KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | James Stevens and Jessica Raven in a scene from Oklahoma!
The race is on for the North Fork Community Theatre to raise enough money for the 54-year-old theater group to buy and renovate the building where it performs.
Two years ago, the theater group entered into a contract with the neighboring Mattituck Presbyterian Church, which owns the building, to buy the property when the theater’s lease expires in August 2012. But the group needed to raise $750,000 to take possession of the building and do the required renovations. To date, NFCT has raised $250,000.
“That’s awesome, it’s just not awesome enough,” said Mary Motto Kalich, who is leading the building campaign. “The church has been wonderful enough to allow us to be there rent-free for 50 years. That’s a very, very long time. We really have existed on their generosity for so long. Now is the time to stand on our own.
“My biggest challenge is most people in the community seem to think we’re already saved. They don’t seem to understand we’ll be gone if we don’t raise enough money to purchase it,” she added.
Next Friday, June 17, NFCT will hold its third annual “Building on Tradition” gala at Vineyard Caterers in Aquebogue. This year called “Legends of the Theatre,” the event will honor 30 past presidents of the organization, many of whom have become legends among the theater’s all-volunteer participants. The event will also feature performances by members of the theater and there will be a DJ and dancing.
NFCT, the only year-round theater group in Southold or Riverhead towns with its own performance space, put on its first show, “The Man who Came to Dinner,” at Greenport High School in 1957 and moved into its current building on Old Sound Avenue in 1961.
Elaine Breese and her husband, Sydney, decided to start the theater along with another couple, Jim and Doris MacCammond, after a conversation in the Breeses’ Greenport living room one evening in 1957.
“They never would have believed there would be over 200 plays produced,” wrote Ms. Breese, whose late husband served as the organization’s first president.
“There is only one thing left to make their dream come true — to have a permanent home for the NFCT,” she added. “Let’s all join together and let that dream come true.”
Ms. Kalich expects at least 15 past presidents or their relatives to attend the gala and share their memories of the group and its leaders, who include Mr. Breese, Jack Moffat, Dr. Monte Warren, John Seaman, Ruth Becker, Art Wilks III, Dave Detrich, Clacia Young, Dick Winters, Maureen Cahill, Pat Tucker Wall, Judy Utter, Robert Shaw, Bob Ackroyd, Dick Keogh, Phoebe Rey, Deborah Pinneo, Joseph Sieczka, Todd Bibey, Bob Erland, Priscilla Sprague, Bob Darin, Caroline Ciochetto, Lois Eigabroadt, Marilyn Corwin, Marilee Scheer, Rusty Kransky and Mike Hipp.
“If anyone takes a look at the names, they know so many of them,” said Ms. Kalich. “All these people are so intertwined with the North Fork. The theater is such a part of the community.”
In preparation for the gala, Ms. Kalich has spent many hours on the telephone with past presidents and their families, who recounted memories to be included in a journal that will be given out at the event.
Tina Moffat Koslosky wrote on behalf of her late father, Jack Moffat, “I cannot remember a time when he and mom were not involved in the NFCT. It seemed like an extended family for me, something that was always in our lives,” she said. “Mom and Poppy learned to do it all in the theater. Each person had something to contribute.”
The theater produced one of her father’s original works, “Peanut Butter Prince,” when she was 3 years old.
“He wrapped so much into the story, parental conflict, the mother’s balancing act, the relaxed son, a servant who has yet to find his way, a junior witch who doesn’t fit in, the witch who is a be-spelled princess,” she said. “It was a complicated story of accomplishment and triumph. He was so proud of this work.”
Past president Art Wilks wrote of making lifelong friends and of the pleasure of transforming himself into a wide array of characters.
“The most important lesson I learned was to try and not get caught acting. Try to be the character, and react the way the character would react. I am still trying to learn how to do that,” he recalled.
Past president Pat Wall wrote about a lifetime of friendship, including meeting her husband, Bob, at the theater when he was helping build the set for “Man of La Mancha.”
“I did not come back as a participant until the recent production of Gypsy,” she said. “Although I had been gone for years it was as though I had never left. And that is part of the magic of community theater — you always feel at home.”
Tickets to the June 17 gala are $85 and tables for 10 can be reserved for $850. The organizers are also asking for donations of prizes for an auction during the event and are welcoming contributions from people who are unable to attend. For tickets, call 298-NFCT (6328). Donations can be made directly to NFCT, Box 86, Mattituck NY 11952. More information about upcoming shows is available at www.nfct.com. Anyone interested in helping with the ongoing campaign can call Ms. Kalich at 917-334-6639.