Ashley Keen has never met a problem she didn’t like. Solution-minded and unable to sit still, Ashley loves a chance to solve a good puzzle and always delights in a workday unlike the one before it.
“Those have been instances when I’ve known it was time to move on,” says Ashley, “when you start having the same conversation over and over again, and when all the problems have already been solved.”
Ashley joined Theatre Projects in July of 2022 as a senior consultant and the second member of the US strategic planning team. The far-reaching nature of our planning work—coordinating and translating, synthesizing and exploring—has quickly made her new firm feel like a good fit.
“Every day is something new. I might be wrangling folks for workshops, participating in community town halls, conducting interviews, passing around surveys, but it all points back to creating something for clients. Absorbing, then turning data into something useful.”
Consulting has found Ashley through several avenues. Professionally, certainly, but also through being married to a consultant. “We set very clear boundaries.” And she would like more people to find their way into the industry.
“It’s not something you know about unless you know someone who does it. I think we do a disservice to theatre students when we don’t talk about venue management, building operations, consulting—all of those pieces that go into creating art. We need more conversations around transferrable skills and all corners of the industry.”
For Ashley, thinking creatively about transferrable skills has kept her moving across the industry. A past production crew supervisor, venue manager, event director, electrician, and everything in-between, she has cultivated the ability to approach challenges from a variety of angles and with a real empathy for diverse stakeholders.
“That’s what the job is, solving problems. And it’s always different clients, different buildings, different problems. You bring that expertise, but you’re never solving problems in the exact same way. We’re not taking the binder for mid-sized performing arts center off the shelf and handing it to the client. It really is about the location and the people and the patrons and all the users within that specific area.”
As Ashley approaches her one-year mark with Theatre Projects, she’s starting to experience the full life-cycle of some of her projects. And unsurprisingly, the problem-solving remains a favorite part of the job. But not just solving in a silo—solving with the guidance of the team, an industry-wide network, and the client.
“We learn from the client. We ask: ‘what do you need,’ ‘what does the idea of this space invoke,’ ‘how does this community make you feel,’ ‘what does a potential new space look like to you?’ Sometimes you’re telling people what they want, but sometimes you’re telling them things they don’t want to hear or options they didn’t know about. It’s taking all of that and giving it back in a digestible and informed way.”