In 2000, people in Gig Harbor were introduced to the Paradise Theatre, an idea many years in the making. For 19 seasons, locals have been entertained with a wide range of shows both familiar and unconventional. The early days the theatre was located in the old Peacock family house.
“We turned it into a Cabaret Dinner Theatre presenting indoor dinner shows from September through May as welchard’sl as an annual haunted house in October. There was also an outdoor amphitheatre for summer outdoor performances and concerts,” recalled Vicki Richards, executive artistic director.
Unfortunately the original venue of the Paradise Theatre was not able to become its permanent home. The outdoor area became too dense, and the 100-year-old building was unable to have anything grandfathered in when it was revealed it needed several major upgrades. This wasn’t the end of the Paradise Theatre, however, as it was able to find a new home on Burnham Drive where a recently closed Christian School and small church on property provided space for theatre productions and arts education courses. Ten years went by when all of a sudden the Paradise was in need of a new space yet again, this time to make way for an upcoming housing development.
“We were given three to four years to find a new home. Paradise Theatre put together a Capital Campaign to raise money for a new permanent home in four phases. Unfortunately, the three to four years we were promised turned into six months,” said Richards.
As fortunes would align, Paradise was able to secure a year-to-year lease inside the old Rexall Pharmacy downtown, which had been vacant for five years. The company set to work upgrading, adding restrooms and building it out into a vision of what they hoped it could be, but news soon came that this would not become its permanent home either. The owners had plans to tear down the building for more housing.
“The good news was that we were informed that the proposed redevelopment had been postponed until 2021. That was quite a relief to us. The bad news was getting notification that our rent was more than quadrupling starting in October,” said Richards.
As a small 501(c)3 nonprofit community theatre, the increase in rent is not something that can be absorbed, so a mission to build and create a space with help from the community is underway. Through a four-phase plan, Paradise Theatre is seeking to raise $120,000 in which to build an infrastructure to an existing structure and secure a permanent home. The build would include around 200 to 250 seats, a lobby, kitchen, dance/rehearsal/green room and support space. Richards says having these additional spaces would help the nonprofit drum up additional funds as well.
“There are other arts groups that have a need for this size space for recitals, concerts, fundraisers, film festivals, etc. We get requests regularly but are too small for many groups and don't have a kitchen at our current space,” she said.
The Paradise Theatre has met with Mayor Kit Kuhn and spoke to the city council asking to either help fund or support a new space, knowing full well the difficulties of raising large sums of money. Ultimately the theatre recognizes that it is in the hands of the community, whether or not they will be able to continue their mission of quality live theatre and education courses or if their run has come to an end.
Since its inception, the theatre has not only entertained thousands of patrons at some of the lowest ticket prices of any live entertainment but has taught and inspired hundreds of students in classes not found in your typical K-12 curriculum.
“Our educational opportunities for youth provide a training ground for those who will go on to films, movies and Broadway,” said Richards. “Many students learn how to speak in public and gain confidence as well as an appreciation for the arts.”
Summer Theatre Camp gives kids the opportunity to get on stage, discover hidden talents, leadership and meet new friends. Paradise Theatre partners with local businesses and restaurants, encouraging patronage before and after shows while also donating tickets to families and other nonprofits so everyone in the community has a chance to experience live theatre.
“The most rewarding part is teaching the kids and watching them develop into these wonderful, confident, talented adults,” said Richards. “We have been doing this for so long that they are bringing their children in now to experience what they did 10 or 15 years ago.”
The Capital Campaign continues today and is still short of its goal. The Theatre is encouraging anyone who doesn’t want to lose the last community theatre in Gig Harbor to donate whatever they are able, as even small amounts continue to get them closer to the ultimate goal. Those interested in donating can do so at ParadiseTheatre.org, by mail, GoFundMe, Amazon Smile or in person. For Richards and the board of directors, the hope is that they will be able to continue providing enrichment in the community for decades to come.
“We need your help; every city needs a live community theatre. The arts and arts education are the lifeblood of a community’s expression, growth and imagination,” she said.
The Paradise Theatre was never intended to become a company without a permanent home and hopes that will change when the Capital Campaign is reached. A facility of their own will provide the same great performance in a comfortable setting while also creating a space that can be utilized by other groups in the community. Richards says the support that continues to come in every day helps keep them focused on their mission.
“The people we work with on our shows are dedicated performers as is our dedicated board of directors. Many of our regular guests have followed Paradise from place to place; it's like throwing a party every night for them. Everyone is there to have a good time,” she said.
If you have further questions about the campaign, where donations will go toward, would like to volunteer your time at the current theatre or help Paradise find a permanent home, you can reach Vicki Richards directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.