The Paradise Theatre company has resembled a band of gypsies since it first presented the musical “West Side Story” with a live orchestra in the open-air amphitheater on Peacock Hill in 2000.
After staging musicals, comedies and dramas for almost two decades, the nonprofit theater company could have its final encore this summer—and as of press time, event sooner—despite their continuous efforts to find a permanent location to call home. The current fate of Paradise Theatre is still yet undetermined, which saddens both Jeff and Vicki Richards and their faithful audiences who have supported the troupe since its debut.
The only community theater company with roots in Gig Harbor has staged productions at four locations in just the past two years, from downtown to PenMet Parks, Key Peninsula Civic Center to the Dragonfly Theater in Port Orchard.
Members of Paradise Theatre are committed to move ahead with four productions this spring and summer in what may be their last year together if a new home cannot be found. But as Vicki, Paradise’s artistic director says, “Unless something magical happens, we may have to close after our next show, though we are committed to move ahead and see the season through if it is at all possible.”
They opened the season with the stage version of “The Addams family” as a celebration of their 20th anniversary, and it was also the 50th anniversary of the show. “It was one of our favorite shows that we had done,” says Vicki. “We even had some of the same cast members from before. It was a really fun show.”
Performances of their current show, “Forbidden Broadway,” are scheduled to run until March 21.
“If we have to go, we’re going out with a bang,” says Jeff, who serves as managing director at Paradise Theatre.
The 2019-2020 lineup included the ambitious staging of “Newsies,” “All Shook Up” and “Mamma Mia.” The light-hearted “Shrek” is scheduled to take centerstage from June 19 until July 11. In what could be the company’s last show, the Paradise ensemble has scheduled four weekends of August for the upbeat musical “Pirates of Penzance.”
Silent auctions to raise funds to keep Paradise Theatre alive have been scheduled during a special benefit performance on closing night of “Pirates.”
Vicki proudly boasted that the Paradise company has produced seven shows per year over the past 20 years, not including the special programs the company stages for children. She says plans for what could be the company’s final indoor performance will mirror the cabaret-style productions when the troupe raised the curtain on its first performance.
If the final curtain comes down on the Paradise Theatre this season, it will not be for lack of effort. Vicki recounted how actors, technicians and theater patrons filled the Gig Harbor City Council chambers in 2019 to plead for financial assistance after Vicki admitted she had “exhausted every effort to find a permanent home.”
The presentation to the council by actors in full costume from “The Music Man” was supported by dozens of subscribers who crowded the council chambers to underscore how much community theater can enrich the cultural side of the city. Jeff came clad in costume as the Mayor from the musical.
“We asked the council for rent credits of $50,000 over 10 years to help us afford to keep our doors open in Gig Harbor,” says Vicki. “We left with virtually nothing.” What they offered was the upper level of the Masonic Temple, but it was uninhabitable and would require nearly a $100,00 investment into the space. “It didn’t make sense for us financially and was not feasible for us to take on,” says Vicki.
Paradise Theatre reached out to and partnered with PenMet Parks for a few smaller shows, which allowed the Paradise company to stage smaller shows until March of last year.
After exhausting their efforts in Gig Harbor, Jeff and Vicki had the choice to close the doors April 2019 or try out Port Orchard, an idea their patrons liked and gave them the green light to pursue it. “We moved to Port Orchard to test drive the old movie cinema (Dragonfly) in April, as it had been for sale for more than seven years. One of our regulars kept sending the listing to us while looking for a place in Gig Harbor,” says Vicki. “While renting it and working on raising the down payment to purchase, the building was red tagged, putting us out of business once again at that location. We quickly packed up and moved again to Southpark Village in Port Orchard while continuing to negotiate on the Dragonfly. We remain at Southpark until the end of March and will be out of a home again.”
Jeff did admit there are several spaces in Gig Harbor that could provide enough space to stage productions with adequate storage room for costumes, sets the company requires and seating for 100 theatergoers. But the price point for space in Gig Harbor, he says, is beyond anything the company could even consider.
The managing director says the company could survive with a space as small as 4,500 square feet to comfortably seat at least 100 people. He would prefer to find a stage in Gig Harbor so elderly season ticket subscribers would not be forced to drive on dark highways after a night performance.
“The country roads on this part of the (Olympic) peninsula can be treacherous on a dark and stormy night,” says Jeff. “A significant portion of our season ticket subscribers are elderly. That is a situation none of us want to see for our loyal patrons.”
Even though Paradise Theatre has played to sold-out audiences over the years, he admits the lack of a permanent space has caused attendance to drop and confusion for many of the longtime Paradise supporters. “Since we left Gig Harbor, it’s been hard,” adds Vicki.
“We will continue to host our popular Haunted House every Halloween and have a fireworks stand for the Fourth of July, but those fundraisers and ticket sales are simply not enough to stage shows on the scale our audiences have come to expect,” says Jeff. “Especially with the price of commercial real estate in town.”
He adds, “This is our hometown. We’ve received numerous donations from our subscribers and from residents of Gig Harbor who realize the importance of theater and what it brings to a community.
“We just can’t crack the nut without a little more help.”
Despite the setbacks, Jeff, who has his masters in theatre with an emphasis in directing, is optimistic that a solution will be found before the final curtain comes down on the Paradise Theatre this summer.
“We have invested 20 years in Paradise Theatre,” says Vicki. “It’s sad to us that we haven’t been able to find a permanent home. You can only do what you can do.”
With a little help from the Gig Harbor community, and beyond, Paradise Theatre will be able to take to the stage to entertain audiences for years to come, and the show will go on.
Be sure to get your tickets to see “Forbidden Broadway” playing through March 21 at 1731 Village Lane SE, a hilarious parody of your favorite Broadway shows! As Vicki says, “This may be our swan song unless an ‘Angel’ comes forward.”
If you are interested in finding out more about Paradise Theatre, you can contact Vicki Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jeff Richards at 253.851.7529 (call or text). If you would like to make a donation to Paradise Theatre, visit ParadiseTheatre.org/donate.html.