the home stretch of a breakneck season of tearing apart the innards of its theater space on Old Sound Avenue, putting the finishing touches on a ground-up renovation in anticipation of opening night for its spring musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” on May 16.
You’d be forgiven for not noticing the work being done if you’ve driven by the theater since renovations started last August. Aside from a small exterior addition, carefully blended into the front corner of the building, the work here is being done in the bowels of the building.
This project, slated to cost about $950,000 by the time it is complete, is designed to fix the bones of the building — from digging out a new foundation under the stage to completely updating the heating and electric systems and installing sprinklers and air conditioning, said NFCT President Mary Motto Kalich on a tour of the job site in mid-March.
It will also revolutionize the performing space, making it possible for actors to make their entrances without running around outside the building to get to the correct side of the stage, adding an orchestra pit to enhance the auditory experience of the theater company’s full-scale musical productions, and updating the rigging, lighting and acoustics to dramatically increase the technical capabilities of the theater. The renovation also includes an elevator to provide access to a new basement meeting room under the stage, as well as the dressing rooms and restrooms in the basement.
“Every inch was planned out, designed and redesigned,” said Ms. Kalich, who has been at the forefront of the renovation efforts since the theater purchased the building from the neighboring Mattituck Presbyterian Church in 2012. “We didn’t have the money yet, so we could keep planning. Everyone really cared.”
With $935,000 of $950,000 raised for the project, and matching grants still available, Ms. Kalich confident the theater will meet its goals.
The NFCT had been renting its home from the church since 1961. The building had served as the Mattituck Presbyterian Church when it was built in 1831, and was expanded to include the area where the stage is now when it was used by another church in 1896. But by 1908, the building was no longer a church. It served as a recreation center for the Junior Order of Mechanics in the early 20th Century before the theater began using the space in 1961.
Ms. Kalich said workers found an old shuffleboard court from the building’s time as a recreation center underneath the stage during construction.
While most of the professional updates are taking place on and below the stage and in the new basement room underneath the 1896 addition, NFCT volunteers are hard at work cleaning out centuries of dust, grime and a half-century’s worth of props and costumes throughout the rest of the building.
At the entrance to the auditorium, Ms. Kalich pointed out a bulky cast iron radiator. Theater volunteers had placed a board over it and used it to display upcoming programs for years. But during the renovation, they realized it wasn’t even connected to the wall. They plan to use the radiator as a prop for “The Drowsy Chaperone” and then discard it.
Up in the attic, volunteer Linda Gordon, who has recently retired to the North Fork after a career in New York City in technical and costume design, is coordinating the cataloguing and organizing of props and costumes.
“There’s been a huge volunteer effort at the same time as the professional effort,” said Ms. Kalich. “We’ve done what we could in other areas to make it not as scary. This would have cost another $40,000 to $50,000 to have it professionally done. But we want to take care of our home.”
Ms. Kalich will be directing “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which began rehearsals the last week in March, with construction workers putting the finishing touches on the renovation during the day and rehearsals at night.
She’s hoping the show will be able to take advantage of all the new capabilities of the playing space.
“It’s a real modern musical with the feel of an old fashioned musical,” she said. “It’s about a lovely old man in his apartment who loves musical theater. The musical comes alive in his apartment. Every over-the-top part of a musical is in it.”
“It’s a love letter to musicals,” she added. “This is what brings joy into his life. It’s very happy and light. We’re learning how to use all the new capabilities of our new home. Every new home you move into is, wow, awesome, and then you have to figure out where to put everything.”
For more information on “The Drowsy Chaperone” and on how to donate to the renovation campaign, visit nfct.com. The theater is also posting regular updates on the construction project on its Facebook page.
— Beth Young