When Paul Ellis sees a magician, musician, or juggler perform, he’s usually the most enthusiastic person in the room. “I laugh the loudest for comedians—I’m a great audience,” says Ellis. That enthusiasm serves him well in his new role as the director of the newly minted Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center. It’s a role that Ellis is certainly well rehearsed for.
“I’ve been in show business for 43 years. I started when I was hired to be part of the backstage crew at the Meadowbrook Dinner Theater in New Jersey,” recalls Ellis, who is 63. During his career, Ellis has done just about everything entertainment related. He has acted, written and directed plays, served on the arts commission of cities, and produced theater, music, and multimedia events. Ellis trained as a theater director with Lee Strassberg and studied playwriting at Princeton University.
Ellis is dedicated to making the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center a success and a community gathering point. “Art can develop a community,” he says. “Art can fix things. It’s not necessarily our goal, but we can do that.” He adds that his main goal is simultaneously less lofty and more ambitious. “I want people to come here and laugh and have a good time.”
Ellis and his team have put together an impressive line-up of talent for the remainder of the year that promises to deliver plenty of good times. On November 3, the pioneering old school reggae group Toots and the Maytals will perform. On Saturday November 24, world-class juggler/antigravity artist Michael Moschen will perform. December will feature a host of theater and dance performances which will culminate with a New Year’s Eve celebration featuring Brazilian drumming sensation Cyro Baptista and his group, Beat the Donkey.
The Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center was previously known as the Lycian Centre for the Performing Arts. The theater was constructed about 20 years ago and until recently was owned and operated by Richard Logothetis. Because of the economy and taxes, it became impossible for Logothetis to continue operating the Center as a commercial theater. Ellis had long known Logothetis and had been involved with the theater.
During an informal conversation about the theater’s future with Logothetis, Ellis suggested the theater could work if it was ran by a nonprofit organization. That conversation ultimately led to Logothetis’ retiring from the theater and a nonprofit organization being formed to save the venue. Ellis was named the interim director of that nonprofit organization. It all started with that informal conversation. “You’ve got to be careful what you talk about,” jokes Ellis.
Ellis writes produces and directs a monthly comedy show called “The Air Pirates Radio Theater.” An actual radio show, “The Air Pirates Radio Theater,” is recorded in front of a live audience each month at the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center. The audience is given sound-effect instruments and audience members perform all the sound effects with the help of cue cards. Whether the audience does a good job or a bad one, their work makes it into the final broadcast. “We do one a month and broadcast it on the radio and the audience does all the sound effects,” Ellis says. “If the audience gets it wrong, we just keep going anyway.”
Ellis lives in Sugar Loaf with his wife Peggy. They have a 30-year-old son, Max, who works with Ellis at the theater. Ellis says that Warwick and the surrounding area is a special place. “Warwick has a very strong sense of community and a very strong sense of place. That community makes you feel home. I’ve met a lot of very interesting people up here it seems to attract unique interesting people.”