After 18 years of presenting live theater in Gig Harbor, the Paradise Theatre might have to close because of a big hike in its rent.
Vicki and Jeff Richards are the main faces behind the theater, which they opened in 2000. They started at Chapel Hill Church and moved twice before coming to the current location at 3114 Judson St. two years ago.
“We were thinking of starting a dinner theater because that’s how we met,” Vicki Richards said. “We were approached with space and that’s how Paradise came to be. We love theater and we love serving the community. We still get on stage for fun. (Jeff) is the mayor in "Music Man.' ”
The spike in the theater's rent — from $2,000 a month to $8,500, not including utilities — means the couple can't do another season, the Richards said. The theater’s board of directors is working to raise enough money through donations to keep the theater open for an additional season.
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“We are just flabbergasted,” Vicki Richards said of the rent hike. “It’s a frustrating situation. That rent is absurd for a nonprofit.”
The Paradise's budget is about $180,000 a year. In addition to producing live shows in the city each season, the group also provides acting, singing and dance classes and a two-week art camp in the summer for local students.
Volunteers put on the shows and actors travel mainly from Kitsap County, Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula to perform on the small stage. On average, the theater is home to 150 local actors.
“We’ve built a good rapport with the community,” Vicki Richards said. “Our budget is mainly ticket sales and donations.”
The theater is in a shopping center near two Japanese restaurants and Seven Seas Brewing. Jeff Richards says he likes the location because many people enjoy dinner and a drink before seeing a show.
The shopping center is owned by the Milgard family, the namesake of Milgard Manufacturing in Tacoma and the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation. The Milgard family sold the business to MASCO Corporation in 2001.
The shopping center was home to the Gig Harbor Quality Food Center until it left in 2011, and was to become an apartment complex until the developer backed out of the project. Vicki Richards said the future apartment complex was part of the reason the theater received such a low rent.
“This was a temporary location,” she said. “We are still looking for our permanent home.”
The couple said they wanted to raise the money to move permanently to the QFC space, but that's out of reach. Jeff Richards said it's hard for the theater to receive large donations from the community because it does not have a permanent location.
The nonprofit was able to keep its lease at the current rate through October, but if enough money isn’t raised by then, they face closing.
The Paradise is the only live theater troupe in Gig Harbor, catching the attention of Mayor Kit Kuhn.
“I’m very supportive of Paradise Theatre,” Kuhn said. “They are the last public theater we have.”
Kuhn said he is researching how other cities have supported local theaters and is looking into different ways the city could help support the nonprofit. He plans to meet with the theater’s board to discuss its future in the city.
“I believe strongly in the arts,” Kuhn said. “You lose a little of the small-town feeling when you lose your arts.”
The theater has started a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $150,000. As of Tuesday afternoon the campaign had raised $470.
The theater also is hosting a fund raiser party at 7 p.m. Saturday (June 9) at the theater to add to the campaign goal. The party will have two live bands and a beer and wine bar. Tickets are $20 online and $25 at the door.
The Richards said they are looking to host more fund-raising parties before the fall.
“This is our family,” Vicki Richards said. “We have a great group here and we are trying to be optimistic. We are looking at losing a big part of our art community.”
The Paradise Theatre, 3114 Judson St., Gig Harbor, will present two more productions in its 2017-18 season.
"The Music Man" will run from June 15 through July 7. Tickets are $12 to $27 and on opening night include complimentary wine and cheese.
"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" will run from Aug. 3 through Aug. 25. Tickets are $12 to $27 and on opening night will include complimentary wine and cheese.
The theater has not announced a lineup for the 2018-19 season.