Leadership / 11.02.20
Ashley Voorhees: An Arts Career and Midwestern Values Shine Through
Ashley Voorhees is one of those people who is instantly likable. This is no surprise given the neighborly manner she developed as a child growing up in Utah and which she continues to exude today as the Associate Vice President of Administrative Services for Omaha Performing Arts in Nebraska, the very heart of the friendly American Midwest.
With such a family-oriented upbringing, her answer to our question of who she most admires was not surprising. “I’ve learned so much from my mom over my entire life. She is a strong individual and a savvy business owner, and she has really done well for herself and for her family.”
Her mother, a health care consultant, was hoping Ashley and her brother would one day take over her highly successful business. But, says Ashley, “We quickly realized that neither of us had enough of a science brain to be able to support what she was doing.”
Ashley and her mother.
Instead, like so many others in ticketing, Ashley’s choice of career was serendipitous. As it turned out, it was her father who, quite literally, helped lay the foundation for her lifetime in the arts.
“When I was a senior in high school, my dad was building the box office countertop for the Theatre League of Utah,” she says. “The people there told him they were looking for part-time workers and asked if he knew anybody. He said, ‘I have a daughter who might be interested.’ Next thing you know, I was selling tickets to ‘The Phantom of the Opera!’ I was hooked the moment I sat down to sell that first ticket.”
Almost a quarter century later, Ashley finds herself near the top of her profession, working under the leadership of Joan Squires, President of Omaha Performing Arts (OPA), the largest arts institution in Nebraska. The nonprofit organization boasts two beloved venues, the Orpheum Theater, which has “served as the home of the finest in local and national performing arts in Omaha for nearly a century,” and the Holland Performing Arts Center, known for its sleek, urban modernism. Presenting the best of touring artists and productions across a variety of genres, OPA’s mission also includes a comprehensive education and community engagement program.
The Orpheum Theater
The Holland Performing Arts Center
“Joan is so savvy and smart,” Ashley says. “She is somebody who trusts her team to do the work and do it well. We have some core values within our organization at Omaha Performing Arts, and they are trust, team and integrity. These values hit home for me when it comes to my colleagues.”
In these challenging times, those values are all the more relevant. By employing social distancing and other safety measures, the OPA team has been able to get back to business during the current pandemic, albeit with limited capacities. They are bringing in revenue but, perhaps more importantly, keeping people in the habit of paying to support arts and culture.
Ashley has always relied on INTIX, which she describes as “a small but mighty group filled with passion for what we do.” She currently serves as a member of the Professional Development Grants Committee and also taps into the broader community. That support, says Ashley, is especially important now.
“INTIX has always been a huge resource for me. But more importantly right now, as we are looking at the craziness that the coronavirus has brought upon us, it has become a gathering we all need, especially on the Wednesday Wisdom calls. Right now, with what’s happening, coming together is much more important. We are challenged with reduced staff, the uncertainty of how we are going to put on different shows, whether it be a sports event or an actual performance, to changing all the protocols around it. Being able to have that sounding board is hugely helpful. I have been able to take some of the conversations I’ve had during those Wednesday meetings, bring them back to my senior team and say ‘This is what this organization did and how they found success in it.’”
While Ashley remains busy and challenged at work, she truly values her time with family and friends.
“My son, Christian, who is 15, and my daughter, Izzy, who is 13, are the greatest loves of my life,” Ashley says. “They challenge me, but they make me a much better person at the end of the day. When it comes to my friends, I think the thing I value most is just being comfortable to be able to let go and be me. As a single parent, and working the hours that I work, every moment with a friend where you can be yourself and escape for a few minutes and then come back to reality is to be cherished.”
When she finds time for herself, Ashley loves to watch her three dogs and one cat — the “furballs” as she calls them — run around and play.
“My boyfriend and I have three dogs together. Bella is a Pyrenees-Newfoundland mix. Bentley is a Standard Poodle and Odie is Pyrenees and, well, we were told it was going to be Saint Bernard, but she has no Saint Bernard in her, so she is kind of a Pyrenees-mutt mix. And then we have a cat, so we have a crazy household. If we could have a little bit more space, we would probably have more.”
“Our cat is Tucker,” Ashley says. “My kids named him, and I did not think I was going to be a cat person when we got him from our local humane society. They said, ‘Let’s name him Tucker.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, because I could call him something else in my head if I really had to; I could change the ‘T’ with a different letter and think that’s hilarious.’”
Ashley also loves to crochet and cook, saying “a turkey on the grill is probably the best and yummiest thing, so I try to do that at least a couple of times a year. I’m also always trying to find new recipes, so I watch ‘The Great American Baking Show,’ and I’ll think, hmmm, maybe I should make that Victorian pie someday. Then I realize, who am I kidding, who’s going to eat that?”
Turkey done on the grill.
But, after growing up playing sports, Ashley says what she would really love to do is sing.
“I played soccer most of my adolescent-into-high-school life, and found my love for music going to different Broadway shows with my mom and family to just hearing some wonderful rock music growing up. Being able to belt out ‘Seasons of Love’ from ‘Rent’ or Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ would be fantastic,” she says, quickly adding that she struggles with confidence when it comes to karaoke. So, instead, Ashley has remained content to listen to others “belt it out” by going to concerts as diverse as Bette Midler, Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift, who she saw with her kids. As for a favorite song, while she has many, Ashley says Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ will “always and forever hold a special place in my heart.”
After more than two decades in the industry, Ashley’s own colors continue shining through in her love for live theatre.
“The thing I love the most and I still do, even 20+ years later, is seeing that first-time arrival at the venue. It could be a little girl in her ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Belle costume coming in with her Grandpa; she has this cute little corsage on and is so excited to spend time in the theater. Just seeing the audience’s reaction to incredible moments such as when Elphaba in ‘Wicked’ does ‘Defying Gravity’ is one of the things I love most about what I do.”
If she had it to do all over again would she have followed her mom into the sciences instead? Not a chance, says Ashley.
The Voorhees family.
“My mom is somebody who I admire and look up to a lot. I have learned so much from her over my entire life. I want to be that kind of role model for my children; give them a strong foundation and help them recognize that hard work pays off in the end. When you think about raising two children, you want them to be independent in thought but also caring and compassionate for others. Raising kids is always a challenge in itself, but doing it alone as a single parent, I think that would be the greatest meaning of my life, just knowing that I made an impact in their lives.”
Indeed, guided by these Midwestern values, Ashley has not only learned from strong women like her mother and Joan Squires; she’s become one herself.
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