HELEN GONZALEZ, house manager, and OMEGA VILLANUEVA, assistant house manager, work together to lead our amazing team of ushers, ensuring that all opera patrons have a wonderful experience from the moment they enter the theater to the final curtain call—and sometimes long after that. I sat down recently with Omega and Helen (or “Omelen” as they are lovingly called) to learn a bit more about how this incredible dynamic duo came to be.
PERRYN LEECH (PL): Tell me a bit about you and your families.
OMEGA VILLANUEVA (OV): I am a native Houstonian and a proud Texan—don’t mess with Texas! I grew up on the east side of downtown. They call it EADO now, but we still call it Second Ward. My parents worked a lot when I was growing up. I was a latchkey kid—I have always been very independent. I had two older brothers. I have three children and five grandchildren.
HELEN GONZALEZ (HG): I am also a native Houstonian (5th generation!). I attended Reagan High School here in Houston. I didn’t really like school, but I always stayed out of trouble. I am the oldest child in my family and have four brothers, so I’m very independent like Omega. I’ve been married for over 44 years and have a daughter.
PL: Outside of your work at HGO, are the arts a part of your life?
OV: I played the flute while I was attending Lamar Fleming Junior High. I wish I had stuck with it! My kids love music. My husband plays guitar and he taught them all the classic rock stuff. My son plays bass and my other son plays drums and the guitar. My daughter loves to sing. One of my sons also played the cello at T. H. Rogers.
HG: I was not brought up around music, but always liked it. I have some family members who are musicians. I like any kind of music. I’m really not prejudiced when it comes to music. My daughter was a violinist in school.
PL: Did you do other work before you came to ushering?
OV: I studied early childhood development and worked in childcare for a while, but I was mostly focused on being a parent. I was a very involved parent; I would chaperone field trips and volunteer. Helen and I were both those kinds of parents. Growing up in that area and raising our kids in that area, it was important that we stayed involved.
HG: I attended barber college to learn how to do men’s hair and then eventually became a hairdresser. I’m still very picky about who cuts my hair!
PL: How did you come to be ushers?
HG: After I retired from hairdressing, my goddaughter suggested that I try ushering. I’m a high energy person, and I needed something to do. I like to stay busy. I even picked up another job ushering at the Hobby Center when I’m not working at HGO! I’ve been ushering for 16 years now. The Wortham was my first ushering job. I brought Omega in about five years after I started.
OV: Ushering is how we met, but it’s a funny story. My in-laws lived on the same street as Helen, and one of their neighbors, Rachel, is a good friend of mine. Rachel was attending an ushering training and brought me with her. I recognized Helen because we had actually been neighbors ourselves when my family was living in the garage apartment at my in-laws’ home. I would see Helen come and go, but we didn’t know each other then.
HG: We bonded right away. Now we drive in to work together. We go grocery shopping together; we get our coffee together. She’s my right-hand lady!
PL: Let’s talk a little bit about when HGO performed at the George R. Brown Convention Center after Hurricane Harvey. That was a time when HGO needed our ushers the most! Was that a bizarre experience for you?
HG: I enjoyed it. I would tell patrons that it was like they were walking into a fantasy land and that sometimes helped them to relax. I think the patrons loved seeing all the props in the lobby. There were a few complaints about the hardness of the seats, but really everyone was just so glad to have opera when they didn’t think that they would.
OV: I loved it. One of my favorite things about it was having the orchestra right there in front. We never get to see them at the Wortham. People were just amazed at how the theater space came to be. It was fantastic seeing people come into that space for the first time!
PL: What do you like most about ushering and working at HGO?
OV: For me, I love opening night. There is so much excitement! I also love dress rehearsals, because for a lot of people, the dress rehearsals are their first time coming to the opera. I love seeing everyone’s faces and being able to welcome them. It feels good to be able to help people have a good experience.
HG: I love talking to our patrons and taking care of them. I just love being around people!
OV: Although the year at the GRB was an incredible experience, there is simply nothing like being back in the Wortham. We love it and our patrons certainly feel that they have come back home! We have some really good ushers. We are a great team!