Tag Archives: OPA

Forever in Black

January 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Whether it’s your first time inside the glittering Orpheum Theater or your fiftieth visit to the sleek Holland Performing Arts Center, attending a live performance is an exciting event. The lobby fills with eager patrons and the buzz of conversation as a floor captain directs a couple to the gift shop while their tutu-clad daughter hops up and down with anticipation. A man in elegant evening wear checks out a hearing device from a volunteer while a couple in cowboy boots hover at their assigned door, which is—finally!—opened by a smiling usher. Each of these patrons has been made to feel welcome by an official Ambassador for Omaha Performing Arts [OPA].

For its March 2013 return run of The Lion King’s 32 sold-out performances, 383 Ambassadors volunteered a total of 6,804 hours. This past August, Disney Theatrical Productions presented a rare award, a handcrafted lioness mask honoring the outstanding achievement of The Lion King’s success in Omaha. Ambassadors were a central element in the success of that and any run at either the Orpheum or the Holland.

One of the black-clad volunteers, Sue Mouttet, was recognized for working 94 events during the 2012-13 season. Think of the math on that. That’s the equivalent of Mouttet spending one out of every four days of the year dressed in one of her black Ambassador’s outfits.

Sue Mouttet in the calm before the storm at the Orpheum Theater

Sue Mouttet in the calm before the storm at the Orpheum Theater

“I became an Ambassador in 2005, the year the Holland opened,” says Mouttet. “I enjoy every assignment I get because I love the public contact.” Many people think of Ambassadors simply as ushers, but their duties are as varied as Omaha Performing Arts’ line-up of performances. One of the jobs of female Ambassadors is directing intermission traffic through the rest rooms during lobby-packed intermissions. “It may sound funny, but it can make a big difference in one’s [a patron’s] experience,” Mouttet says. [Editor’s Tip: For much shorter restroom lines at the Orpheum, take the short flight of stairs down from the lobby and use the lower-level facilities.]

Mouttet has a special understanding of theater—she is an actor who’s played several area stages. This background helps her better explain the nuances of the evening to ticketholders. Why can’t we be seated early? The doors must wait while cast and crew make their last-minute checks so you will enjoy a killer, perfectly staged performance.

Joni Fuchs, OPA’s Front of House Manager, oversees 450 volunteer Ambassadors. She was hired for the position two years ago but had been an Ambassador since 2006. Like many in her small army of volunteers, she came at the suggestion of friends and joined a mixed group of people who share a love for performing arts and helping others. Many are retired, but others come from jobs in business, education, and trade. The minimum age is 18; the oldest Ambassador is 90. And each one is greatly appreciated. “They provide an invaluable service to Omaha,” says Fuchs. “They are the face of Omaha Performing Arts.”

Ambassadors like Mouttet take their responsibilities and commitments seriously, but they also enjoy such perks as seeing OPA’s array of outstanding Broadway, music, and dance performances at two stellar venues. Ambassadors may watch performances during periods when they’re not otherwise needed, and they also earn points that they can exchange for free tickets.

“No matter what we do,” Mouttet says of her varied and many duties, “we serve one patron at a time and we go, go, go!”

Joan Squires

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Joan Squires was living a cozy life in Arizona where she was president and CEO of the Phoenix Symphony. But when Omaha Performing Arts leaders called 10 years ago, she couldn‘t resist the challenge.

OPA wanted her help in operating two theaters in Omaha—the venerable Orpheum and the yet-to-be-built Holland Performing Arts Center. Who could pass up the chance to operate a theater built in 1927 that was undergoing a $10 million renovation? And who wouldn’t want to participate in the building of a $102 million performing arts center in Downtown Omaha?

Squires saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “There was a committed board and key leadership. Also at that time, no one in Omaha was bringing in shows.”

OPA’s new president arrived in 2002 to find a staff of one and a lone computer housed in the offices of Heritage Services; the philanthropic foundation was OPA’s fundraiser. The Holland Performing Arts Center was only a sketch on an architect‘s drawing board. The Orpheum Theater was still owned by the City of Omaha. And few people knew much about OPA. “One of our greatest challenges was branding the institution,” Squires says. “We had to go from not in existence to fully operational in three years.”

Her first action was to help set goals: 1) Assume management of the Orpheum from the city, 2) Prepare a strategic plan for the development of the organizational and administrative structure for OPA, and 3) Participate in construction of the Holland.

“In 2004, we opened Ticket Omaha [a local ticketing service for the arts]. Tickets were on sale six months before the Holland’s first performance in 2005,” Squires says.20130102_bs_8722 copy

A Decade Later

Today, the OPA president has a staff of 90 full- and part-time employees and 500 volunteers. She oversees the 175,000-square-foot Holland Performing Arts Center and the renovated 2,600-seat Orpheum Theater that reopened in 2002. And Omaha Performing Arts now is the largest nonprofit arts organization in Nebraska.

Seventy-five percent of funding is now from earned revenue and 25 percent is from contributions.

Rankings in two industry publications in 2011 gave Omaha bragging rights. The Orpheum was ranked No.1 in Midwest ticket sales by Venues Today and No. 16 worldwide by Pollstar. The Holland was ranked in the top 10 nationally by Venues Today, an impressive ranking for a performing arts center that didn’t exist six years earlier.

“There were those that said Omaha could not support the facility,” remembers John Gottschalk, OPA chairman since its formation in 2000. Squires has oversight of a $18 million operation. “And in six years she has never missed her budget. Never.”

Squires’ success in luring top talent has brought a financial benefit to the area, attracting visitors, creating jobs, and increasing tax revenue. A 2011 survey by University of Nebraska economists concluded that the two theaters had a cumulative economic impact on Douglas County of $128.49 million over five years and a $98.31 million impact on Nebraska.

The widely praised acoustics of the Holland bring out the best of the Omaha Symphony. Broadway shows now seek out the Orpheum. Performances have included Wicked, Jersey Boys and Disney’s® Lion King, which returns in March.

Check Squires’ iPhone and you’ll find an eclectic collection of music. But Broadway tunes rule. “From childhood on, I’ve loved Broadway musicals,” she says.

OPA’s mission includes presenting educational programs for all ages, from student matinees to master classes to workshops taught by professionals.

“An addition at the Holland designed for teaching dance classes was added about three years ago,” says OPA Vice Chairman Richard Holland. The performing arts center was named for him and his late wife, Mary.

10 January 2013- Joan Squires office is photographed for B2B Magazine.

Photo in Squires’ office of her with Debbie Reynolds (left) and Warren Buffett.

Squires has her finger on the pulse on Broadway theatre life and currently serves as a voting member for Broadway’s Tony Awards®. Active in Broadway League committees, she is a member of the Performing Arts Center Consortium and of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. She is an advisor for the Broadway Dreams Foundation.

The Life of Joan Squires

Joan was born and raised in Shippensburg, Pa., where her father ran a family business. Her twin brother, John, is the fourth generation in the business. Joan received her undergraduate degree in music education from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., and became a music teacher for three years. She loved her students, but teaching wasn’t her life’s mission.

She moved into arts management, earning a master’s degree in both business and music arts administration from the University of Michigan. She served as an intern for the National Endowment for the Arts and participated in a yearlong fellowship under the sponsorship of the League of American Orchestras.

Squires has worked in arts management for more than 25 years. Previous positions were with the Milwaukee, Utah, and Houston symphonies. She has received many honors including the Ak-Sar-Ben Court of Honor and the YWCA’s Woman of Vision. In 2012, she received a Governor’s Arts Award from the Nebraska Arts Council.

Squires has a short commute to work. She lives in a downtown condo about halfway between the two theaters that she oversees. Her husband, Tom Fay, was a vice president of the Arizona State University Foundation before they moved to Omaha. A native New Yorker, he played the oboe for 17 years with the Pittsburgh Symphony and held a second career in arts management and academic fundraising.

Fay and Squires have been married 22 years. She has three stepchildren and three grandchildren. Her husband has been supportive of her demanding career, says Squires. “He said he had his career, and it was now my turn.”

Squires said despite all the long hours she logs at work, it’s all worth it. “At the end of the day, standing in the back of the theater and watching the audience react, I think I have the best job in town.”