Labour of love

Paragon Theatre own­ers pre­pare to call cut on ren­o­va­tions in time for grand open­ing next month

Isis Town and Country - - Front Page - By MELINDA BRAD­FORD

❝ 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.

PHOTO: MAX FLEET

BE­HIND THE SCENES: Merissa Craft looks at an old slide, once used at the Paragon Theatre.

PHO­TOS: MAX FLEET

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.

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