JOLIET – Appearing now at the Rialto Square Theatre is Valerie Devine, the latest of three executive directors in the past year, but the only one of those hired to stay.
Devine is planning to have a long run at the theater.
“I’m very excited about coming to this community and being part of the community,” Devine said Thursday during an interview at the Rialto.
She started Monday and has been making some rounds, meeting with the City Center Partnership that promotes downtown Joliet, and talking with others who also have an interest in the Rialto.
Despite the troubles at the Rialto during the past year, Devine said that many have an upbeat attitude about the theater.
“I think everyone’s excited,” she said. “They’ve been incredibly positive, which is encouraging. It’s easy to see only the negative. I have not gotten that from anyone. They’re very hopeful.”
Devine’s own positive attitude is the first thing mentioned by those who hired her.
It is a trait one would look for in someone hired to run a theater that a year ago went into crisis mode, which lasted through all of 2016 as the Rialto grappled with financial and leadership controversies.
A candidate for the executive director’s position as far back as December, Devine was monitoring the Rialto controversy late last year when theater leaders talked about the possibility of closing the doors.
Her optimistic outlook might be evident in what Devine said was her reaction to the news in late December that the entire governing board at the theater had resigned.
“If you’re going to have a fresh start, what better way to do it than with all new people?” Devine said.
Devine now is one of those new people. In two weeks, she closes on the sale of her house in DeKalb. She’s moving in with a daughter in Naperville while hunting for a townhouse in the Joliet area.
Devine comes to the Rialto from the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, where she was vice president of production. There, she booked shows for not only the Paramount, a historic theater of the same vintage as the Rialto, but also for RiverEdge Park, a larger outdoor venue, and the smaller Copley Theater.
She was at the Paramount for 13 years and previously worked in sales for the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Devine is short on specifics about her plans for the Rialto other than to bring in shows and get the theater back to the level of activity it once had.
“We just need to get back on people’s radar screen again,” she said.
Devine works for VenuWorks, the company hired to manage the Rialto, which has been at the theater on a temporary basis since September before coming to terms on a five-year contract that started this month.
But she also was interviewed by Bob Filotto, chairman of the Will County Metropolitan and Exposition Authority, the governmental body that oversees the Rialto.
“My initial impression with her, and one that I continue to have, is that she is very positive and very energetic,” Filotto said. “She’s dedicated to bringing the Rialto back and having a lot more programming.”
Filotto said he’s heard good reviews about Devine from people with Hollywood Casino, which has casinos in Aurora and Joliet, and the stagehands union that operates both at the Rialto and the Paramount.
One expectation the authority board has for Devine, Filotto said, is that she will bring in more diverse programming to appeal to African-American and Latino populations in Joliet. The lack of shows that appeal to them has been a criticism of the Rialto, and Devine said she plans to meet with local African-Americans and Latinos to discuss the issue.
Leaving the Rialto is Timothy Berry, a VenuWorks employee who arrived in September as an interim executive director. Berry knew he would leave once a permanent director was hired.
Berry, whose last day in Joliet is Friday, called his time at the Rialto “a page turner.”
“All indicators point up,” he said. “[The Rialto] is on a track for success. You can sell tickets in this market. It’s a great market, and the Rialto is the most beautiful theater anywhere. It’s got that going for it.”