The stairs at the North Fork Community Theatre creak. A pile of crumbled bricks and dust sits in the corner of the actors’ waiting room below the stage. In the attic, where costumes and set props are kept, the wooden support beams are black and charred but still standing as survivors of a fire in the 80s.
But despite their building’s shortcomings, the members of Mattituck’s North Fork Community Theatre have just one wish -- to own it.
“You look around and you think, ‘This is the place they want to buy?’ ” said Robert Horn, a member of the theater’s board of directors. “But we love it. It’s home.”
The building was constructed 1830 as the Mattituck Presbyterian Church. It was expanded in 1856 when it was leased by the Methodist Church.
The theater group has leased the building rent-free from Mattituck Presbyterian Church since 1961, but that arrangement will come to an end this year, said Mary Kalich, head of the fundraising campaign to purchase the theater, called “Building on Tradition.”
The group is now at the tail-end of that campaign. With a looming August deadline, the group has about $150,000 to go toward its $500,000 total.
Kalich said after the initial purchase later this year, the group will hold a second phase of fundraising for renovations.
“We have raised over $70,000 in the last few months,” Kalich said, “so there is really good momentum. Things are moving along.”
Marilee Scheer, 62, of Mattituck, and a member of the theater’s board, said a permanent home is the “No. 1 thing” a community theater needs in order to be successful. The North Fork Community Theatre has been lucky enough to have one of those for more than 50 years, so they’d like to keep it.
“This is just our theater,” she said, “this is just our building. When it’s needed upkeep, we take care of it. When it needed a new furnace, we put it in.”
The theater puts on five shows a year, including a variety show and “Youth on Stage,” a fully staged musical production for students that runs every summer. All auditions are open to the public and actors come from all around the island, said Horn, who is from Rocky Point and is directing the upcoming performance of “Doubt: A Parable.”
Horn said the theater is a “jewel,” and an invaluable resource for the community, especially for its youth.
He said he sees the theater building as a “crossroads” for local high schools. Students come from the North and South forks and farther west, and high school cliques disappear as they all support each other on stage.
“They have so much pride in this place,” he said.
Scheer said donations have come in through a direct mailing campaign, and often, from people who are impressed with a performance and ask how they can help.
She said the pride the people who use it feel for the building is priceless.
“It’s old and it is what it is,” she said. “But it’s home. And when people go away and come back, we say, ‘Yes, it does smell just the same.’”