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Allison Janney: “Dayton spawns great people” 

Published: Wednesday, September 27, 2017 @ 6:00 AM

Allison Janney, West Wing actress from Dayton campaigns for Clinton

Decades after leaving Dayton for New York, the thought of Ashley’s Pastry Shop’s sand tart and pizza from The Flying Pizza conjure up happy memories for one of Hollywood’s most respected leading ladies.  

“I used to go there all the time right before I went to the Dayton Ballet (in downtown Dayton),” seven-time Emmy winner Allison Janney told us. “I would get on the bus from Miami Valley School and get my Sicilian slice and then go to ballet class.”  

Actress Allison Janney poses atop her new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame during a ceremony on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)(Staff Writer)

The Oakwood-raised movie and television star will join a long list of Dayton innovators when she is inducted into the Dayton Region’s Walk of Fame during a luncheon on Thursday, Sept. 28, at Sinclair Community College, 444 W. Third Street in downtown Dayton.  

>> Meet the 2017 Dayton Walk of Fame inductees

Her class includes Oscar Boonshoft and Marjorie Boonshoft; Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr.; Cathy Guisewite; David L. Hobson and Shawnee Chief Tecumseh.  

The star of CBS’ “Mom” said she is excited to join the distinguished list of entertainers and other luminaries already on the walk.  

Stones honoring inductees are on West Third Street in the Wright Dunbar Historic Business District between Broadway and Shannon and along Williams Street.  

“I am proud to be from Dayton,” she said. “I am really happy that I will be forever part of Dayton on the Walk of Fame and at the Miami Valley School, where I started my whole education and I learned about theater.”

Meet’s Daytonian of the Week, Allison Janney.

>> Get to know these Daytonians making a difference

In this March 29, 2017 photo, Allison Janney poses for a portrait in New York. Janney, who won Emmy Awards for her work in “The West Wing” and “Mom,” is starring in a Broadway revival of “Six Degrees of Separation.” (Photo by Brian Ach/Invision/AP)(Brian Ach/Brian Ach/Invision/AP)


Janney, still a supporter of Miami Valley School in Washington Twp., recalled her first job as a bus girl at the former Holland House restaurant. 

 She later sold handbags and hosiery at now-closed Rike’s department store in downtown Dayton. 

 Her first role on stage was Noah Claypole in “Oliver Twist” at Miami Valley School, where she started honing her singing voice.

>> Star sightings in Dayton

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Actress Allison Janney attends the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)(Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

She left the school after her ninth-grade year to attend boarding school at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut.  

A star of the recently released black “dramedy” “I, Tonya” about figure skater Tonya Harding, Janney suffered a serious leg injury at a high school party in Oakwood after high school graduation. Party-goers were planning a balloon game…  

“Someone stepped on the back of my dress and it ripped, and I was afraid I was going to expose myself in front of the whole party so I ran inside and hit the plate glass,” the once aspiring figure skater remembered. 

 Janney was forced to take a year off between high school and college as a result of her injury. 

 She said there was a positive though. 

 “It was a horrible accident, but I got to be at home for another year,” she said. “When you are going to college, you don’t think about the fact that you are never going to be home again. I got to appreciate being at home and being taken care of by my mom and dad.” 

 The graduate of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, said she doesn’t get home to Dayton often, but loves it when she does. 

 “My mom and dad are still there,” she said during a phone call. “My mom is in charge of my social calendar.” 

 She called Macy Janney, an actress herself, the best mother on the planet and a force of nature “in the Dayton community, and especially the arts.” 

 “She has a lot of great friends in Dayton, and I have a lot of friends in Dayton,” she said. “Just in terms of eating, I like to go to The Pine Club, and I love to go to The Moraine (Country) Club with my mom and dad, and I love to go to Ashley’s pastries and get my sand tarts.” 

Ashley’s Pastry Shop in Oakwood offers a wide variety of traditional and specialty pastries, pies and other treats.

Ashley's Pastry Shop in Oakwood offers a wide variety of traditional and specialty pastries, pies and other treats.


Janney often treats her crew on “Mom” to her favorite Ashley’s cookies. 

“For a while, they thought that I had baked them. I say ‘no, they are from my favorite bakery in Dayton, Ohio,’ ” she said. “They are absolutely delicious. They are like a delicious snickerdoodle with a meringue on top. They are soft and moist and chewy and so good. My mother used to have them in the house when I was growing up. They remind me of my childhood.”


Janney, one of three children born to Macy and Jervis Janney, said she was privileged to grow up with a strong mother and was inspired watching people like Faye Wattleton, the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 

 Wattleton started working for reproductive rights in Dayton and eventually became the president of Planned Parenthood. 

 “I watched some pretty great women,” she said. 

 She urges Dayton-area residents to let politicians hear their voices. 

 These days, Janney is using her celebrity partly to draw attention to the opioid addiction epidemic. 

 She said she is honored to be on a show whose characters are battling addiction. 

 She has spoken publicly about her brother Henry “Hal” Janney. He died of suicide in 2011 after struggling with addiction for much of his life. 

 Janney and Anna Faris, her “Mom” co-star, partnered with former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy for an addiction campaign.  

She and “Mom” co-creator Chuck Lorre were part of a roundtable with the surgeon general last year.


The Emmy-winner and Tony and Golden Globe award nominated actress said she loves meeting fellow Buckeyes. 

“We are salt of the Earth. We are the people who are grounded and know what’s important about life and know that treating people with respect and kindness (is important),” she said. “I’ve always felt that the people I’ve met from Dayton are great people.” 

 Janney said she was blown away to work with fellow Daytonians Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe on “The West Wing.” Janney played Dayton native C.J. Cregg.  

The fact that I would go and work on my first big television show with two other people from Dayton, Ohio is just crazy, she said. “It is lightning in the bottle,” she said. “Dayton spawns great people.”  

Janney said she knows where she will put her Dayton Walk of Fame plaque — right next to her Emmys and Screen Actors Guild awards and other honors. 



 Her long list of films includes roles in “The Help,” “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” “Hairspray,” “American Beauty,” “The Girl on the Train,” “The Hours,” “Finding Nemo,” “Big Night” and “Juno.” 

 Roles didn’t always come easily to Janney, who is 6 feet tall. 

 “I think I just had to be persistent because of my height,” she said. “I didn’t really start working until I was 38. I had to wait and for a long time. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wasn’t really getting paid a lot of money to act, and my family was really generous and helped me stay afloat. I am so grateful now that I can return the favor.” 

 Janney said she hopes that her hometown can continue to revitalize itself. 

 “I am hoping it can grow back up to a vital city with great arts and education and sports,” she said. “I just love seeing that new riverfront area down there. It is gorgeous. It would be great to see (Dayton) be a destination for people to want to come and live.”

Daytonian of the Week: Chris Harmon, Town Hall Theatre

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Chris Harmon, Artistic Director of Town Hall Theatre in Centerville. CONTRIBUTED
Chris Harmon, Artistic Director of Town Hall Theatre in Centerville. CONTRIBUTED

If you’re an avid supporter of Dayton’s theater scene, you’ve more than likely seen a set designed by Chris Harmon.

Over the past 15 years, Harmon, 41, has contributed a wonderful array of designs for Beavercreek Community Theatre, Dayton Playhouse, Sinclair Community College and Town Hall Theatre.

He recently added Dayton Theatre Guild to his roster. His beautiful designs for Sinclair’s “Intimate Apparel” and “Pride and Prejudice” were particularly striking. 

In addition to a penchant for sets, Harmon is a sought-after director of musicals. His productions of “Legally Blonde” (BCT), “Spring Awakening” (BCT), “The Wiz” (Sinclair), “Bare: A Pop Opera” (Sinclair), and “The Producers” (DP) have been notable standouts.

His future directorial projects include the regional premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s race relations drama “Blood at the Root” for Sinclair in April and “Dreamgirls” for Beavercreek at the beginning of next season.

At the moment, in addition to fine-tuning the set for Beavercreek’s upcoming production of “And Then There Were None,” he is assessing his new position as Artistic Director of Town Hall Theatre in Centerville where he has routinely served as director and designer. 

Here’s your chance to get to know this talented Beavercreek native, who was inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame in 2013 and is the recipient of 45 DayTony Awards. He also happens to be our Daytonian of the Week.

>> Meet the masterminds behind this edgy Dayton theater troupe 

What fueled your love of the arts? 

When I was an elementary school student, I was very shy and quiet. I am an only child and would often play by myself. However, I was in the school chorus and was chosen to sing a solo at a school assembly. I was mortified. But somehow I overcame my stage fright and that year auditioned to be an ensemble member in the high school musical, which was “Fiddler on the Roof.” I was one of the sons in “Tradition” and held an end of the wedding canopy. I really caught the theater bug and have been involved ever since.


What are some of your favorite plays and/or musicals? 

“Chicago,” “Into the Woods,” “Falsettos,” “She Kills Monsters,” “The Little Mermaid.” 

Chris Harmon’s set design for the 2017 Dayton Theatre Guild production of “All My Sons." CONTRIBUTED


You are an actor, director and designer. Do you enjoy each discipline equally or do you have a special admiration for one over another? 

 Sadly, I have not been on stage for about seven years. I love to act, but I am terrible at the discipline of memorizing lines. But somehow I don’t mind spending days painting bricks on a set. I think that is when you know that you have found your calling – when the tedious parts of the job are a joy. Designing and scene painting can be a lonely job though, so I think directing fits my needs to be interactive and creative at the same time. 


What have been your favorite roles, directing assignments or scenic designs over the years? 

Two of my favorite roles are Orin the Dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Dayton Playhouse, and Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show” at Beavercreek Community Theatre. There is just something so fun about being able to play things over the top. 


You are the youngest member of the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame and the record-holder for the most DayTonys. How does it feel to be a part of a theater community that embraces your work? 

For me, theater is all about collaboration and a good work ethic. I have learned from every artist that I have worked with and owe my successes to them and a great deal of hours toiling away.

I think the DayTonys are a great way to bring all the theaters together, but can be problematic with who receives the recognition. Art is subjective and I think the organization does the best they can. I have had some of what I felt was my best work overlooked and received recognition for some that I thought were lacking. It’s just five evaluators opinions, often with the highest and lowest tossed out. I have been fortunate to have been recognized and it has really helped my visibility in town.

Being inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame among many other artists that I look up to was a great honor. 

>> Meet Chad Wyckoff with the Human Race Theatre Company

You were recently chosen as Town Hall Theatre's new Artistic Director. What is your vision for the company and its programming? What do you hope to implement for future seasons? 

Town Hall Theatre currently has very full seasons with six Mainstage shows, four Showcase shows, and many theater class offerings. I hope to maintain this while possibly moving a show to summer to entice the older students back. Most often we lose high school age students to their own high school shows.

I would like to make the season more diverse with some shows that appeal to any age range. Town Hall also used to have a touring program that I would like to start back up, probably not next season, but maybe the following. I would also like to increase Town Hall’s visibility in the community to show the quality, professionally designed productions we have to offer. We are very fortunate to be a program supported by the Washington Township Recreation Center. 


What do you love the most about Dayton's arts scene? 

It is always willing to share. I do work at many different venues and have been able to borrow furniture, costumes, props, anything really. It seems like budgets for productions are always tight, so being able to obtain resources from other theaters make for a better production. 


In what ways would you like to see Dayton's arts scene improve? 

I would like to see more donors and sponsors give to local theaters. They are the ones producing and making art for affordable prices. People say they give to the arts, but often it is to a venue that brings touring shows to town. Even though they help the local audience, it is not helping local artists. If there were more donors, these smaller theaters would be able to offer newer, edgier, more cutting edge work they are passionate about instead of that one musical based on that one movie that always sells tickets. 

Chris Harmon prepares his next scenic assignment: Beavercreek Community Theatre’s production of “And Then There Were None,” slated Jan. 26-Feb. 4. CONTRIBUTED


What are some of your favorite Dayton locations/spots/venues? 

Theater-wise, I have always enjoyed working for Sinclair, Beavercreek Community Theatre and Town Hall. I most enjoy collaborating with the people at those venues. As for other places, I am a thrift store junky and love to look for chachki at Valley Thrift on Woodman Drive. I also like locally owned restaurants like Arepas, Taqueria Mixteca, Christopher’s and even a greasy spoon diner like Hasty Tasty. My favorite bar is The Right Corner, downtown. 


What do you feel is the biggest misconception about Dayton? 

I am always stunned when someone says there is nothing to do in Dayton. You could see three different theater productions alone almost every weekend! 


What inspires you the most about Dayton?

I think Dayton is the best big little town. I like that I can go anywhere and usually run into somebody I know. I am one who does not like to ignore coincidences, so I always have to go up to somebody and see what they have to say. 


What are your hopes for the future of Dayton? 

Dayton has always been an innovative city that is rich in arts, culture and diversity. I would love to see more professional opportunities for the Dayton theater community. 

>> The best shows and plays in Dayton in 2017

Contact this contributing writer at 


The top Daytonians of 2017 

Published: Monday, January 01, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Here are the Top 10 Daytonians of 2017. Video by Amelia Robinson.

A city is only as good as the people who call it home. 

The Dayton area is teeming with incredible people. We are fortunate to have featured 52 of them in 2017 as part of our ongoing Daytonian of the Week feature. 

There were artists, restaurateurs, an Emmy-winner,  entrepreneurs, activists and four women calling their own shots in downtown Dayton.


Here are the top 10 most-read Daytonian of the Week stories for 2018 in reverse order.


Blues guitarist, founder of the Eric Jerardi Band, wine expert and owner  of Jerardi’s Little Store at 7325 Peters Pike in Butler Twp.

Daytonian of the Week Eric Jerardi is musician, deli owner and wine expert. CONTRIBUTED(Staff Writer)

“People don’t realize how great they have it here in Dayton. You have to travel a lot to understand that. I live north and really love it here — no traffic issues, and I love the airport being so close. We are picking up direct flights all the time, and that’s nice for weekend getaways.”



Downtown residents and outdoor advcocates. Emmy works for Bike Miami Valley, the region's only bicycling advocacy organization and Katie runs the program education for Link: Dayton Bike Share. Katie works for the City in the Department of Water, Division of Environmental Management.

>> MORE: The 5 best Miami Valley bike trails (and how to make the most of them) 

Daytonians of the Week: Emmy Fabich and Katie Norris(Photos: submitted)

Emmy: “People should know that Dayton is so lucky to have so many places to get outside, get active, explore and have local adventures right here. You don't need to spend tons of money or move to Denver: you could do a local bike touring trip on the nation's largest paved trail network, go whitewater kayaking on our national water trail system, or rent a bike at MetroParks Mountain Bike Area (MoMBA) and ride in the woods, or do a weekend backpacking trip on the Twin Valley Trail. The opportunities are endless! Dayton's got it going on. And I just love seeing the reaction on people's faces when you tell them all of the things that they can experience here.”


Katie: “Don't assume the perception you have of Dayton from five years ago holds true today. If you think there isn't something fun to do in Dayton for any age, on any day, then you're not looking hard enough. Also, Dayton isn't perfect, but if you see a challenge, ask yourself how can you work together with others to start addressing that challenge. We all have to take pride in where we live or work, and actively work to make it even better.”



The trio own the Oregon Express Bar & Restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon Historic District. 

Terry Adkins (left), Susan and Joe Bavaro, owners of the Oregon Express Bar & Restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon Historic District. SUBMITTED(Staff Writer)

Terry: “The Oregon District has always been a popular and successful business and entertainment destination and neighborhood of Dayton for the last 30 years. The recent explosion of additional interest and investment in the district and the whole downtown Dayton area bodes well. It all points to a future center city of multiple choices of where to live, work and play in a dynamic urban center for the Miami Valley region.”


>>  Your guide to the best Dayton-area pizza


Force behind the Instagram accounts @IGersDayton and @entropic.

David Suter, the eye behind the Instagram accounts @IgersDayton and @entropic, thrives on showing the beauty in the darker views of Dayton and its residents. (contributed)

“Dayton has faced a lot of challenges as a community but what inspires me is the sheer number of individuals committed to making it better. Everywhere you look are small business owners working hard to get by because they are passionate about our city. It's that dedication and loyalty that continuously amazes me.”



Legislative aide to Dayton City Commissioner Christopher Shaw and founder of The Longest Table Dayton.

City of Dayton Legislative Aide Bryan Stewart founded The Longest Table Dayton, an UpDayton project. He is a Daytonian of the Week. Photo: submitted(Submitted)

“Faux, forced, urban environments are being rejected by millennials. We’re moving downtown, we’re moving closer to cool amenities we can walk or ride a bike to and there’s huge potential in this trend. ‘Outsiders’ should start more businesses and offices in this space because it’s only going to grow.”



Lisa Scott of Beaute Box Lashes Dayton; Kate Rivers of Twist Cupcakery; Juanita Darden-Jones of Third Perk Coffeehouse and Wine Bar and Jasmine Brown of De’Lish Cafe.

The Downtown Browns are made up of Lisa Scott of Beaute Box Lashes Dayton; Jasmine Brown of De’Lish Cafe, Kate Rivers of Twist Cupcakery and Juanita Darden-Jones of Third Perk Coffeehouse & Wine Bar.

Jasmine: “We really are showing our people the importance of supporting each other... We are black women and we are working together.”



Owner of the Red Carpet Tavern

Michael Shubert, owner of the Red Carpet Tavern in Dayton. PHOTO BY JIM INGRAM/STAFF

“I got me a big boy job when I was about 20 years old and stayed here. I did the family thing. I moved away briefly to Daytona. (I) came back. I like it here in Dayton. I like the Belmont area. I like to bring our neighborhoods back.”



Equestrian and co-owner of El Meson, 903 E Dixie Dr., West Carollton 

Bill Castro with one of his show horses. File photo by LISA POWELL/STAFF(Staff Writer)

(Dayton) is small enough to get around and yet unique in the gem of restaurants we have.



Owner of Thai 9, 11 Brown St., and Canal Street Arcade & Deli, 308 E 1st St.

Rob Strong stands in the future Canal Street Arcade & Deli in November 2016, shortly after renovations to the interior began. The arcade-deli-craft beer bar could open as early as late April. MARK FISHER/STAFF(Staff Writer)

What inspires me about Dayton: “The many entrepreneurs I personally know in Dayton and its history of innovators with the visions and the willingness to see those visions through.”



Award-winning film and television actress and current star of “CBS’ “Mom” 

The former star of “The West Wing” has a long list of film credits  that includes roles in “The Help,” “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” “Hairspray,” “American Beauty,” “The Girl on the Train,” “The Hours,” “Finding Nemo,” “Big Night” and “Juno.” 

>> RELATED: Famous Dayton actress reacts to big Golden Globe nomination for role in Tonya Harding film 

The 2017 Dayton Region's Walk of Fame induction ceremony at Sinclair Community College on Thursday, Sept. 28th, included a few stars. Pictured here is 2017 inductee and seven-time Emmy winner Allison Janney taking photos with attendees. AMELIA ROBINSON/STAFF(HANDOUT)

“We are salt of the Earth. We are the people who are grounded and know what’s important about life and know that treating people with respect and kindness (is important).... I’ve always felt that the people I’ve met from Dayton are great people.”

Daytonian of the Week: Etana Jacobi 

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Etana Jacobi  of Dayton
Photos: submitted
Etana Jacobi  of Dayton(Photos: submitted)

It is not how long you live in a place that counts, but the impact you make while there. 

Etana Jacobi is certainly making her mark on the Gem City. 

The Hooksett, N.H. native is the Dayton manager of the Hall of Hunger Initiative, an effort supported by the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area and the Jack W. and Sally D. Eichelberger Foundation, aimed at reducing food insecurity and increasing food access.

The resident of Dayton’s South Park neighborhood is our latest Daytonian of the Week. 

>> MORE: Guardian angels ‘adopt’ 400 local kids for Christmas

What is your passion and why? 

PEOPLE. I'm passionate about a lot of political issues, but really at the core of what I care about most in this world is how the decisions we make individually and collectively affect those around us. Humans are complex, imperfect, funny and strange strange creatures, and I am consistently amazed and challenged by what we're capable of -- both the good and the not-so-good. I figure you come into this life alone and you leave it alone, so why not invest your time on this planet with and for others? 

>> MORE: These 3 winning UpDayton ideas want to change Dayton for the better 

What do you love about life in Dayton? 

I love that this city is filled with folks who are passionate about their home and committed to making it better. I also love that you can have the benefits of life in the city with the feel of a small town. Not only is there always something to do, but there is a good chance you are going to run into someone you know while doing it. Also, the donuts. 

>> MORE: You have to try these Dayton donuts 

Etana Jacobi  of Dayton(Photos: submitted)

Why did you decide to move here? 

I moved here in the fall of 2015 for a job at the Kettering Foundation with no intention of staying very long. I have spent the majority of my adult life bouncing between major cities on the east coast and a small city in the Midwest where I knew no one was not the most appealing. Fortunately, I found a community of people here who are kind, committed and willing to share their home with me. I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to be a Daytonian and excited to put some roots down here. 

What would you do on a perfect date in Dayton? 

There are so many things going on in Dayton, I feel like there is no one perfect date. Perfect date options might include going to a festival in the summer or fall, walking downtown for a movie at the Neon followed by dinner at one of the many awesome locally-owned restaurants, a picnic and hike in one of our fabulous Five Rivers MetroParks, biking on our great bike trails, taste testing delicious donuts at all of the local spots on my personal quest to find the best donut in the region. The possibilities are endless.

>> MORE: The Neon’s Jonathan McNeal shares his can’t miss movies of 2017  

Q) What would you change about Dayton? 

Dayton is a small city with big city problems. It is also a place filled with tremendous assets, a rich and complicated history, and infinite opportunities for growth. I believe in our capacity to build a stronger city for ALL Daytonians, and I think we can only do it with an intentional community-wide focus on issues of equity and justice in our own backyard. 

What should people know about Dayton? 

Hunger is real in Dayton. Almost a third of households with children struggle with food hardship in our community. Most of the west side has been classified as a food desert by the USDA. Thirty-eight percent of clients served by The Foodbank report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities/heating fuel. It is simply unacceptable. We cannot have a healthy and vibrant community if our neighbors cannot afford to eat. 

>> RELATED: Meet the top Daytonians of 2017 

What is your hidden talent? 

If I have a hidden talent, it is hidden even to me.

What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years? 

In 10 to 15 years, I see a strong food ecosystem in Dayton, generating an abundance of healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food, grown and sold locally with care for the well-being of the workers, animals and environment that sustain it. 

I see worker and community-owned businesses, like the Gem City Market, thriving throughout the city. I see every child attending quality Pre-K programs and our students hitting their third-grade reading and eighth-grade math targets. I see young families living throughout the city and sending their children to Dayton Public Schools with pride. I see a vibrant downtown on the nights and weekends with locally-owned businesses filling up our store fronts. I see the Hope Center serving as an anchor institution in NorthWest Dayton, disrupting cycles of poverty and empowering families.

>> RELATED: Dayton co-op grocery store gets $220,000 donation

Etana Jacobi  of Dayton(Photos: submitted)

Daytonian of the Week: Neal Gittleman, Dayton Philharmonic

Published: Wednesday, December 27, 2017 @ 6:00 AM

Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO ANDY SNOW
Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO ANDY SNOW(#andysnowphoto)

Conductor Neal Gittleman may be a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. but he has been an integral part of Dayton’s modern artistic renaissance for more than 20 years.

Since becoming music director of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in 1994, he has ushered the orchestra into the modern age, engaging new, younger music fans through programs like the annual Philharmonster Halloween concert and Rockin’ Orchestra series featuring thematic symphonic programs on rock acts like David Bowie and the Beatles. 

>> Q&A with Paul Gilliam with the Dayton Ballet

Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO ANDY SNOW(#andysnowphoto)

Gittleman, who plays piano, violin and viola, is a fan of musical acts like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles but he fell in love with the possibilities of orchestral work during his college days with the Yale Symphony.

Before being hired by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, he spent time as music director of the Marion Philharmonic, associate conductor of the Syracuse Symphony and assistant conductor of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. He is currently in his 23rd season as the DPO’s music director and conductor. 

Maestro Neal, as he’s often called, recently participated in TedxDayton, where his topic was The Power of Silence. His talk included a performance of “4’33” by John Cage, which is four-and-a-half minutes of silence, where ambient sounds such as the occasional coughing of audience members, conversations in the lobby and passing traffic become part of the piece. 

Gittleman recently answered some questions about life in Dayton, TedxDayton and more as our Daytonian of the Week:


For TedxDayton in October, you presented The Power of Silence. Why do we all need a little silence in our lives?  

Can I just say, “Cuz there’s just too much [expletive] noise?” Probably not! But we’re surrounded by noise. It’s not just actual noise — it’s that we’re continually bombarded with stuff, only a small fraction of which is truly attention-worthy. But a little silence goes a long way. It counteracts all the noise — literal noise and figurative noise.  

The Power of Silence included a performance a famous John Cage piece. What was your take away from that experience? 

“4’33” is all about focusing your attention and listening to the sounds of the world with our “music ears.” Performing it at TedxDayton involved monitoring the timing on the “4’33” app I was using to record the performance, juggling what I had to do in the 10-second spaces between movements — close the piano cover, advance to the next slide, raise the piano cover — thinking about how the audience was reacting, thinking about the final section of my talk. In other words, it was like any other performance — lots to do, lots to think about. Very different from the contemplative experience I wanted the audience to have! But that’s what all performers do. We work hard so folks in the audience can have interesting, involving, transformative experience. 

>> Get to know the masterminds behind Playground Theatre


As the conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, you’re accustomed to being in front of audiences, either in concert or in special programs where you discuss composers and notable works. How did the TedxDayton experience compare to addressing crowds in your day job? 

Most of the public speaking I do is either off-the-cuff or from written notes. TedxDayton wanted our talks memorized. I don’t think I memorized text since my last theatrical experience, Lavoisier in “Marat/Sade” freshman year of college! But I pulled it off, and now I can go back to speaking from notes! 

>> How you can watch videos from TedxDayton

Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO


What part of town do you live in and what do you like most about it? 

 I live at the north end of Oakwood, a couple of blocks from Ben & Jerry’s. The best part is proximity to downtown. A couple of times I’ve realized I forgot something essential to a rehearsal or concert, zipped home and gotten back to the Schuster Center in under 20 minutes, without violating any traffic laws, either. 


How has the city of Dayton changed since you came on board in the mid-1990s? 

Lots: baseball, The Schuster, residential construction downtown. We still have a civic inferiority complex but maybe that’s starting to change, too. 

>> Q&A with Chad Wyckoff, Human Race Theatre


What would you like to see happen most for Dayton, culturally, socially or financially?  

More good economic news would be nice, as it would improve the environment for all the arts and non-profits in the area. But most of all, I’d love us to develop a stronger sense of community, community pride and community solidarity. The DPO, the Ballet, the Opera and rest of the arts community can be part of that because arts performances are a great way to bring people together and remind them the most vibrant experiences are ones we share live with our fellow audience members. Earbuds and headphones are nice but live is always better. 


What is one musical artist you enjoy that people might be surprised to discover and what do you like about them?  

I imagine that most people assume that I’m a Bach-Beethoven-and-Brahms kind of guy. And I am, of course. But the music that’s always been “my” music is the stuff I grew up with — the Beatles, the Stones, the Who and the great artists of Stax Records. That’s always been my listening-for-fun wheelhouse. In recent years, my buddy Phil Hinrichs has turned me into a Springsteen fan. I’ve got several of his live shows stashed on my phone and that’s been my listening-in-the-dressing-room fare before concerts. I suspect people probably wonder what’s going on when they hear the E Street Band playing behind my dressing room door before I conduct Beethoven or Brahms, but it works for me! 


What is one of your guilty pleasures? 

Funny — I don’t think I have any guilty pleasures. But that’s just because I refuse to feel guilty about my pleasures. I’m anxiously awaiting the fourth season of “Black Mirror,” which I guess is coming soon. “Mozart in the Jungle” is absurd, but it’s about my thing so I can’t resist watching. I love “Master of None.” And, pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just under two months so I’m looking forward to [a new baseball season], too. 


You’ve had a rich and diverse career in your role as music director for the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Is there a project, artist or composition you haven’t gotten to tackle? 

As long as I’ve been conducting, there are always things I haven’t done yet that I’m hoping to get to. Very high on that bucket list is Olivier Messiaen’s amazing “Turangalîla Symphony,” an incredibly beautiful, thrilling, cinematic piece of music that would be a real blast to bring to the Schuster Center. And — fingers crossed — it just might happen one of these seasons. It’s been eight years since we last played a Bruckner symphony, and Bruckner sounds amazing in the Schuster Center. We’ve played many Shostakovich symphonies in my time at the DPO but there are several great ones we haven’t gotten to yet. Ditto for Mahler.” 

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Neal Gittleman, artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO ANDY SNOW(#andysnowphoto)


What is keeping you from presenting these programs to an audience? 

The biggest barrier to getting to some of those “wish list” pieces is the fact we have only so many programs a year — currently seven Masterworks Series programs each season — and so many great pieces to fill those slots. So, it’s just a matter of patiently holding onto those really-wanna-do-it ideas until the time, opportunity and finances are right. And, it’s not all about big “classical” pieces, either. Ever since the DPO started its Rockin’ Orchestra Series, I’ve wanted us to do something that would bring some of the amazing performers from the local music scene to play with the orchestra. The 2018-2019 season announcement isn’t until New Year’s Eve, so I can’t divulge what it is just yet, but that box is gonna get checked off next season.” 


What does the future look like for the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra? 

There’s really no limit to what our orchestra can do, except for the continual financial challenges. Stephen Sondheim said it best, in a lyric from “Putting it Together,” a song from his show, “Sunday in the Park with George”: art isn’t easy. My corollary to that axiom would be, “If it seems easy, you ain’t aimin’ high enough!” Every once in a while, you read about an orchestra — or another performing arts organization — that has a LARGE gift “fall from the sky.” The San Diego Symphony got a $100-million gift in 2002. The Cincinnati Symphony got an $84-million gift several years ago. Imagine what something like that — or even half as much — could do here! 

Contact contributing arts and music writer Don Thrasher at