Escobedo bids farewell to Fox, Visalia

Visalian Friends of the Fox seek new executive director for Fox Theatre after Vikky Escobedo announces her move to Dallas, Texas with her family

VISALIA – By the beginning of next month the beloved Visalia Fox Theatre will be under new leadership. Current executive director Vikky Escobedo announced she is moving to Dallas, Texas after the majority of her time was spent steering the organization through a once in a century pandemic.

Like everyone, Escobedo was caught off guard by COVID-19. To make matters worse, the theatre shut their doors just eeks after celebrating their 90th anniversary. Worse, she was still filling out her chair after being hired as director nine months prior. And her plans for the theater were right on track.

Having come from the nonprofit sector, Escobedo felt that she was the right person for the Fox’s top job when it came up in 2019.

“Coming into the entertainment side of things, my hope was to make the Fox flourish and prosper and just continue to build on that sort of success,” Escobedo said.

With a strong lineup of shows in the foreseeable future, and a stronger team in place, Escobedo felt as if everyone in the organization was ready for action. “We had geared up with other new staff that came in when I did. And it felt as though we were really building up and programming and honoring the history you know,” Escobedo said.

The very last show at the fox was the Enchanted Playhouse Theatre Company’s performance of Cinderella on March 7, 2020. A week later, on Friday the 13th, children exited their classrooms for the school year, many employees left work for the last time and entire sectors of the economy were shutdown indefinitely by the governor’s stay-at-home order. Event venues and theaters, such as the Fox, were officially closed until further notice.

The feeling Escobedo had could be summed up in just one word: uncertainty.

“Initially, you think you can weather the two week shut down, you can weather two months, you can weather a little bit further, and then obviously, by the time we reopened, we experienced an 18-month stretch of closure,” Escobedo said.

While the pandemic posed a challenge to her entire industry in itself, she struggled the most with laying off her staff. Hours were dramatically reduced for part-time and full-time staff members. The only people who were there were the people who needed to keep the lights on and manage the expected repairs of an aging building. Unable to provide enough hours for employees some were forced to find work elsewhere.

“So, it was extremely challenging. And then, of course, always looking for funding, and keeping the public aware that while many businesses were reopening, we were not. We were not recovering as quickly as other businesses were just because of the industry we are in,” Escobedo said.

One of major pushes by Escobedo and her staff was to hold an open call to the community for donations last year. The community proved to be a helping hand. One generous donor agreed to match all donations received up to $10,000 after eight months of being shutdown. More generosity came from the Fox Theatre board of directors.

Escobedo said that no matter what she faced over the last few years, her board was at her side. However, that does not mean some difficult conversations were not had throughout 2020 and in 2021.

“I’ve never received anything but full support from our board. And I’m grateful for that,” Escobedo said. “We were always looking for funding always looking for any sort of even federal funding that might be available… Overall, I think we were able to lock arms and stay the course.”

Board president Max Lupercio could not agree more. In a press release announcing her exit, Lupercio heaped praise on the first time theater executive for her leadership role through COVID.

“I’m not sure we could’ve made it through the pandemic closure were it not for Vikky’s leadership,” Lupercio said. “We were forced to close our doors to the public and our main source of revenue dried up overnight. But despite the daunting prospects, Vikky stepped up to make sure we stayed afloat. She led and coordinated donor outreach and facility maintenance and renovations in an incredibly difficult situation. To say we’ll miss her at the Fox is an understatement.”

As Escobedo plans to depart to Texas with her retiring husband, the official nonprofit who runs the Fox Theatre, Visalian Friends of the Fox, has already posted the position. The finer details are a mix of leading the administration, operations, finance and budgeting, facility integrity, fundraising and development, business development, community relations and strategic planning. Over the last year Escobedo has been the organization’s most visible representative in the community, and her position reports to the board of directors and board president.

The application process is underway, but Escobedo has a word of advice for whoever gets her job next: “be prepared to work hard.”

“It’s not an easy job, that’s for sure. And then I think [in terms of] attributes I believe that it would be beneficial for someone to have management experience in a historical theater, and leading a historical theater,” Escobedo said.

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