The new year always seems to bring with it a chance for new beginnings, new opportunities and new possibilities. For the artistic and production departments at the Athens Theatre, January brought celebratory changes and an overwhelming ovation of heartfelt gratitude, appreciation and thanks for one of its longtime members.
Since he was appointed as education director for the Sands Youth Theatre in 2011, Craig Uppercue has been as much a mainstay at the Athens Theatre as its iconic stained-glass sunburst windows. With his 2013 acceptance of the position of artistic director with the Sands Theatre Company (now the Athens Theatre Company), Uppercue has worked tirelessly, season after season, to consistently develop enticing play selections while diligently establishing and adhering to strict production schedules and budgets.
Along with being responsible for all hiring and securing of staff, which make each Athens Theatre Company and Athens Youth Academy production possible, Uppercue oversees the educational manager and all Youth Academy workshops and camps.
Moreover, since 2006, Uppercue has been employed by Volusia County Schools as a music specialist. He is also an adjunct instructor of music education at Stetson University.
In his spare time, although we are unsure how or when that may exist, Uppercue has also been pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration, and will graduate from the program this summer.
Therefore, it is a very bittersweet moment for the theater to know that Uppercue has announced that he will be focusing his energy on his continuing education and career with the school system and the university.
“I am extremely proud to have helped the Athens Theatre grow into the incredible entertainment hub that it is today, and know that I could not have done this without the help of all the incredible individuals who share their talents and gifts working for the Athens,” said Uppercue.
So, when the Athens Theatre Company’s 2022-23 season closes this year in early May, Uppercue will be passing the artistic director torch to Frank Ramirez, the theater’s current production manager.
“It is almost inconceivable to imagine Craig’s not being involved in everything Athens!” said Alexa Baldwin, the theater’s executive director. “Yet, we appreciate that Craig’s dedication to his scholastic endeavors is equally one of his great passions. We will all miss him greatly in this position, but his heart and presence will always remain close to our stage. We are already finalizing the details on his new (less-time-consuming) position as our community outreach and development specialist — because we just can’t imagine the theater without him around.”
Frank Ramirez welcomes the new appointment, although he, too, echoes Baldwin’s sentiments.
“At the end of the day, this theater is one big family. It is very hard when one of us decides to move away from home,” said Ramirez. “Yet, I am incredibly grateful that I have been chosen for this position, which I wholeheartedly embrace.”
Ramirez has served as the theater’s production manager since 2018. Boasting an impressively solid background as a dedicated entertainment professional with more than 20 years of experience, his journey in the arts has taken him behind the scenes, onstage, made him a director, a union manager, production manager, stage manager, general arts manager, and a creative guide on multiple levels in live theatrical production and creation.
Ramirez has been affiliated with major arts organizations, ranging from local theater, professional regional theater, off-Broadway, Broadway, corporate theater and theme parks. He has also been associated with the Jim Henson Company via Heather Henson’s IBEX Puppetry, where he served as company manager, producer, touring manager, casting manager, artistic management and the organizer of worldwide full-scale theatrical productions in Canada, China, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and nationally across the U.S.
Ramirez has looked after the Athens’ repertory productions, rehearsals processes and technical aspects of every single one of its shows for more than five years now, and there is no doubt that the theater’s next chapter, with him as artistic director, will be an exciting one.
“This appointment is a natural fit for Frank,” said Baldwin. With a chuckle, she goes on to say, “We’ve often joked that his bed at home must get lonely because it’s never used. It’s as if he lives here. You come into the theater or rehearsal hall — and there’s Frank. He is always here making magic happen!”
The theater recognizes this as a wonderful opportunity for both Uppercue and Ramirez. However, once more, the familial ties of the theater run deep and strong. The one thing that can be said is that both gentlemen are certainly loved and respected by the Athens Theatre.
January always brings with it a chance to start anew, a moment to redirect one’s path, a solstice, if you will, for redefining our roles. It would seem that after just turning a stellar 101 years old, for 2023, the planets are once more perfectly poised for the theater’s next tour around the sun, and she is shining oh so brightly!