The North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck embarked this week on a brave new step into the 21st Century — a ground-up renovation that will dramatically alter the capabilities of this tight-knit theater troupe.
The theater, which had been in its current location since 1961, purchased the building from the neighboring Mattituck Presbyterian Church in 2012, and volunteers have since been working on updating a space that is still “like playing in a church basement,” said NFCT Board President Mary Motto Kalich on the morning of Aug. 13, as workers began to remove the first few rows of audience seating to make way for a new orchestra pit. “We’ve been trying to hack it ourselves, but this will move us into having a true theatrical community space. This is truly transformative.”
Several dozen active members of the theater gathered for a groundbreaking party on the evening of Aug. 12, breaking a hole in the center of the stage, which is part of a 1896 addition to the building that currently lacks a basement.
That’s about to change.
The NFCT has raised $800,000 of its $950,000 goal for the interior renovation.
“That’s a huge amount of money for this community,” said Ms. Kalich. “This is a very local place. It isn’t an atmosphere like the Hamptons where people throw money at you. So many people have given so much, and it’s gotten to a point where we’re right there. It’s time to start.”
Ms. Kalich is quick to point out that this is a bottom-up infrastructure improvement, beginning with digging out and pouring a basement under the front of the building, underneath the stage, upgrading the heating system and insulating the drafty building, which dates back to 1830.
“We’re going to do the hardcore stuff first,” she said.
The project has been helped significantly by matching grants from Michael and Emilie Corey and Bill Osler, while Richard Manfredi has paid for the services of theatrical architects Walters-Storyk Design Group, who are working with architect and construction manager Rob Stromsky on the theatrical aspects of the renovation — from sound and rigging to lighting and stage design.
“The biggest challenge, theatrically, in this building has been the sound,” said Ms. Kalich. The theater, which is known for its full-scale musical productions, is proud to have a pit orchestra accompanying its shows. But the building, which was the original Mattituck Presbyterian Church, does not easily accommodate a pit orchestra, which has been wedged into the house left corner of the audience, behind a Plexiglas shield.
In addition to the pit for the orchestra, the renovation will include acoustical treatments for the ceiling to help better direct sound.
Another major challenge for the actors and crew is the lack of backstage space — in order to make an entrance from stage left after exiting stage right (or vice versa), actors would have to run around the outside of the building and then re-enter, often out of breath, to make it back on stage.
The addition of the basement space will also give the theater a practice room, and a handicapped-accessible elevator for cast, crew and the public to access the basement of the theater, which contains two of the three public restrooms in the building. A spiral staircase to stage left will give actors access to both sides of the stage.
For now, says Ms. Kalich, the theater is working to upgrade the lighting infrastructure, hard-wiring the stage lighting fixtures to the building (they are currently connected to a panel of electrical outlets installed by theater volunteers), but keeping their old incandescent stage lights and colored gels, with plans in the future to upgrade to modern LED stage lights.
They are also extending the stage on both sides of the curtain, giving the actors permanent space in areas they’ve long jerry-rigged to serve the needs of plays.
“We want the ability to do more modern musicals. Now on Broadway, they have 20 sets flying everywhere,” said Ms. Kalich. “We need the space to do musicals from this century.”
The theater is hoping the renovations will be finished in time to put up “The Producers” in the spring of 2019, and in the meantime is holding an off-site season this fall and winter.
Halloween readings of “Jeckyll & Hyde” and “Monster Soup” will be held on Oct. 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. at the Harbes Family Farm on Sound Avenue in Mattituck.
The theater company will move to the Jamesport Meeting House for performances of David Sedaris’s “Santaland Diaries” on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 2:30 p.m.
The theater’s annual Variety Show will also be held at the Jamesport Meeting House on Jan. 4 & 5, 2019 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 6 at 2:30 p.m.
“We’re completely volunteer-driven, which is rare these days,” says Ms. Kalich. “We have a culture of everyone being a part of it. We can do stuff here because people want to be a part of it.”
To make a donation to the Building on Tradition campaign, visit nfct.com, or mail checks to the North Fork Community Theatre, P.O. Box 86, Mattituck, NY 11952.
Ms. Kalich is looking for a group of leaders to put together a matching grant to raise the final $150,000 for the renovation. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 917.334.6639.