Jacksonville Woman’s Vision Makes a Difference Positively Jax for Community Theater


JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – Positively Jax’s April winner is all about 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 the backstage to the stage, the drama now takes place in a former movie theater that was brought back to life during the pandemic.

Lori Newton had a vision for a community theater years ago after reading a book.

“He was talking about doing theater, children’s theater, and then it 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 transformed the dilapidated Gazebo Cinema and Drafthouse into the Artist Connection Theatre.

“As a family we just decided we wanted to give something back to this community, we both grew up there, we went to Fort Caroline, it was in college. Then Terry Parker High School, we’ve been part of this community for so long, we wanted to give something back to the community,” Joe Newton said.

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The stage once housed the big cinema screen. The auditorium was emptied but they had space to transform. The audience chairs were donated by Florida Ballet and most of the labor and materials needed to open the theater were donated by the community, but that’s the point.

“I want people to feel welcome and feel at home if they love the arts, and especially if a parent says oh, I want my kids or my student to do this, or my teenager to do this, or s ‘they feel guided but I can’t, I can’t afford it, it’s a place to come’, Lori Newton.

The theater is growing. The hope is that by this summer they will expand into the building next door and as this theater grows they will serve the community even better.

“Well, it’s a calling. And I feel compelled to finish it. And, and I want to complete it. And I feel like it’s something higher than me, bigger than me,” Lori Newton said.

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The Artist Connection Theater presents Snoopy from April 29 to May 15. Tickets cost between $15 and $20. For more information, visit artistconnectiontheatre.org.

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