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Natural Awakenings Tucson

The Show Must Go On The Fox Tucson Theatre Remains a Crown Jewel

Mar 31, 2021 07:00PM ● By Suzie Agrillo
While the pandemic has brought its share of turmoil to our lives, there are still pockets of joy worth celebrating. The Fox Tucson Theatre is an example of the true beauty and magic that lies within our city.
   
Bonnie Schock was hired as Executive Director of the Fox in January 2020, following a multi-phase, three-month national search process. Shortly thereafter, she faced unexpected challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, Schock has the resourcefulness, grit and determination to rise to the occasion. Her undergraduate degree is from Evergreen State College with an emphasis in Interdisciplinary Arts, and she has an M.F.A. in Stage Directing from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
   
Schock always thought that she’d be an actor on the stage. Like many performers, she assumed that is where she belonged. “I soon realized I was an okay performer, but not great. What I was great at was envisioning a possibility and then going about putting all the pieces together to make it real,” she relates.
   
Initially, Schock utilized these skills as a director, and then it expanded to producing, to arts organizational leadership, to public arts funding policy and to all the ways that the arts can and should be woven into the life of a community.
   
“My love of historic venues—as truly special community performance centers—began when I helped to turn around a small, historic dance performance space in Minneapolis,” she explains. “Before coming to Tucson, I led the remarkable Sheldon Theatre of Performing Arts in Red Wing, Minnesota and fell head over heels in love with landmark theatre buildings that have a palpable community soul. The Fox has that mojo as well.”
   
During her tenure as Executive Director, Schock has worked tirelessly to keep this iconic venue safe, viable and accessible to patrons. “We’ve grieved in the quiet of an empty stage,” she laments. Programming during the pandemic looks different, with digital platforms such as Fox Friday Nights In and Kids in the Theatre (KIT) streaming.
   
We received a virtual front row seat introduction to the multifaceted Schock as she reflected on the challenges of 2020 and the hope she harbors for the future of the Fox Tucson Theatre.

What is the history of the Fox Tucson Theatre? How has community support influenced the success of the Fox?
The Fox opened as a movie palace in 1930. It has been a beloved community gathering space throughout its storied ups and downs. The renovation and rebirth of the space as a live performance venue brought together the entire community—thousands of volunteers, visionaries, donors and people of all walks of life rolling up their real and metaphoric sleeves to make it happen.
   
Since the reopening on New Year’s Eve 2004, the Fox has reemerged as the place to be, where generations of Tucsonans gather in shared experience—whether that’s to see great artists we love, discover new artists we soon will love or supporting the myriad of local community user groups who call the Fox home. Today’s Fox relies on community support to ensure its vibrancy in every way.

How profound is the impact of the Fox Tucson Theatre in our community?
I’m biased. I think it’s irreplaceable. It’s a space where Tucsonans have built memories, shared experiences, found joy and possibility, and made and deepened connections to place and to one another. I believe the arts have profoundly transformative power. Truly special, one-of-a-kind, storied, historic, rare places like the Fox are a promise that we make to one another to show up in real time and real space. That opportunity for connectedness in an increasingly virtual world is an impact we can never take for granted.

Why do you think it has earned the moniker ‘The Crown Jewel of Tucson’?
She’s beautiful in a way that is utterly, uniquely Tucson. The decorative style is both spectacular and such an authentic representation of a desert Southwest aesthetic. There are no other known examples of this Southwestern Art-Deco interior. Special frames elevate experiences, so, when you go to a show inside a space, a frame like this, it changes the experience, adds to the emotion and heightens your senses. It’s like a crown jewel—an extra beautiful, treasured heirloom, bound to the history of a place—that makes every occasion feel rare.

What challenges have you experienced considering the COVID-19 pandemic?
This has been the most challenging time of my career. We’ve all been through the wringer. On my third day on the job, as the brand-new Executive Director, the Fox shut down and I had to furlough 80 percent of our staff. That was devastating for everyone. We thought it would be temporary, and yet that timeframe has been extended again and again.
   
Now, the best-case scenario will be reopening some time in fall of 2021, which would make it 18 months. During this time, we’ve had to reimagine every assumption and every value and every tool in our toolbox, as we work toward that reopening—in the absence of many of our valued colleagues. Our donors have made it possible to stay hopeful. Also, the ways in which individuals are showing up with well wishes and encouragement—that means everything to our team.

In what ways can people help to support the Fox?
We have a range of merchandise items—T-shirts, caps, mugs, groovy lunchboxes and the loveliest replica of the iconic blade sign as a holiday ornament. Recently, we partnered with 15 other Arizona independent music venues on an “I ♥ AZ” apparel project. It’s all available on our website. You can also buy gift certificates and tickets to currently scheduled shows as you get ready to come back to The Fox. Of course, people can give to our fundraising efforts, as well—in any amount. It all matters.
   
Also, advocacy is so vital. The live performance industry has been decimated, and it’s important for all of us to keep telling the story, reminding policy makers and community leaders and our neighbors, too, that if we value entertainment and the people and spaces that do that work in our communities, we need to raise our voices and do whatever we can to ensure it’s all here on the other side.
   
Another action step people can take to help the Fox reopen is to mask up and get vaccinated. Right now, our industry simply won’t be able to restart until there is widescale vaccination in the community. So, that means working together to get there.

What role do volunteers play in the operation of the Fox?
The Fox is supported by hundreds of volunteers. Many of them serve as ushers and a welcoming face to our space. There are also our board members, whose work during the pandemic cannot be praised enough.

What is inspiring in your life right now?
The idea that the pandemic has offered us the possibility to begin fresh, to rebuild with our values in the lead. We can do it better. That’s exciting, hopeful and the fuel that is keeping me going through the challenges.

What’s your favorite band?
This is an impossible question! I am a lifelong devotee—in that “this artist changed my life and helped me understand who I am and what I long for” kind of way—of the late David Bowie. More in the moment, I love all things blues. Joe Bonamassa, Shemekia Copeland, Ruthie Foster and Anders Osbourne. I also love the wild pop creativity of artists and bands like Pink, No Doubt and OK Go. The truth is I am a child of the ‘70s.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Always keep editing. The gems are hidden just beyond the noise.

What’s the best compliment you ever received?
A group of students in the graduate program I used to lead gave me an award, naming me “hellraiser for the good”.  I couldn’t ask to be anything more.

As a recent transplant to the Old Pueblo, what do you like best about Tucson?
The sky is remarkable.       

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m deeply grateful for the trust that the Fox board, and ultimately all of Tucson, has placed in me as a steward of a place you love so well. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be a small part of the next chapter in the cultural life of Tucson.

The Fox Tucson Theatre is located at 17 W. Congress St., Tucson. Learn more at FoxTucson.com. Connect with Bonnie Schock at [email protected]

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection, and she enjoys reading all things true crime. Connect at [email protected].
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