Santana takes the stage as Fox Theatre’s new director

Visalian Friends of the Fox Theatre hire Wilhelmina Santana as executive director following Vikky Escobedo’s departure this month

VISALIA – The Visalia Fox Theatre announced last week that they hired Wilhelmina Santana as executive director now that Vikky Escobedo is leaving the limelight.

Officially Santana is the executive director of Visalian Friends of the Fox Theatre, but in a much more practical sense she will take care of everything that has to do with the Fox. And that is a role she is already comfortable with.

Santana brings 35 years of experience to this position. All together she spent eight years on the Broadway Series and 28 years in facility management. Her previous role was director of event services at the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center.

“I started my career in the theater business in 1986 and have worked my way up since then,” said Santana. “I have lived and worked in Miami, Savannah, and Fresno. At every venue, I focused on cultivating community relationships and building out theater outreach.”

Santana said she plans on bringing that knowhow to The Fox by continuing best practices and building from there to form new partnerships and community engagement. It will take a lot of hard work to emerge out of the pandemic. Escobedo practically said as much when lending her parting advice.

“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 in an interview with The Sun-Gazette in August.

It appears as if Santana has the previous director’s seal of approval according to a Fox Theatre press release from last week.

“Wilhelmina brings a unique blend of experience in the entertainment industry, venue management, finance, and business administration,” Escobedo said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to have led the Fox organization for the past 27 months, even though that included 18 months of the pandemic shutdown. We are indeed emerging from a very difficult season in our nearly 92-year history, and I have no doubt that under Ms. Santana’s leadership, the Fox will thrive.”

Escobedo had a rougher go than most other executive directors. Her time at the Fox began on a high note when the theater celebrated their 90th anniversary in February 2020. The very last show at the fox was the Enchanted Playhouse Theatre Company’s performance of Cinderella on March 7, 2020.

Shortly after that 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.

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.

Through it all Escobedo had the support of the nonprofit board and staff. And now that the theater is on the cusp of reopening, Santana is walking in with the wind at her back.

“The Visalia Fox Theatre is excited to see Wilhelmina’s leadership in action,” Max Lupercio, president of the board of the Visalian Friends of the Fox Theatre, said. “We considered several qualified applicants from across the country. After Wilhelmina’s interview, we knew we had found the right person for this job.”

Santana begins her tenure this week following Escobedo’s departure and relocation to the Dallas area. The Fox will fully reopen on Friday, Sept. 17 for its first show in 18 months and the first of the 2021 season.

The Visalia Fox Theatre is in the process of adding a full roster of events to the fall 2021 season. Current planned shows include:

  • Felipe Esparza, presented by Perico Productions, Sept. 17
  • The Hodgetwins, presented by JMax Productions, Oct. 8
  • The Sequoia Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening show, Oct. 16
  • Mariachi Los Camperos’ Tradition, Art and Passion: A Day of the Dead in Mexico, Oct. 23
  • Carlos Mencia, presented by Perico Productions, Nov. 13

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