The stage at North Fork Community Theatre went dark after the cast members of “Seussical” took their bows last August.
Instead of actors running lines or warming up, the sounds of construction filled the 150-seat theater — which was still music to NFCT president Mary Kalich’s ears.
“Our goal was to make it a more functioning theater,” Ms. Kalich said during a recent walkthrough of the renovated space. The $950,000 project addressed long-anticipated infrastructure issues, including the addition of an elevator to provide access to the basement, a new HVAC system and fire sprinklers.
The effort has also transformed the actors’ experience behind the scenes. In addition to a rebuilt stage, a backstage area that was once narrow and dimly lit was expanded, allowing for storage and more room for actors to navigate between scenes.
“That three feet of space is huge for us,” Ms. Kalich said.
Two new backstage staircases eliminate the need for performers to exit the building to get from one side of the stage to the other and new lighting infrastructure will increase the group’s creative capabilities for future shows.
Perhaps the most striking change, however, is the addition of a true orchestra “pit,” intended to remedy sound issues in the small playhouse.
According to Ms. Kalich, the pit was acoustically engineered to cater to the performers, who do not wear microphones on stage. Previously, the orchestra would set up on the auditorium floor and, despite efforts to contain the sound, it bounced around with uneven distribution.
Now, acoustic treatments will absorb and reflect sound, improving the theater experience for audiences.
An excavator was used to dig out space beneath the stage for a new rehearsal room, located just behind the orchestra pit. Ms. Kalich said the new space is a game-changer for the group. “It will make us exponentially more productive,” she said, noting that simultaneous rehearsals or meetings can now be held in different areas of the theater.
The new rehearsal room is already being used as the cast of “The Drowsy Chaperone” prepares for a May 16 opening. “It’s a perfect show for us to open up the theater with,” said Ms. Kalich, who is directing. “It’s a cute, fun, bright, happy musical.”
During the show’s run, donors, subscribers and members will be invited for renovation tours to see what’s new, she said.
With only $8,000 of the total $950,000 goal left to raise, Ms. Kalich is confident the theater will be completed on time and on budget.
Until then, construction crews and a dedicated team of volunteers are putting on the final touches as the theater starts to take shape. On any given day, volunteers can be found painting, cleaning or moving furniture, readying the theater for the opening night reveal.
These upgrades had been a goal for the troupe since it purchased the building from Mattituck Presbyterian Church for $500,000 in 2012.
Fundraising for future phases of the renovation, which would include new seating and revamping the theater’s public areas, begins with NCFT’s 11th annual gala on Friday, June 14, at Pellegrini Vineyards in Cutchogue. The dinner event will also feature a preview from this summer’s youth production, “Pippin.”
This renovation, Ms. Kalich said, laid the foundation upon which the theater can grow. “We did the heavy lifting first. Now we can start to dream so much bigger,” she said.
For tickets and more information on “The Drowsy Chaperone” and the NFCT gala, visit nfct.com or contact Ms. Kalich at 917-334-6639.
Top caption: Mary Kalich on stage at the newly renovated North Fork Community Theatre. (Credit: Tara Smith)