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Paradise focus shifts to community collaboration

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Photo by Tamie Meck The Paradise Theatre is shifting its focus to community-oriented programming and collaborations, as reflected on a recent marquis: from left, live performances, great movies, and collaborations with local nonprofits and organizations.

The Paradise Theatre has seen many changes in recent years. Now the non-profit community theatre is heading in a new direction that includes more collaborations and more community-focused events.

The Friends of the Paradise Theatre (FOPT) board that oversees theater operations "is committed to providing accessibility and programming to all audiences," said Paradise general manager Sunshine Knight. "The priorities and goals are to bring programming that is beneficial to the entire community."

The focus is shifting to community-related events where grant funding is available, said Knight. Gone are televised events like the Super Bowl and Academy Awards. Programming subscriptions are expensive and the theater can't charge admission or get grants. They rely on concessions and donations, which don't cover costs.

Instead, the focus will turn toward collaboration with other non-profits and organizations. A good example is "North Fork Reads," a collaboration between the Paradise, Delta County Libraries, and the Blue Sage Literary Committee. The program allows readers to check out a particular book from their library, and get a ticket to attend the movie of the same title. Discussion and comparison of the film and book are held at one of the shows. Grant funding pays for the libraries to purchase books, marketing, and movie licensing fees and staffing. The first movie, "A Wrinkle in Time," opened on Sunday and runs through mid-April.

FOPT will also continue its relationship with The Paonia Players community theater group, and Rob Miller and Pickin' Productions will continue to bring live music to the Paradise. "Rob has a lot of connections in the music industry and has been instrumental in making sure that the quality of music is of the highest caliber," said Knight.

Monday nights, non-profits can rent the theater for events and fundraisers. In March, The Learning Council and Valley Outdoor Growers Association held a hemp forum, and Slow Food Western Slope will present "Deeply Rooted: John Coykendall's Journey to Save Our Seeds" in May.

The theater is also working with the Western Slope Conservation Center and The Cirque Cyclery to bring environmental films to the theater, and with The Nature Connection to present the annual Winter Wildlands Alliance Film Festival.

The Paradise Cabin Fever series, which began in the 1990s and runs in January and February, will continue.

Elsewhere Studios will bring three art films to the theater this summer, and David Alderdice and Embodying Rhythm will present four concerts at the Paradise through the 2018 World Music Series.

"These collaborative events benefit so many people in the community," said Knight. "When the nonprofits are able to pull together and provide really great quality programming, it benefits the community as a whole." It also helps with getting grants, since grantors consider collaborations in their decision-making process.

And, of course, the theater will continue to show great movies. A film committee, made up of volunteers ranging from their teens to their 60s, meets monthly. "They have a great time picking movies," said Knight. Because the area has a diverse group of citizens, it's important for them to select movies that are welcome to all members of the community.

Last December the theater honored firefighters by showing "Only the Brave," about the deadly 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. While it's difficult for the general public to watch films like this and box office receipts were low, about 30 firefighters took advantage of the free passes offered by the Paradise, said Knight. "I hope to do more of those events."

A "pretty great group of people" keeps the theater running, said Knight. They have nine employees, including new assistant general manager Aaron Watson, who brings an engineering background to the staff. The facilities, film and grant-writing committees are all volunteers, and the theater has a waiting list for volunteers, said Knight.

FOTP also started an intern program and recently received grant funding for three high school interns, one from Hotchkiss and two from Paonia, to work at the theater through the summer. They learn about non-profits, customer service and money-handling skills, attend board meetings, run concessions, and learn how to operate the sound and lighting systems.

Recently elected FOPT board members include Bart Eller, Daniel B., Erin Jameson, treasurer Judy Martin, vice president Ben Lehman, who previously served two years on the board, and president Philip Salembier.

"Phil is all about safety," said Knight. He's working to eliminate fire and other safety hazards in the 90-year-old building. That means it's curtains for the old stage curtains, which will be replaced with new, fire-retardant curtains. Ryan Strand's popular stick art stage installations are also flammable and have to go, said Knight. To replace them, said Knight, they are considering having Strand do an installation outside the theater.

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North Fork
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Paonia, Paradise Theatre
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