Labour of love
Paragon Theatre owners prepare to call cut on renovations in time for grand opening next month
❝ Merissa Craft:
I’ve had this vision that I’ve been just so stuck on from the beginning and that’s what’s really got me through.
SIXTEEN years ago Paragon Theatre patrons watched on as the infamous “unsinkable” Titanic ship was submerged by the North Atlantic ocean.
And just like the sinking ship, the much-loved theatre went down with it.
In late December 1998, Titanic was the last film ever screened at the historic theatre in Childers.
The theatre, which was the Isis district’s entertainment hub since it opened in 1927, has sat dormant ever since, its future left hanging in the balance.
Arguably one of the community’s most treasured buildings, the grand old girl was reduced to silence after aging owners Marietta and Carmelo (Charlie) Ricciardi were physically unable to continue to operate the venue.
Far from the dignified life the theatre deserves, it has been left as little more than an empty shell, used intermittently as rented floor space for businesses.
That is, until Merissa Craft stepped in.
Marietta and Charlie were about to sign over the building to an out-of-town electrician when Merissa, their granddaughter, heard of their plans.
The theatre had been in the Ricciardi family for 40 years and Merissa wasn’t about to let go of the sentimental building.
Despite financial advice warning her against the purchase, Merissa purchased the theatre from her grandparents in February 2007 without any hesitation.
From that day on, the Childers-born-and-bred 29-year-old has had big dreams to breathe life back into the theatre.
Through blood, sweat and tears, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, Merissa and her husband Nigel have poured everything they have into restoring the rundown building back to her former glory.
Those endless hours spent painting, replacing rundown walls and floorboards, reupholstering chairs, rewiring lights and other major structural works are set to pay off when the theatre re-opens to the public next month.
While the seven-year journey hasn’t been easy, and sceptics came in thick and fast to voice their doubt, a determined Merissa says she just couldn’t give up on her vision.
“It just pulls me in, this place,” she said.
“There’s something supernatural there because the amount of times I’ve felt like giving up.
“So many times I just wanted to walk away, but I couldn’t handle the thought of someone else having it... I can’t admit defeat on this place.
“I’ve had this vision that I’ve been just so stuck on from the beginning and that’s what’s really got me through.”
Merissa and her husband, who married in this very building in December 2012, have invested their entire life savings into the project, and while it’s been a huge risk, she says it’s all been worthwhile.
“Everything we have goes into this place. We’ve got everything riding on it. Everything comes back to this place.
“This is a huge risk for us. This has to be a success for us – this will make or break us.
“It’s a big thing but I feel good about it. I think it will come together.”
The couple are currently awaiting final council approval to use the building as a multi-purpose entertainment public facility.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Merissa Craft looks at an old slide, once used at the Paragon Theatre.
HARD WORK: With blood, sweat and paintbrushes Merissa Craft has been lovingly restoring the theatre, which has been in her family for well over 40 years.