How Does The Show Go On?

Pictured Above: The Diz Kids perform “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in the woods at the NFCT Variety Show.

Tales of what’s going on in the world of live theater in the past year have been quite gloomy, but gloom isn’t really in the vocabulary of the rollicking world of the North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.

This all-volunteer theater, which had finished phase one of an ambitious rebuilding campaign just before the pandemic hit, has maintained a buzz of excitement through the gloom of quarantine, and is poised to come roaring back….

Eventually.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that theaters can open April 2 with audiences at 33 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. The NFCT, like theaters throughout the region, is slowly awakening to the realization that there may be an end to the pandemic in sight.

“It’s a year on, and we’ve all learned how much more flexible we need to be,” said the theater’s treasurer, Mary Motto Kalich, who was a driving force behind the campaign over the past decade to buy and renovate the theater on Old Sound Avenue, which the non-profit had previously been renting from the neighboring Mattituck Presbyterian Church.

Members of the cast of "Wolf Hall," which opens Friday at the North Fork Community Theatre
Members of the cast of “Wolf Hall,” which had to close after opening weekend at the start of the pandemic last March.

As the pandemic struck last March, the cast of an ambitious production of “Wolf Hall,” about Thomas Cromwell’s role in the machinations of the court of Henry VIII, abruptly froze their run after opening weekend, an agonizing decision by a dedicated group of volunteer actors. 

There was hope at the time that a late-spring production of “The Producers,” which had been in the works since the theater was renovated, would go on. 

But “The Producers” was originally rescheduled to this spring, and has again been rescheduled, this time for the spring of 2022, when, presumably, things will be better.

“We’ve still been very active, but we’ve had to do things in different ways,” said Ms. Kalich. “Last summer, we were able to our Youth on Stage program, in masks of course. We were able to move forward with that sort of a focus on virtual performances, as well as outdoor performances.”

The theater had a runaway hit with a Halloween-timed historical tour of the graveyard next door, and boisterous musical theater participants put their heart into Christmas caroling, but as the winter surge of the coronavirus sent everyone back into lockdown, active members began to brainstorm how to make a quarantined virtual Variety Show pop, filming dance numbers in wooded lots, on back stoops and patios and even in the middle of Love Lane in Mattituck, shut by the police for just long enough for a real life dance number. 

Mark Sisson EmCee’d the quarantine edition of the show, by his fireplace, with a new costume for every scene break. He and his wife, Lauren Sisson and Liz Liszanckie served as the show’s directors, while Ms. Liszancki did the painstaking work of editing the vast variety of clips submitted.

Variety show participants sing “Oom-Pah-Pah!” from the musical Oliver.

The Variety Show, held in early January for the prior 16 years, went straight to YouTube this February, along with a pitch for donations to the theater’s scholarship fund, which has typically been the beneficiary of the show’s box office.

“It’s a perfect, quintessential community theater thing,” said Ms. Kalich of the Variety Show. “For the high school kids — my son is a junior — they are eager to be able to perform. It was a glimpse into how much fun they have when they do their shows together. There’s all that talent, and it’s so sad that they don’t have these opportunities now.”

The Variety Show can be viewed on the NFCT’s website, where you can also make a donation to the scholarship fund.

The theater is currently working on a video production of “Clue,” the classic who-done-it, which was filmed without an audience in the theater, with 10 cast members who wore masks to rehearsals. The production benefits from one of the latest upgrades to the theater done before the pandemic — the installation of a video wall behind the stage, used to augment a greater variety of scenes. 

“Contemporary productions have a lot more scenes in different locations, unlike a play like ‘Oklahoma,’ which had one scene and they would close the curtain if they had to be somewhere else,” said Ms. Kalich. “These days, the shows have so much more complexity. The video wall doesn’t replace scenery, but it give it depth. In “Clue,” some scenes are in the ballroom, the library and the kitchen. It was amazing to be able to have a different background. These days, you don’t want to spend money because you have no income coming in, so it’s been a godsend to be able to have a set.”

“Clue” will be streamable via Broadway on Demand, premiering Friday, March 19 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Here’s how to register. After that production, the theater is planning to re-evaluate what’s possible in the waning days of the pandemic. 

“In a virtual world, now there’s so much other stuff we have to worry about — cameras, sound, vocals taped separately from visuals, which have to be edited,” said Ms. Kalich. “Our goal is and has always been to be a live performance venue. That’s who we are and what we are — even watching the live mistakes. In live theater you don’t tape it over again. You go on!”

The theater is planning to hold its annual June gala in a large park, and its play-reading committee is currently preparing recommendations for the 2021-2022 season, which begins in the fall. 

They’ve taken advantage of the down time to reorganize their attic prop and costume room, which is finally climate controlled due to the renovation, as well as making repairs to some roof beams charred there during an arson attempt in the early 1980s.

Because the theater is run by volunteers and the non-profit owns the building outright, it’s managed to weather this year without the financial stress facing so many other venues. 

A robust capital campaign before the pandemic had put the building and its performance spaces in good shape, and the board is still hoping to move into Phase II of the renovation, with new audience seating and sprucing up the house side of things.

“We are all almost amazed at what we can do,” said Ms. Kalich. “A positive attitude is what makes sense now. We’ll come back stronger, and more excited to be doing everything — theater, traveling, hugging a friend.”

As for the first production in the theater in the after-times?

“Opening night will be out of control, oh my goodness,” she said. “It will be huge.”          —BY

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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