Alexa Baldwin has come a long way since she was hired for a temporary marketing position at the Athens Theatre 10 years ago.
“They hired me on a 30-day contract because they weren’t sure if they’d be able to pay me after the first 30 days,” Baldwin told The Beacon.
Now Baldwin has been named the theater’s executive director.
The new title makes official what Baldwin has already been doing for the most part, because the Athens has been without a director since 2009.
It has been a time of change and growth, and Baldwin has helped foster that.
In 2012, the theater sold 19,425 tickets. From 2019 until just before the COVID-19 pandemic made operating a theater difficult, the theater sold more than double that: 42,934 tickets.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the Athens hard.
The theater was shut down for five months, and during that time the nonprofit that runs the show spent more than $5,000 on safety measures to ensure that reopening wouldn’t lead to a superspreader event.
From air-filtration units to floor stickers to designate proper social distance, theater staff worked tirelessly to ensure patrons would feel safe when the theater reopened.
Thankfully, Executive Director Alexa Baldwin said, the theater threw its doors wide open — with limited seating, of course — and has expanded its educational opportunities.
“When people walked in, they still felt safe, but didn’t feel like they were in an antiseptic environment,” she said. “It’s really been about keeping everybody safe, and that includes our actors, as well.”
Managing, and all that jazz
Baldwin wears many hats at the theater.
An Ohioan by birth, she caught the theater bug at a young age.
“My first leading character was in my sixth-grade play, as an air molecule,” she said, laughing.
At the Athens, Baldwin has been a leading lady, a marketing manager, and now, executive director. She is the first to serve in the role full time since the previous executive director, Jeffrey Ault, stepped down in 2009.
While her work typically keeps her too busy from being in the limelight, she still gets on stage from time to time to perform with her husband in their Pink Floyd tribute band, the Surrogate Band. The Baldwins perform the vocals, and her brother-in-law plays lead guitar.
This last year hasn’t been easy, Baldwin said. Thankfully, the theater was in good financial standing before the pandemic shut it down in 2020 from March 16 to Aug. 12.
Now, as shows sell out again and the schedule fills up, Baldwin said she is honored to steer the theater through what she hopes is a renaissance era.
“The theater is approaching its 100th anniversary, and when it first opened, it was such a hub for DeLand,” Baldwin said. “Many people who grew up in this area have stories about going to the Athens when it was the movie house, or having their first kiss up in the balcony. Now, seeing those people who went there as kids coming back and bringing their families and seeing the generations who have been affected by this beautiful brick building that stands at the end of Indiana Avenue; I have been very lucky to have such an incredible Athens family.”
One person with fond memories of the building is Athens Board of Directors President Tom Fleishel, a certified financial planner.
Fleishel’s father, Joe H. Fleishel, managed the theater 1940-72, when it was a single-screen movie theater.
“My first date was at the Athens,” Tom Fleishel said. “It was great until my father played a prank on me and shined a flashlight to embarrass us both.”
Fleishel said Alexa Baldwin is the perfect person to take over as the theater’s executive director.
“She has been the breath and life of the Athens Theatre for the last 10 years,” he said.
“She’s been an unbelievable resource and asset to the organization.”
As the theater’s staff — including 17 paid employees and a troupe of nearly 300 volunteers — plans just how to celebrate the theater’s centennial in 2022, Baldwin said she is looking forward to the year ahead.
“We’re fully booked [with shows] through May 2022, and have things on the schedule going out as far as June 2022,” she said.
Whether it’s the next big show, a concert, or even a movie — which Baldwin said the theater is in discussions about bringing back — there are few Central Florida locales with as much heart as the Athens Theatre.
“If you look around, there have not been many theaters that have been able to do what we do,” Baldwin said. “I think that DeLand is amazing, and I think this theater is incredible. It really has impacted every nuance of my life, my husband’s life and my daughter’s life. It’s home.”
Alexa Baldwin studied musical theater at Kent State University. There, she met her now-husband, Robert Baldwin, when the two both tried to start a theater club.
“I was going to start it, and he submitted the paperwork the day before I did,” she said. “That club is still in existence to this day, more than 20 years later.”
After graduation, Alexa Baldwin worked a number of office jobs. She and her husband moved to Central Florida, where they fell in with the Athens.
The Baldwins first moved to Orange City, and later to DeLand, where they now live.
Robert Baldwin works as an attorney, and the two have a 5-year-old daughter, Lillian.