Kickass Women in the Arts

These women have made their mark in Orange County’s arts industry.

KICKASS: Adjective 1. Having a strong effect on someone; powerful
2. Exceptionally good; spectacular, impressive


The women in our third edition of this list live up to both definitions and then some.
We’re proud to call them neighbors, friends, and leaders in our community.


Photograph Courtesy of Elizabeth Segerstrom

Elizabeth Segerstrom

Philanthropist; arts patron extraordinaire; co-managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons

BONA FIDES: In addition to being on the board of Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which bears her late husband’s name, Elizabeth Segerstrom continues to underwrite special performances and do extra work to bring outstanding events to Orange County. Case in point: “Reunited in Dance,” a one-night event in November that brought together ballet stars from around the world who were affected by the war in Ukraine and featured a world premiere piece. The dancers couldn’t perform with their companies and had to leave Russia. Segerstrom Center had already established itself as the best presenter of dance on the West Coast, Elizabeth says, with the Mariinsky Ballet having performed here 10 times. “I’m from Eastern Europe, and that area means a lot to me,” she says. So began the lofty task of getting visas for the dancers and creating a set in the Reneé and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. The show quickly sold out, but that didn’t stop her from expanding its reach. “How do we engage the community?” she wondered. “People here are proud that we are receiving the dancers with open arms. How can they experience the magic of their dancing?” A huge outdoor screen and blankets were brought to Argyros Plaza, and 500 more dance enthusiasts witnessed the show via livestream for free. Next up? Celebrations to honor Henry Segerstrom’s 100th birthday this year. 

IN HER WORDS: “(That show) was not about the politics; it was about how beautiful those artists are. … We had a fantastic response to ‘Reunited in Dance,’ and we already have them booked again. … I just want to make sure we’ll knock everyone’s socks off. The audience here is fantastic. I’m always amazed. The audience here (allows us to) sell more dance than New York can. People here really see the best of the best—a very important aspect of establishing the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.”


Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Marytza Rubio

Vice president, Community & Culture, Segerstrom Center for the Arts

BONA FIDES: Rubio brings special talents and boundless enthusiasm to Segerstrom Center for the Arts. As an arts advocate, she founded the Makara Center for the Arts, a nonprofit library and arts center in her hometown of Santa Ana, in 2016 because she saw a need for greater access to books. She’s a highly lauded author herself. Last year, her debut short story collection, “Maria, Maria and Other Stories” was among the 10 works of fiction on the long list for the National Book Award, established in 1950 to celebrate the best in American literature. At Segerstrom Center, she works with a team to plan and staff public programs at the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza. The events range from concerts featuring the pioneering LGBTQ+ troupe Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles or the L.A.-based Cambodian rock band Dengue Fever to restorative music and dance classes for people of all abilities, along with lunchtime concerts for care partners coordinated with Alzheimer’s Orange County. 

IN HER WORDS: “When we talk about being inclusive for all languages and abilities and all generations, we have to be thoughtful with that. I really love that work, and the people I work with are all in. We really want to move beyond the platitudes about how art can be transformative and art can heal. What can it heal? Is it intergenerational trauma? Is it a sense of isolation? There are specific things that we can focus on.”


Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Veltria Roman

Chief financial officer and chief technology officer, Laguna Playhouse

BONA FIDES: Roman is a role player extraordinaire. She has been appearing in theatrical productions since she was a child. She’s been on stages in Southern California and in New York City, where she and her husband lived for a few years before returning home to Orange County. She makes her living in arts administration, one of just a few African American decision-makers on the local arts scene. Roman worked her way up: box office, ushering, and serving as theater coordinator and theater manager at Curtis Theater in Brea; customer service and a training manager at what was then the Orange County Performing Arts Center. She started at Laguna Playhouse in 2014 as box office manager and was a steadying presence as the venue survived 19 months of pandemic shutdown, a pivot to virtual performances, and an exodus of administrators and staff as live productions returned. “Almost the entire staff is new,” she says. “But I have been here for eight years.” And she still hits the stage as a performer at Laguna Playhouse and other venues.

IN HER WORDS: “I have a 5-year-old daughter, a 7-year-old niece, and a 10-year-old nephew. All three sat through ‘Hamilton’—at home, but sat through it and watched. That’s a three-hour play, but it appeals to them. More theater is happening like that. More theater is telling stories that look different. That gives theater longevity when you start to see stories that don’t look the same and don’t sound the same.”


Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Debora Wondercheck 

CEO and founder, Arts & Learning Conservatory; adjunct professor of music, Vanguard University

BONA FIDES: Trained as a cellist with decades of experience as a master teacher and orchestral conductor with the Irvine Unified School District, Wondercheck set out in 2004 to realize her dream of making the arts accessible to kids in Orange County, regardless of race or finances. From a summer camp culminating in a performance of “The Sound of Music” with a cast of eight and a string section of 13 kids, she’s grown the Arts & Learning Conservatory into a program that trains about 2,200 children and entertains 10,000 audience members annually in Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties. The youngest in a family of seven kids of modest means, she experienced the life-changing power of music firsthand. Her mother made sure Wondercheck and her siblings were exposed to string instruments at a young age, and five of them attended four-year colleges as string musicians. Last year, Wondercheck extended her range even further as the producer of “Gospel Voices of OC,” an exuberant, multigenerational celebration of African American artistic achievement to commemorate Juneteenth. The show brought gospel choirs, spoken-word artists, dancers, percussionists, a string orchestra—120 artists in all—to the stage at Chapman University’s Musco Center for the Arts. “There are all these stigmas: Black people don’t play the violin or cello. But we’re doctors, we’re lawyers, we’re a huge part of this nation in a positive way. That was my whole premise in putting this all together. Let’s see the accomplishments. Let’s see who we are as a people. Come on, Orange County, link arms with us and be a part of this.”

IN HER WORDS: “The arts teach empathy. They teach kids how to work with other people and to see in a team setting how each person’s part is going to make everyone look amazing. It also teaches silent cues: how to read people without having to say anything, especially in theater. You have to get that eye contact. You have to be able to get cues without having to say a word. We’re definitely teaching life skills that will help them in every aspect of their lives.”