To many people, paradise is easily envisioned as perfect blue waters, beautiful sandy beaches and endless palm trees under tranquil skies. But years of living with those luxuries have afforded the new director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts (VRCFA) a different outlook: Paradise can be anywhere you make it.
“I’ve worked and lived all over the United States, and each location has been paradise for different reasons,” Joseph Patti said. “The key is to appreciate what you have in your own backyard; thankfully, my career has always allowed me to live out that philosophy.”
Patti’s career is one firmly planted in the ever-evolving world of the performing arts that has given him the opportunity to experience paradise in nearly every corner of the country.
He is a native of upstate New York, holding a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Management from Florida State University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a certificate in Theatre Arts, from Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.
Patti has worked with the Appel Farm Arts and Music Center in Elmer, N.J.; the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla.; the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Utah; and the Asolo Center for the Performing Arts in Sarasota, Fla. And, while his place of residence has frequently changed, his heart has always remained in the same spot.
“Theatre has always been a part of my life,” he said. “I participated in drama while I was in high school and had a couple performing roles while I was in college. But I decided early on that acting wasn’t the best route for me; my heart was more interested in the processes going on behind the scenes.”
Patti has fulfilled that interest by dabbling in many areas of theatre management, working as a technical- and stage-crew member for countless performances; overseeing promotions, box office sales, and house management for multiple theatres; and acting as event coordinator for renowned arts programs and summer camps.
Most recently, Patti worked as theatre manager of the University of Hawaii – Leeward Community College Theatre in Pearl City, Hawaii. He served in his position for eight years, learning, among other things, that there actually are drawbacks to living on the beautiful islands.
“Hawaii is gorgeous with so many unique qualities, but the islands are also relativity small, packed with tourists, and have the worst traffic,” Patti said. “I’ll miss Hawaii’s culture and diversity, but won’t miss fighting to get to work in the morning.”
Patti’s reward for fighting traffic was that, once he arrived, he was able to do a job he loved. As Leeward’s theatre manager, Patti was responsible for many duties, which included working with a consortium of planners to decide what programming would be presented across the eight islands.
“It was interesting to see what shows would succeed, because Hawaii is such a melting pot,” he said. “There are many immigrants who chose Hawaii as their home. Those cultures have blended over the years and make for an extremely varied audience.”
Patti explained that this allowed his team to book performances that might not succeed in the other 49 states, and also gave way for a unique opportunity to showcase stories that drew on the traditions and myths of the local people.
“Storytelling is engrained in the Hawaiian culture, and I am proud that I was able to work with local artists to cultivate and showcase their history through the performing arts,” he said.
“I helped produce multiple shows that were specific to the islands—an opera entirely in Hawaiian; a dance-drama about the Hawaiian snow goddess Poli‘ahu; a work about the Maui chief Kahekili. Each show took months to create and was very well-received and praised. I’d like to eventually duplicate that type of response here at the Vern Riffe Center.”
The Vern Riffe Center for the Arts is rich in its own history, opening in September 1995 on the Shawnee State University campus in Portsmouth, Ohio. The $16.5 million, 108,000 square foot complex was created as an outlet for balanced, comprehensive, and multicultural programming and was funded by two state of Ohio legislative acts sponsored by then speaker of the house, Vern Riffe.
The center’s theatre houses more than 230 lighting instruments, 25 line sets, state-of-the-art light and sound equipment, as well as a hydraulic orchestra pit and thrust stage. The professional quality of the theatre has allowed Portsmouth to play host to some of the biggest names in the performing arts world, including Kathleen Battle, Chubby Checker, Ricky Skaggs, the Oak Ridge Boys, Mannheim Steamroller, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Doc Severinsen. Many national Broadway touring companies have graced the stage including My Fair Lady, 42nd Street, CATS, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Beauty and the Beast.
These events are made possible through funding from the university, the Southern Ohio Performing Arts Association, and generous donations made by the people and businesses of the local community. As a result, the Vern Riffe Center has opened its doors to more than 680,000 patrons in the past 17 years. Patti is excited to grow these numbers and hopes to do so by enhancing the processes already in place, exploring different programming options, and creating stronger connections with other local and regional arts organizations.
“It’s important that those who work in the arts community rely on one another to strengthen our profession and teach our cultural heritage, and I hope together we can find ways to reach both old and new audiences,” he said.
“It’s my goal to open people’s eyes to the amazing opportunities available right here in Portsmouth—and I’d love nothing more than to create an artistic paradise not only for me, but for this whole community. I’m looking forward to the possibilities.”
Phone: Tickets (Box Office): (740) 351-3600
Rentals and info: (740) 351-3622
940 Second Street
Portsmouth, Ohio 45662
Photos Jeremy Reed