Visalia Fox Theatre takes intermission on 2020

Visalia Fox Theatre announces their closure for 2020, reaches out to the community to support the institution

VISALIA – The vaunted Visalia Fox Theatre celebrated their 90-year anniversary in February. Three weeks later they were forced to close their doors.

“We had just had our 90th celebration. We were getting more community involvement. We had lots of schools come in and doing tours and it just came to a screeching halt…it’s devastating and heartbreaking all at the same time,” Marina Rojas, marketing and development manager for the Visalia Fox said.

In light of the strikingly high number of COVID-19 cases in Tulare County, the Fox is scratching any hope of reopening this year. But they don’t want the community to think the curtains have closed.

“The tagline I’ve come up with is this is just an intermission,” Rojas said. “And for a second act we need our community to support us. We can’t do this without them.”

While the decision to close for the rest of 2020 was made in mid-June, the board of directors recently came together and decided it was time to turn to the community for their generosity. Because even while the Fox isn’t open there is still meaningful overhead to consider.

“The old girl isn’t what she used to be that’s for sure,” Rojas joked.

While the theater is not technically in use there is still a need to manage the temperature to prevent damage, and make any repairs to the aging structure.

Director of the Visalia Fox, Vikki Escobedo, said she laid off all of her event staff as early as the end of March to save on costs. All of her other full-time employees have either been laid off or furloughed and working drastically reduced hours.

Yet, that hasn’t had a negative effect on the team’s morale.

“We are in very frequent communication with one another. I do feel we are still very much a team and on the same page. Still very much dedicated to the mission of the Fox. And this team has impressed me,” Escobedo said.

She added that without much revenue coming through the door for the rest of the year, she estimates a $400,000 loss over last year. And to keep up the basic maintenance through 2020, the theater needs to raise at least $100,000.

The most recent plan to rally support for the Fox comes after a tempering of expectations when their hopes of reopening in June were dashed. Through March, April and May, the novel coronavirus was steadying out. However, when the state relaxed industry guidelines COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations became overwhelming.

“We were hoping to reopen in June and I said, ‘okay, we can reopen as a movie theater.’ But then we were waiting to see what the main [movie theater] chains did around town,” Escobedo said. “Before they get off the ground, [the state] changed the rules.”

Escobedo added that with so many of the rules in flux it is hard to make any future plans for the nonprofit.

Rojas echoed Escobedo’s point and said that the Fox is still getting ready for every twist and turn.

“That’s the hard part. We are planning for an unknown future. We don’t’ want to stop being creative and we want to have the hope of returning…the question is, what does an event look like in scenario a, b, c, d, through z,” Rojas said.

While the virus calamity has left no business or nonprofit unturned, Rojas believes that the Visalia Fox can withstand the pandemic. Just before the theater shutdown, over 500 people visited the Fox for the Enchanted Playhouse production of Cinderella. A worthwhile number for the production company.

The Fox’s movie night presenting The Nightmare Before Christmas brought in almost 700 people last December. And Rojas said that a significant number of them had never experienced the Fox before.

“It really just goes to show the impact of community theater and it does reach everybody at some point and its sad that relationship is on pause right now,” Rojas said. “I think people still care about us, I know they do…so we are trying our best to be in people’s minds still.”

Hopefully with community support throughout this year, the Fox can come roaring back in 2021 on a foundation as firm as their standing in the community.

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