The Czarina of Theater

Alyona Ushe grew up in the theater.

Born in the former Soviet Union, Ushe spent her childhood backstage at the famed Komissarzhevskaya Theatre in St. Petersburg, where her mother was an actress.

“I was always with my mom during all of her rehearsals and performances, so theater was basically my first home rather than my second home,” she says.

At 10, her family moved to Chicago and her parents continued to expose her to the arts, attending plays, symphony performances, ballets, and walking the halls of museums. She moved to Washington, D.C. for college with plans to become a lawyer. But when her mother asked her to help start a theater inspired by Russian theatrical traditions, Ushe never left. She learned how to start a non-profit from the ground up.

Today, she is working behind the scenes again, traveling between the Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA) center in Pompano Beach and Arts Garage in Delray Beach.

“I love being behind the scenes; it’s so creative making it all happen,” she says. “To me, that’s art. That’s my art. How do you make those pieces fit together beautifully and make them grow and prosper and become even more beautiful?”

Ushe continued her career in the arts when she became the executive director of the New Orleans Opera Association, one of the oldest and most established organizations in the Big Easy. After a few years there, she planned to return to D.C. in 2010, but had an opportunity to work on a warehouse project in Delray Beach.

Today, that project is Arts Garage, located in the heart of a city that embraces the center as its crown jewel of the arts. The performing arts center was known for filling a jazz void in the area, but now it provides a schedule full of a variety of live music, plays and a unique radio theater program. Originally, Ushe was tasked with starting up Arts Garage in one location and then moving it into the neighboring building. However, the community fell in love with the space and urged the city to keep it in its place. It still stands there today, but will be spilling over into the adjacent property this spring.

“It’s sophisticated, yet raw. It’s edgy yet classy, and the combination is enticing and our patrons didn’t want us to go,” Ushe says.

Her next project was opening BaCA with the Pompano Beach leadership. Different from Arts Garage, the center creates community with artist lofts, gallery space, live music, performing arts, classes and a monthly street fair. Recently, the renowned Doobie Brothers performed at the amphitheater space. Businesses have flocked to the area and construction on the street outside of BaCA shows promise for the neighborhood, especially as it expands with the addition of a cultural center within the next two years.

While the theater was her first home as a child in the Soviet Union, the woman nicknamed the “czarina” of BaCA finds the center to be her home. What does art mean to her? It’s simple. “Life,” she says.

“Without art, the quality of life would be so poor and it’s also a place for people to be social,” she says. “Art is bringing people together. Art is bringing cultures together. Art is crossing barriers and boundaries. That’s what the arts do. They speak the same tongue.”

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