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North Fork Arts Center. (Photo credit: Jeremy Garretson)

The newly renovated North Fork Arts Center is about to light up Front Street with an array of diverse programming, including the return of first-run movie screenings, performing arts residencies, indie films, creative workshops and more.

The nonprofit launched in January 2023 and was founded by actor, director, producer and screenwriter Tony Spiridakis, who also serves as the group’s executive director. Although it may feel like the project came together quite quickly—a highly successful capital campaign helped NFAC reach its fundraising goal in a matter of months—Spiridakis noted just how much work has gone into the venture. The theater itself originally opened in 1939 with a screening of “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell” and later served as a multiplex for many years. Former AMC Networks CEO and Shelter Islander Josh Sapan purchased the art deco theater in 2004 and donated it to the North Fork Arts Center last year after the group secured $1 million in donations to fund its arts initiative.

The first major offering at the new center was a residency by the critically acclaimed Brooklyn Ballet, which ran from May 3 to May 18.

On May 31, NFAC hosted the world premiere of “Ezra,” a feature film directed by Tony Goldwyn and written by Spiridakis. The comedy-drama stars Bobby Cannavale, Robert De Niro, Rose Byrne, Whoopi Goldberg and Rainn Wilson.

“I’ve been working on it for about 14 years,” Spiridakis says. “[Production company] Bleecker Street bought ‘Ezra,’ ” he explains. “We were sitting with Bleecker Street, and [CEO Andrew] Karpen said to me, ‘So I hear you’re going to save a movie theater’ and he goes ‘I think I have some ideas for you about movies.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s fantastic! Just email me.’ And Tony Goldwyn looks at me and goes, ‘No, dummy, he’s talk- ing about our film!’ ”

The world premiere served as a fundraiser for the nonprofit, and Goldwyn and Cannavale were at the debut. ‘Ezra’ will then screen at NFAC for several weeks, ahead of a wider theatrical release. NFAC will also offer a mix of first-run and art-house films.

NFAC has educational programming lined up throughout the summer, too. A workshop by puppeteers Tube Town on July 16 and 17 will teach kids ages 6 to 11 how to make puppets using all manner of everyday materials. “Puppeting is a great way to build bridges between what’s happening in the minds of our students and young people,” Spiridakis says. “We believe this workshop will [also] lead to a whole program that will encourage English as a Second Language students.”

For kids ages 12 to 16, Kinetic Canvas, which combines painting with live music and storytelling, comes to the theater on July 29, hosted by local composer—and 2023 Northforker of the Year—Paolo Bartolani. Illustrator and Emmy-award-winning cartoonist Dean Haspiel will lead a comic book drawing workshop on Aug. 7 and 8 for teens and young adults.

“I’ve been coming here since I was born,” Spiridakis says. “When I was 11 and 12 years old, the first time I did theater of any kind was at a children’s theater in Greenport. I did ‘Oliver’ and ‘Peter Pan’ and I fell in love with theater. So to me, Greenport was always synonymous with cultural arts.”

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