JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – April’s Positively Jax winner is all about the community and bringing the arts to everyone. Lori Newton grew up in Arlington and remembers how difficult and expensive it can be to expose people to theater. From behind the scenes to on the stage, now the drama is happening in an old movie theater that was brought back to life during the pandemic.
Lori Newton had the vision for a community theater years ago after reading a book.
“It talked about doing a theater, kids theater and then that kind of inspired me. I was like, that would be a cool thing to do in a community,” Newton said.
Now it’s a family affair, her husband Joe, Harrison, Hanna, Hailey, Haydee and Hayden are all part of the magic that turned the rundown Gazebo Cinema and Drafthouse into Artist Connection Theatre.
“As a family, we just decided we wanted to give something to this community, we both grew up in it, we went to Fort Caroline, it was junior high. Then Terry Parker High School, we’ve just been a part of this community for so long, we wanted to give something back to the community,” Joe Newton said.
The stage used to house the big movie screen. The auditorium was gutted but they had the space to transform. The audience chairs were donated by the Florida Ballet and most of the labor and material to get the theater open were donated from the community, but that’s the point.
“I want people to feel welcomed and feel like they belong somewhere if they love the arts, and especially if a parent says oh, I want my kids or my student to do that, or my teenager to do that, or if they feel led to but that I can’t I can’t afford it, this is a place to come,” Lori Newton.
The theater is growing. The hope is by this summer they’ll expand into the building next door and as this theatre grows they’re serving the community even better.
“Well, it’s a calling. And I feel pushed to complete it. And, and I want to complete it. And I feel like it’s something higher than me bigger than me,” Lori Newton said.
The Artist Connection Theatre presents Snoopy April 29 – May 15. Tickets are between $15-$20. For more information, go to artistconnectiontheatre.org.