Like just about everywhere else on Long Island, the weekdays have been quiet in Greenport, while the weekends a little less so. Some biker clubs came through this past one, said George W. Hubbard Jr., the village mayor. "Everyone wants to get the fresh air."
Nevertheless, quiet is expected to rule here for the foreseeable future, leaving at least one big question — just how foreseeable? Whatever form the answer eventually takes, the impact will be profound on this thriving arts community, and on the arts venues that call Greenport home, including The North Fork TV Festival.
The North Fork — which will hold its fifth annual festival here in October — does only TV, and the locals have responded. Hubbard says it regularly fills the Greenport Theatre for screenings, while the various children's programs have been popular too. Nevertheless, that's all about to change this October. With the expectation that social distancing will remain in effect, the theaters or restaurants can't be packed. How to run a TV festival that depends on — if you will — social anti-distancing?
The North Fork has come up with a novel idea: Parking lots.
"To have a good viewing experience requires a lot of things [but] there are places in Greenport and the North Fork that have large parking lots, and we're exploring those," says Commack native Noah Doyle, who founded the festival in 2015 with his wife, Lauren — both are lawyers with homes in Manhattan and Greenport.
"I was a child of the '90s and definitely have memories" of drive-ins, but he admits that the challenges are obvious. "What happens if it rains? You watch through the windshield wipers? I'm very aware of the downside, but also like the memory of putting a towel down on the front of the car."
Hubbard says "we're trying to work with that kind of thing. We don't have a huge piece of land but we could put TV screens on Moores Lane [by] the athletics field. We could fit 75 cars by our skate park."
Elias Plagianos, the festival's director of programming, says "we might be able to screen [pilots] in sunlight hours on LED screens, and [attendees] could listen on their radio. The technology is there but it's just a short amount of time to prepare. It's taken us years to perfect the theater experience."
The North Fork's screenings have previously taken place at the Greenport Theatre on East Front Street.
Unusual times, obviously unusual measures but the alternatives are bleak. The long-running New York TV Festival (NYTVF) has shut down entirely, with its founder Terence Gray recently telling members "I was hopeful that by this summer we would have identified an effective restructure strategy to take us into 2020." He could not.
But the North Fork has forged ahead and still hopes for a mid-October start. On Wednesday it announced a second annual partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation as part of a script competition geared to "realistic and compelling stories about science and technology." North Fork will also give all the money it raises from TV pilot submissions to Community Action Southold Town (C.A.S.T.), which has been running food pantries and mobile food units through the North Fork.
That could mean real money: It costs $50 to submit a pilot, and the Festival receives hundreds each year.
Doyle says "our priority is to be in the theater. That is our intent. That is our goal. But our backs are up against the wall. We want to protect the health and safety of our community [but] I would say that if the U.S. Open hasn't been canceled [it's scheduled Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck] or the NFL [scheduled to start Sept. 10] hasn't been postponed, and if Broadway reopens after Labor Day, then we can revisit this."
Meanwhile, "we're just going to focus on the things we can do right now."