After closing 13 years ago, the Paradise Theatre is finally coming out of hibernation.
On December 5, the heritage-designated art deco and art moderne theatre at Bloor West and Dovercourt makes its grand return with a full lineup to be announced on Wednesday (November 27).
The Paradise will screen three to four films every month, shortly after their first-run theatrical release, with a focus on independent and critically acclaimed features, in addition to themed film series. The first showcase, 7 From ’37, highlights seven films of the Golden Age of Hollywood made in 1937, the year Paradise first opened. The next series, The Second City At 60, will feature films from Second City alumni in honour of the improv and sketch comedy company’s 60th anniversary. Kicking off 2020 is Toronto Plays Itself, a month-long survey of films set in the city.
Ahead of its official reopening, the theatre is hosting a couple of events, including a revival of sportscaster Dave Hodge’s long-running show The Reporters on Monday (November 25) featuring Hockey Hall of Famer and Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. And on November 28, the Goethe-Institut will host a screening the 2018 German documentary Gundermann, about East German singer Gerhard Gundermann, followed by a panel discussion.
The theatre has also announced special inclusive screenings. On Tuesday mornings, child-friendly Babes In Paradise screenings will have dim lighting, reduced sound, open captioning and optional floor seating, while relaxed screenings throughout the month are designed to create a more accommodating environment for those with different sensory and communication needs.
Film is Paradise’s primary focus, but the theatre will also host interdisciplinary arts events like concerts, talks and comedy, including a cabaret improv show by Second City alumna Ashley Botting.
On Thursdays in December, indie singer/songwriter Jason Collett will host his 13th annual music and literary salon, Basement Revue. Also next month, Venus Fest founder Aerin Fogel curates December Will Be Magic Again, a Kate Bush tribute with performances by local musicians.
Jessica Smith, the director of programming, says part of her goal with Paradise is to collaborate with other curators and arts groups.
“A lot of [our events] are programmed in-house, but we’re intentionally making room for other people across all the different genres and content types,” says Smith. “There’s a lack of venues in Toronto – for film, music, comedy – so it seems like a good opportunity to bring in other talent.”
Local firm Solid Design Collective gutted and renovated the interiors with cross-disciplinary events in mind. The main auditorium’s cinema screen retracts into the ceiling and the first five rows of seating fold into the floor so the stage can accommodate live bands and comedy acts.
Along with the 208-seat theatre, the restored venue will also house a new Italian restaurant, Osteria Rialto, and Bar Biltmore, a cocktail and raw bar.
ERA Architects, who recently restored the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sterling, headed up the extensive exterior renovation, which involved restoring the curved parapet and historic ticket booth.
Since it first opened in 1910, the theatre has gone through many life cycles. It was originally a one-storey “theatorium” called the Bloor Palace, and then was renamed the Kitchener in 1918. Then in 1931, the theatre was rebuilt in art deco style and dubbed Paradise Theatre. It evolved into the infamous adult-film theatre Eve’s Paradise in the 80s and then became part of the Festival Cinemas chain in 1990 until 2006.
“So many of these old historic cinemas have closed since I grew up here,” says Smith, who has also worked for the Tribeca Film Institute, the British Film Institute and TIFF. “I’m really excited that we’ll be offering so many different things under one roof. Hopefully over time, people will trust us enough to show up and enjoy whatever the event may be.”
UPDATE (November 20): This story has been updated with additional lineup information.