Tony Spiridakis is really having a wonderful life.
On behalf of the North Fork Arts Center, the nonprofit he founded and presides over as executive director, Mr. Spiridakis signed the closing documents to accept an early holiday “gift:” the Greenport Theatre, formerly owned by Josh Sapan and valued at $5.5 million, last Monday.
For more than a year, Mr. Spiridakis, a filmmaker and Greenport resident, devised a plan for NFAC to take over and rejuvenate the historic theater, which dates back to 1939, and which Mr. Sapan, who recently stepped down as CEO at AMC Networks, took over in 2004.
Since the theater hit the real estate market this past January, Mr. Spiridakis galvanized friends, neighbors and fellow lovers of the arts, asking them to pledge $1 million to bolster NFAC’s reserve funds. If he could pull that off — and receive nonprofit status for NFAC — Mr. Sapan promised the organization the theater. To honor his donation, Mr. Spiridakis said the theater’s new name will be the ‘North Fork Arts Center at the Sapan Greenport Theatre.’
“When I started in January, [Mr. Sapan] needed to see what kind of support there was from the community,” he explained. “That was the best, for me to see — and to show him — how much faith people had in this concept. When I signed, what it really made me feel was that a whole community, they didn’t just speak, they really showed up and came in as volunteers and wanted to be on the board and wanted to get the word out.”
As a “thank you” to his community for making his dream come true, Mr. Spiridakis announced the theater will host three free screenings of holiday classics. On Dec. 28 and 29, the theater will screen “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell. After both screenings, NFAC will host a Q&A session with Todd Komarnicki, who produced the film. On Dec. 30, the theater will screen the all-time classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Mr. Spiridakis said the film “is kind of like the poster for what we just pulled off,” perhaps best encapsulated in the film’s ending, when George Bailey’s friends and neighbors raise $8,000 — $135,240 in 2023 according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistic’s CPI Inflation Calculator — to save him from debt.
As an additional thank you to everyone who donated to NFAC, and to anyone who donates to the group by Dec. 31, Mr. Spiridakis said the revamped theater will feature a “Founding Members Wall” with every donor’s name.
Following the three winter screenings, NFAC will close the theater for renovations, which range from fixing the soda machine to installing an HVAC system. They hope to complete this work in time for a grand reopening next spring.
Come Memorial Day 2024, Mr. Spiridakis said, the theater will reintroduce first-run films to North Forkers. In addition to new and classic films, the NFAC executive director said he plans to screen films in Spanish, including foreign films both new and old, on Sunday afternoons.
“[We’ll show] whatever the community asks for,” he said. “We’re already doing surveys and we’re going to be circulating a new survey that’s going to be in Spanish.”
When the Greenport Theatre reopens, Mr. Spiridakis also promises more than just movies. NFAC, he explained, is an evolution of the 11-year-old Manhattan Film Institute, a Greenport-based not-for-profit film education program he runs with his wife, Lisa Gillooly. When NFAC’s new space is open to the public, he plans to host educational seminars and special events, including ballet classes and performances courtesy of the Brooklyn Ballet while they develop choreography during a three-week residency in Greenport.
“I’m so excited about that,” Mr. Spiridakis said. “Nothing says ‘we’re not just a movie theater’ clearer than that.”
Shannon Goldman, NFAC’s creative director, said the theater’s forthcoming “second to none” educational programs will be available to North Forkers of all ages.
“Our mission is to change lives through arts education and entertainment,” Mr. Goldman said. “There’s going to be an animation class, there’s going to be scene study with Tony [Spiridakis], there’s going to be a writing class, [we’ll teach] things like how to make a film on an iPhone.”
While sealing the deal on the theater is great news for Mr. Spiridakis and the other members of NFAC, he said the prospect of a revitalized cultural hub could spell good tidings for businesses in the village. He believes screenings will bolster business for restaurants and bars, particularly during the quieter months.
“I think we needed to anchor something in Greenport Village,” Mr. Spiridakis said. “We’re starting to become more than just the great things that we already do, the restaurants and vineyards. All of that is fantastic, and I just think for the people that are here all year-round, the Sapan Greenport Theatre becomes a place that can really change the face of our community in the offseason.”
Anyone interested in donating to the North Fork Arts Center by Dec. 31 for inclusion on the Sapan Greenport Theatre’s “Founding Members Wall” can visit northfork-artscenter.org.