Printed: January 21, 2022

Valentine documents pandemic culture with video series

BY JEFF SCHMUCKER BLADE STAFF WRITER

When reviewing the Valentine Theatre’s 125-year history, Jori Jex found it intriguing to compare and contrast the response to the 1918 influenza pandemic to that of the coronavirus.

One significant difference is the Valentine was closed for a few months back then, whereas now the theater has been closed for almost a year with plans to reopen this fall.

Still, it’s been difficult to get a full picture of how the influenza pandemic affected the everyday lives of performers and theater operators of Toledo back in the day. Whereas we can all easily search for news footage and other media archives of events from, say the Sept. 11 terror attacks — or recall our own stories of that fateful day in 2001 — that picture gets much fuzzier when reviewing local events from more than 100 years ago.

But decades from now, when the coronavirus is a distant memory (we hope), the Valentine is working to ensure those wanting to review the history of this snapshot in time — particularly as it relates to how our artists were affected — will get a fuller picture.

The theater is working on a new project called Sessions, in which area artists perform in small ensemble groups on the Valentine’s main stage. These are not simply recordings of various performance groups; Sessions will also act as documentaries of how area performers have been affected by the pandemic.

It will be a slow process getting these videos put together. The Valentine recently finished its first such recording with performers from the Modern Dance Company, which is now available to view at valentinetheatre.com, a project that was essentially started last summer. But with the first one complete, Jex said the goal is to do roughly six such videos this year.

“When it’s all said and done … we talk about these pieces being time capsules. In the future, as you look back on how COVID affected the artists ... especially at the beginning stages, and viewers will then see these artists present and reflect those feelings through their work,” Jex said. In our first Sessions, [Modern Dance Company Director Ashley Hill] starts the video off and just talks about how hard it is to be a performer right now. Then the audience can see these dancers reflect on what they’re going through — you know, the fear, the frustration, the anxiety, everything that’s going on in the world right now — and capture those feelings through the dances that they’re coming up with.”

The recordings will also show how the dancers prepared for the Sessions video: often rehearsing outdoors at parks and deal with the challenges of competing with noise while getting used to dancing on grass, bricks, and concrete.

Jex said she doesn’t know yet when the next Sessions will be made available. The next subject of the series will be husband and wife performers Denise and Michael Grupp Verbon, who play harp and guitar, but current pandemic restrictions are making it difficult to get the performances and interviews recorded and edited quickly.

As for what performers will be featured next, Jex said she doesn’t know. But performers and arts groups are invited to contact her at jjex@valentinetheatre.com for consideration for a Sessions episode. And if those groups or performers don’t make the cut this year, Jex said plans are to make these interviews an ongoing project, with hopes to do as many as 12 videos in 2022 and beyond.

“We wanted do these two [groups] and when the COVID surge really hit, it just kind of forced us to take a step back and see what the future brings us,” Jex said. “But now I think we’ll be sitting down and starting to reach out to the community again and, when all is said and done, I think all of this will be interesting to capture for all time on film and be part of the Valentine archives.”

Coming up

■ 8 p.m. Feb. 5-6, and 2 p.m. Feb. 7, Natural Shocks at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16th Tenth St., Toledo. In-person tickets are between $10 and $20 while streaming passes are $20 and can be purchased at toledorep.org. The show is put on by Actors Collaborative Toledo.

■ 8 p.m. Feb. 12-13 and 2 p.m. Feb. 14, Sea Marks at the at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16th Tenth St., Toledo. Tickets are between $10 and $20 and can be purchased at toledorep.org.

■ 6-7:15 p.m. Feb. 14: The Valentine Theatre will hold a virtual cabaret-style performance by actor-singer-comedienne Ana Gasteyer and Musical Director Seth Rudetsky to celebrate the Valentine’s 125th anniversary. Tickets are $25 for the show and an additional $25 for Valentine’s Day goodies that include champagne, chocolates, and other treats that ticket-buyers can pick up at the theater. Tickets are available at valentinetheatre.com.

Jeff Schmucker writes about theater for The Blade. Send news of theater and comedy events at least two weeks in advance to theater@theblade.com.