Camp Fire memorial service held at reopening of Paradise Performing Arts Center

Caitlyn Reid-Gyerman with a majestic jump during Thorstein Gunter’s piano solo. Photo credit: Mathew Boe

A celebration of life was held in the Paradise Performing Arts Center in memory of the 86 lives lost from the Camp Fire. The event featured multiple artists including singers, a choir and pianist, dancers and guitarists who all performed in front of a large audience on Friday. This was the grand reopening for the Paradise Performing Arts Center.

The room was almost full. Seats had to be rearranged in the beginning to allow for people watching from the doorways to enter. In the lobby, there were drawings from children supporting Paradise against the windows. Volunteers handed out shirts, magnets and flyers near the doorway that lead to the main stage.

Children’s drawings were posted on the window to show support for Camp Fire victims at the Paradise Performing Arts Center Friday evening. Photo credit: Brian Luong

A slideshow featuring the faces of those who lost their lives in the Camp Fire played while audience members sat in remembrance.

After the slideshow, more people in the lobby joined the audience in the theatre and performances began.

One of the first performances was the A & E Gospel Choir. Dozens of singers walked on stage in blue robes following their conductor, singing while a piano set the mood.

Chico State professor Kristina Carter, President of The Chico Area Interfaith Council, was the lead organizer of the event.

“Interfaith, or multi-faith. Multicultural things—that is our mission, and so it just made sense to bring everyone together from all different faith traditions so all of the family members and all of Paradise would feel welcome,” Carter said. “That’s why it was also important at this venue—because it’s their venue. It’s their home.”

According to Carter, over 20 different faith traditions came together for the event.

Three of Carter’s students were key members in setting up the event.

“I think we all just kinda wanted to help, you know? Bigger than us,” Heather Camerer said.

They focused on elements such as backstage preparation, making sure the names of those lost in the Camp Fire were out in the foyer and helping out backstage.

Heather Camerer, Caitlyn Reid-Gyerman and Jonathan Harvey were key members in production of the Community Interfaith Memorial service event Friday evening in Paradise. Photo credit: Brian Luong

“We just wanted to make sure we were part of something that was gonna actually benefit some people,” Caitlyn Reid-Gyerman said.

“We hope that the event just brings the community together as the community has been affected by so much tragedy it’s nice to bring together people and hopefully this event brought a little bit of joy into peoples lives and they reach out and help each other,” Jonathan Harvey said.

“It’s amazing when you have something that you want to give to the community (to) take care of their mental and emotional health and meet their spiritual needs,” Carter said.

Reverend Sandi John urges the people of Paradise to live in the love that they have as a community. Photo credit: Mathew Boe

“I think the most important goal is to deliver a message that can comfort people and the message that can cheer people after so many months of sorrow and pain,” said Executive Director of the Tzu Chi Foundation, Minjhing Hsieh.

The Tzu Chi Foundation performers sign for prayer for the Camp Fire survivors, with a powerful video of the Camp fire recovery and relief accompanying them in the background. Photo credit: Mathew Boe

The Tzu Chi Foundation performance featured multiple members in uniform performed over the song “Love for All” in American Sign Language. During their performance, a video was projected onto the wall containing footage of Camp Fire and Carr Fire recovery efforts.

Throughout each event, people were holding hands, clapping whenever a performance satisfied them or laughing when appropriate. Moods would shift from performance to performance. One presenter lamented the loss of her hometown, describing what it was like growing up in Paradise, and how something like Taco Bell arriving was the biggest news in town—bringing laughter and joy to the audience.

For the final performance, A & E Gospel Choir took the stage once again. A piano began a beat to the new song while the singers built up their voices in unison, clapping to the rhythm while the audience joined in as well.

After the service ended, a children’s concert—featuring Red Grammar, a Grammy Award-winning family entertainer— performed for those who remained.

Julian Mendoza can be reached at [email protected] or @JulianMTheOrion on Twitter.