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This is one in an occasional series about members of the Toledo area’s theater community.
Jori Jex is the new executive director of the Valentine Theatre, where she previously served as general manager. She holds a master’s degree in theater with an emphasis on arts administration from Bowling Green State University. For 10 years she was business manager for the University of Toledo’s departments of theater, film, and dance, and also was a part-time instructor of theater and for the department of communications.
For several years she worked in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre’s education program and became the Rep’s general manager. She also has been executive director of the Toledo Jazz Society. In 2004 she became executive director of Project ABC (Arts Building Curriculum), a program that hired teaching artists who could combine the arts and literacy to help prepare children for kindergarten.
Q: When did you first become interested in the performing arts, and what specifically drew you?
A: My grandmother was an accomplished pianist and my mom was a dancer who had been invited to go to NYC to perform, so the women in the previous two generations were focused on art and encouraged me to find my own way. When I was very young my mom drove me to Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland. I remember so clearly walking into that large theater and being amazed at the architecture. I don’t remember the show but I do remember every aspect of the building — I fell in love with the venue first and then the art form. In eighth grade I auditioned for the school play and was given the lead. From that time on, for about the next 15 years, I performed whenever I could.
I feel most fortunate to have found my home in the arts at an early age. My family supported my efforts and were great audience members. I remember my mom driving to Columbus to see me play the role of Emily in Our Town my senior year in college [at Ohio Dominican University], and when the show was over she was the last person sitting in the theater. When I went out to meet her she said, “I really hate that play — totally depressing — but you were OK.”
Q: Do you find the creative side or the business side of the arts most appealing?
A: When I was a senior in college I was asked to start an educational theater outreach program for the children in the underserved areas of Columbus. I found that I enjoyed working in the administration area. My two years at Bowling Green State University working on a master’s degree were exciting and eye-opening, and I discovered that arts administration was the career path for me. After graduation I immediately started working for the University of Toledo and learned valuable skills involved in running front-of-house operations for a busy theater. At UT we also started an educational outreach program, sending student actors into the schools to perform educational and entertaining productions for students
I have always said that the arts are a business and business is an art! It takes money to produce art —- there is no way around that. My professional joy has come from working with community businesses, foundations, and individuals, seeking support for expansion of the arts. A strong cultural environment that provides avenues for artistic expressions is vital to a healthy community. The greater Toledo community can be proud that so many of our arts groups continue today, when other communities are losing their opera companies, their jazz orchestras, their community theaters, and dance companies. Toledo marches on with a supportive audience base and needed corporate and foundation funding. It is always a financial challenge, but one so worth pursuing.
Q: What past experience most contributed to your success?
A: As one matures you learn how to better deal with people. I think a good sense of humor combined with an unwavering personal mission can get you through the tough times. My dad sat me down once and said, “I like people, not everyone does, always like your fellow man and be patient.” Good advice from a very successful car salesman.
Q: What would you say is, or should be, the place of the arts in our society?
A: The arts speak to who we are, what we value, and the triumphs and challenges we face. The arts can be educational, historical, thought-provoking, edgy, and shocking, touching upon all the human emotions. We, as an audience, allow artistic expression to go where it naturally flows. We choose what art form speaks to us. For this reason, all the arts need to be available to children so they can find what truly speaks to them, so they can better understand and appreciate life. In a highly technological society, the arts become even more important; they bring people together to celebrate who we are, and to better understand where we have been and where we were are going.
Q. What is the Valentine’s role in our theater community?
A. The Valentine Theatre is part of the Toledo Cultural Arts Center. Performing at the Valentine throughout the year are: the Toledo Opera, Toledo Symphony, Toledo Jazz Orchestra, Masterworks Chorale, Ballet Theatre of Toledo, Toledo Ballet, Toledo Rep, Toledo School for the Arts, St. John’s High School, Central Catholic High School, along with other dance companies and performance groups from throughout the community. The Valentine has an energetic board, staff, and a volunteer base of more than 120 volunteers who provide more than 7,000 hours of service annually. Educational and community outreach is the core of our mission and to that end we want to be a supportive venue and arts advocate.
Q: What are the strengths of the Toledo theater scene?
A: Toledo is remarkable in that there are so many theaters in operation; Toledo supports its art forms. This is a time when partnerships must replace any territorial barriers. The Toledo arts agencies work well together — we share information, we celebrate each other’s accomplishments and our unique contributions. How proud all of us were when the Toledo Symphony went to Carnegie Hall! We, as a community, celebrated.
Q: What could be improved, and how?
A: One of the comments we hear so often is that people are unaware of what is going on in Toledo. All of our marketing budgets are limited, so we do the very best we can to share the programming that is taking place. It is important that people take the time to be included on email blasts from the local arts groups or ask to be on the mailing list. The Weekender section in The Blade each Thursday is a good source for upcoming events. We need to make sure that audiences continue to grow.
Q: What is your favorite drama or musical?
A: I will always go to see Fiddler on the Roof. That musical touches my heart.
Contact Sue Brickey at: firstname.lastname@example.org