It’s a warm summer night in July, cars fill the small paved parking lot, and the crowd, filling the seats from the bottom row to top, is roaring with laughter.
Where else could it be but Theatre on the Ridge?
Shuttered like many since early 2020, Theatre on the Ridge is once again enriching the arts in Paradise with the opening of its 2021 season.
July marked the first of four productions from the small but mighty cast and crew of this beloved local playhouse, one of the miraculous few structural survivors of Neal Road from the 2018 Camp Fire.
As the oldest California non-profit community theatre north of Sacramento, Theatre on the Ridge was founded 46 years ago in 1975 as an offshoot of a Paradise Recreation and Park District children’s program. Since then, this small community theatre has produced hundreds of plays, musicals, and performances over the years.
Executive Director Judy Clemens, involved with the Theatre since 1977, knew that re-opening after the fire was a sure thing. “There was no question we would reopen,” she noted. “There was no other path for us. It was really important because the arts serve such an important purpose in our lives. “
Clemens believes theatre has been instrumental in helping Paradise heal during the events of the past three years. “Because we were left standing, we had a responsibility to bring the arts back to paradise as a way to heal,” she said.
“We were meant to serve a purpose.”
With the building untouched, TOTR staff and volunteers, nearly all of whom lost their homes and belongings, poured their energy into a packed, first post-fire show in February 2019. Debuted on Valentine’s Day, Radioland’s Return to Paradise was billed as a love letter to the Town, a way to bring people together despite the devastation and celebrate the hope for new beginnings.
“The theatre,” said Clemens, “was a way forward to focus on something positive rather than focus on what we had lost.”
This sentiment of looking forward has been a recurring theme for Theater on the Ridge, helping them navigate the struggles of both rebuilding a town and a shuttering pandemic. The theatre lost half of its base income in the form of season ticket holders leaving the area following the fire, and currently, people are understandably cautious about gathering in groups due to the pandemic.
Fortunately, their first show of 2021, Looped, opened to enthusiastic crowds, and there are exciting things for the arts community on the horizon.
“One great thing to come out of the fire,” observed Clemens, “is that the defunct Paradise Arts Commission is now the Paradise Arts Alliance. All the artistic organizations in town are coming together and supporting each other. It’s the way forward: before, we operated independently. Now we are working together, to continue to heal as a community.”
Plans for a Paradise Arts & Cultural Center are also in the works, including a 100-200 seat venue that will be able to host a variety of shows from many different organizations.
“The best thing was all of us coming together and pooling our resources to make it an arts destination. It will be good for the economy, for tourism, for all the things that Paradise needs to have come back.”
For Clemens, these plans are all an important and exciting piece of bringing Paradise back to life.
Despite the challenges of rebuilding and the processes that accompany it, Clemens encourages businesses and families to take a deep breath and push through the hurdles as they come: “Just stick with it, jump through all the hoops, be patient with all the delays because the rewards are invaluable.”
As for Theater on the Ridge? Hope is just the next curtain call away. “We’re not just rebuilding what was there, but pushing forward to see what’s possible.”