While it didn’t come easy or without controversy, the success of Overture Center for the Arts over its first ten years was made possible by an array of people who care about the arts, the city and community. Here are their stories, in their own words, of how it all came to be.
By Aaron R. Conklin
It was imagined as the single answer to the needs and desires of a diverse group of local performing arts groups, the missing piece that would finally elevate Madison to big-league city status, and one man’s $205 million love letter to the city he called home. Ten years ago, Overture Center for the Arts—also and perhaps better known as the House that Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland built—opened its doors to the public for the first time, transforming the look and culture of downtown Madison and setting into motion both a thousand dreams … and a thousand arguments about who the center was actually intended for and who’d eventually cover the costs to keep it open and functioning.
Since opening on September 18, 2004, Overture has been the setting of unforgettable performances, unforgettable drama and unforgettable stories. As we celebrate Overture Center’s first decade on State Street, we look back on its history through the eyes and memories of the people who performed there, worked there, visited there and fought to determine its fate.
FROM DREAM TO REALITY
The news that W. Jerome “Jerry” Frautschi would donate $50 million to fund the building of Overture Center for the Arts was topped in shock value only by the subsequent news that he’d be doubling the contribution—and that the grand total would be $205 million—to make sure the facility was completed. As lead architect Cesar Pelli and construction firm J.H. Findorff & Son worked tirelessly with Madison Civic Center staff to try to ease the transition from the theaters of the old Civic Center space to the promise of Overture’s new spaces, artists began to dream.
Carol Toussaint, consultant, author of the report that laid the groundwork for Overture: The question of how to fund what would be necessary to address the lack of adequate facilities was noted in all of the interviews and discussions with arts organizations. When I had the opportunity to take the coalition report to Jerry Frautschi, he responded with great interest. Aware that some individual arts organizations were looking at raising money to secure space for their operations, his comment was that “it can’t be done piecemeal.” Little did I know that what would come next was his generous offer of $50 million to launch the coordinated effort!
Sue Bauman, Madison mayor, 1997–2003: The original plan called for including the Children’s Museum in Overture Center, in what had been the Oscar Mayer Theater. As one could predict, this caused a public outcry, with concerns about the historic nature of that facility. A more complete study to determine the actual program for the space was undertaken, which concluded that the Children’s Museum would not fit, and that the cost to construct a center that would be home to the Madison Symphony, Madison Opera, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and other smaller groups would be at least $100 million. These findings were presented at a press conference at Monona Terrace. At its conclusion, it was announced that Jerry had agreed to finance the entire cost. I remember running over to Jerry and hugging him for his phenomenal contribution to making Madison an even better place to live, learn, work and play.
John DeMain, music director/conductor, Madison Symphony Orchestra: I was a guest conductor in California. They had hired Cesar Pelli, and he was making a presentation about how he didn’t put a brick in place without consulting an acoustician, and how the acoustician would be an equal partner. I do remember coming back and saying to Pleasant, “I hope he’s on your short list.”
Pleasant Rowland: After an extensive review process of dozens of architects, the design committee had narrowed the field to three finalists. They were to come to Madison to meet with all of us and present their vision and design ideas for Overture. Two of the three could come on the appointed date, but Cesar was in Kuala Lumpur at the opening of his most recent project, the Petronas Towers, the world’s tallest building. We agreed to meet him and his team a week later.
When Cesar made his presentation, all of us knew we had found our man. He is warm, charming, down to earth, approachable and incredibly humble, especially for a world-class, award-winning architect. He has a wonderful sense of humor, which we knew would serve us well as we faced a design and construction process that would take more than eight years. The ideas he and his team put forth that day showed that they had listened carefully to our vision and needs and had incorporated them thoughtfully and creatively into the design concept they presented.
We chose well. The experience of working with this extraordinary man and the bright, dynamic young people he surrounded himself with was one of the highlights of my life.
Rich Lynch, chairman, J.H. Findorff & Son: To construct a state-of-the-art performance and visual arts facility of that magnitude right here in Madison was the great construction opportunity we all, up to that point, had only dreamed of. We very quickly realized that each and every decision they made was in the interest of making this a very extraordinary gift to our community for generations to come. All of us remember the very special event that was planned by Jerry and Pleasant. It was the first performance ever in Overture Hall, held just for the project’s workers and family members who had committed so much time, dedication and quality craftsmanship to the success of the project. And it was specifically to thank us for our efforts ... in person.
Rudy Lienau, vice president of operations, Overture Center: During the design phase, we worked closely with local arts organizations, local stagehands and designers, and other stakeholders in the project. We had only basic blocks of space to work with at that point, along with the capacity and square footage on each level in each proposed space. We developed the architectural program by listing what we determined to be the needs of each of the potential spaces in the center. During that phase we recommended that some additions that had not been spoken for in the original plans be added. We added extensive laundry, wardrobe and wig/hair rooms with appropriate equipment in each.
DeMain: [Former Madison Civic Center director] Bob D’Angelo is the one who pushed for 2,200 seats, none of us wanted it to be that big. None of us wanted what we have today. In order to attract Lion King, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, those high-end shows that come and play for a month, they wouldn’t come unless there was a capacity.
Jim Yehle, vice president, J.H. Findorff & Son: All of the joints in the stone floor match the stone joints on the walls—and they all start off of the center of a column line. The crews did hours and days of layout before the first piece of stone floor was set. In order to maintain the historic Yost’s façade during construction, Findorff hired an independent engineer to design a system to support the façade while we removed the entire structure behind the wall.
Dave Cieslewicz, Madison mayor, 2003–2011: A few weeks before Overture opened I got a tour of the finished product with Jerry Frautschi. I remember being shown the one thing Jerry had asked for for himself—a lone parking
spot in the loading dock. I thought to myself, “I know parking in Madison
can be tight, but Jerry really spent $205 million for a good parking spot downtown?”
Robert Chappell, director of strategic communication, Overture Center: I was a reporter in the fall of 2004, so I got to take the media tour a week or two before the grand opening. Despite the misgivings of many members of the community, and my own journalistic skepticism about whether it’d ever work, I was blown away. I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming pride that our little city would soon be home to this world-class arts center. My most vivid memory of that day was having my socks knocked off by a single chord from the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concert organ, still one of the largest musical instruments in this hemisphere.
Lienau: The Pelli architectural firm would send us a set of plan drawings based on the descriptions we had given them of what we needed. Members of the tech staff, maintenance staff, administrative personnel and many others would mark up the plans with colored pens with notes, and about ten to fourteen days later a new set of plans would arrive, with changes based on our notes. Then we’d start the mark-up process all over again.
Bauman: Despite the wonderful opportunity presented to the citizens of Madison, announcement of the new facility brought out many critics, along with the many supporters. There were folks who thought that Overture would be only for the wealthy; that the city needed more venues for smaller, newer groups and artists; that the money should be put to different causes such as affordable housing or social service agencies; that all the buildings on the block were historic and should be preserved; that the facility should be built in a different location; and the list went on and on. Many good causes were espoused, but it was not public money being expended … Jerry Frautschi had determined that he wanted his money used to build a new performing arts facility in downtown Madison. I publicly supported this position, despite protestors showing up at numerous times and places.
John Faludi, longtime usher: Toward the end of construction, I was assigned to draw up maps and write instructions for the ushers so we could find our way around the place when the doors opened. So I put on a hard hat, work boots and jeans to explore the bones of Overture and turn it into words and drawings. In the process, I got to know some of the guys working on it. They were often willing to take a few minutes from their work to explain what they were doing.
Cieslewicz: We went up and stood on the stage and I stood there with Jerry and looked out at the seats. We just stood there for a while in the quiet. And I thought to myself about all the people who would fill those seats over the years to come and all the performers who would stand where I was standing. It was like being at a place and a moment in time before a switch is flipped and everything changes. No one had spoken a single line or sung a single note from this stage, but it was all ready to go after years of struggle to get it just right. Jerry is an understated guy, but I thought I could see just the thinnest suggestion of pride in his eyes as we turned and walked off the stage.
Rowland: There were two specific requests the design committee made of Cesar Pelli: that Overture respect the human scale of State Street and that it not compete with the Capitol building, especially its dome.
We believe Cesar accomplished both objectives, but on the latter he had the last word. All architects of his stature are used to absorbing the slings and arrows of the press and public as their buildings rise. The dome over the entry to Overture was victim to such scrutiny, being likened most memorably to an upside-down yogurt cup!
One day, when Overture was well under construction, Jerry and I were taking a little tour. As we passed through the rotunda, I looked up at the dome and stopped dead in my tracks. From the inside, it looked nothing like it did from the outside! Instead, what I saw above me was a replica of the Capitol dome. It was Cesar’s quiet, understated nod to the magnificent icon of our city and state, a gesture that made Overture Center uniquely Madison’s. In all of our design reviews over many, many years, he had never mentioned it, leaving it instead for us to discover. I think of it as a gesture of “stealth architecture,” one that will always be for me a reminder of the genius and modesty of this wonderful, generous gentleman.
The culmination of nearly eight years of planning, design and construction came to beautiful fruition on Saturday, September 18, when Overture Center opened to the public with a gala of performances by Wisconsin stars past and present. As the year went on, Madison’s arts-presenting companies adjusted, with varying degrees of smoothness and success, to performing in a new space.
Linda Baldwin, chair of the Madison Cultural Arts District Board: Prior to the opening weekend, Findorff and Overture hosted a hard hat tuning party. All the folks who worked on the building were invited to admire their handiwork. And the hall acoustician came to “tune” the hall. Overture board and staff were also invited to this party. Guys and gals with hard hat hair and tans decked out in their finest proudly pointed out their work to their families and friends on that night. Never had I seen such pride in accomplishments. One recounted, while pointing at the wall, “This was the toughest seam of all, it just wouldn’t slide into place, but finally we coaxed it in.”
Toussaint: The memory of the first time I saw the Overture Hall curtain comes back to me again and again. With attention to every detail of Overture Hall, it should not have surprised me that the curtain would be a magnificent sight. It still inspires me.
Jodi Cohen, local comedienne and Overture performer: Upon seeing the windows for the first time, looking up from the street, my first thoughts were, “How are they ever going to keep them clean? How can anyone even reach the windows? Would a crane need to be involved? What about streaking?”
DeMain: We mixed it right from the beginning—it wasn’t just high-end black tie, it was for all the people. The next day, Jerry Frautschi was in that Overture entryway, greeting anybody off the street, welcoming them to the hall. That’s why it so disappointed me that the hall was perceived as being elitist. From the very beginning, the idea was to create spaces that the people could use—the lobby, Promenade Hall, all the spaces could be multipurpose.
Frautschi: It was very exciting to see the large crowd of people lined up at the door to be among the first to see Overture. I was especially touched that there were people who were as excited as I was that morning. Many, many of them took a moment to thank me for the gift of Overture. That expression of gratitude from total strangers continues to this day wherever I am in the city, and ten years later, it means as great a deal to me as it did that first morning.
Lienau: Starting opening night, I pretty much lived in the building for nine days. In that period, I made it home three times. I usually slept and showered at the Concourse, which had been set up as a support hotel for the grand opening activities. All the staff areas under my watch—technical, maintenance, custodial, front of house, security and catering—were getting used to new spaces, new equipment and new ways of doing things. The first time you do a new thing always takes longer.
Toussaint: I recently asked a few friends at a gathering to share with me their most memorable moment in the opening of Overture Center. One recalled wearing a tuxedo for the grand opening as he shared an elevator with performers from Natty Nation, a local Madison band scheduled to perform later that evening. Some in the band poked fun at the men wearing “monkey suits.” Instead of thinking, “Strange bedfellows in this elevator,” he said it seemed to suggest that everyone in Madison would feel at home in Overture.
Faludi: As I came up the rotunda staircase to level three, I saw one of the finish carpenters in a pinstripe suit, dress shirt and tie, on all fours as he licked his thumb and tried to erase his pencil mark off the bottom of a board that he had cut and put in the day before.
Lienau: My most vivid memory is standing in the rotunda before anyone in the public had been let into the facility. Dignitaries, including mayors, board members and some donors (most importantly, Jerry and Pleasant) were there to greet the hundreds of people who had lined up outside to get their first look at this amazing place. It was a great feeling, seeing the support and jaw-dropping astonishment on the faces of most folks who walked in that day. I still get a kick out of giving tours to people who have never seen the inside of Overture Hall. I still see that look on their face. Astonishment.
Cohen: On the day of my show, my “load-in” consisted of my friend Eric carrying a big box of my props and costumes. I had on the Mickey Mouse ears that my four-and-three-quarter-year-old character Camille wore, and was carrying the big red exercise ball that she rolled around on during her monologue. The elevator was tightly packed with me holding my big red ball and several musicians wearing tuxedos and ball gowns who were performing in Overture Hall that evening. They laughed when I sang, “One of these things is not like the other.”
DeMain: I remember the euphoria of that evening. Probably what stands out even more was Saturday night, which was the symphony’s night, and we played that Saint-Saëns Third Organ Symphony and had to encore the last movement because it was so thrilling to hear that gift that Pleasant had given us, the Klais organ, that $1.1 million organ, in that hall.
Frautschi: During the opening ceremony, we were standing on the balcony of the promenade overlooking the activities below. It was a beautiful, bright September morning, and the lobby sparkled as the sun streamed in through its huge windows. The Indian dancers in their colorful regalia were performing a ritual dance surrounded by hundreds of Madisonians of all ages and backgrounds, from all walks of life. At that moment, we knew that the people we had built Overture for would embrace it as their own, which they certainly have.
Baldwin: I remember standing on the mezzanine in the Overture Hall Lobby during the opening celebration, watching the Call to Peace drum circle. Drums of all types and sounds loudly reverberated through the huge room. Next to me, standing on a bench, a two-year-old was totally engaged in the activity below. So much so that her ice cream cone began to drip onto the new spotless purple bench pad. My first reaction was to clean it up, but then I laughed, as this would be the first of many spills on those benches by children enthralled by the artistic endeavors at Overture.
Li Chiao-Ping, founder of Li Chiao-Ping Dance, an Overture resident company: For the first show in 2004, Promenade Hall had that new-car smell, the dance floor was sticky, the curtain legs still had creases in them, the upstage scrim hung about a foot short of the floor, and the sound/light booth was awkwardly off-center and small. Oh yes, and there was, and still is, only one bathroom backstage, but who’s complaining?
Leo Sidran, jazz musician, one of many local stars who performed in Overture on opening night: I had played at the closing of the old Civic Center, in what was then called the Oscar Mayer Theater, before construction began on Overture Center. So it was kind of a nice bit of symmetry to play at the opening as well. In both cases, I was playing drums with my father, (legendary jazz performer) Ben Sidran. At the opening of Overture, we accompanied the great actor/singer André De Shields.
Whereas the stage on the Oscar Mayer Theater felt intimate and in some ways charming, the feeling from the Overture stage was much more of a major operation. More “next level.” I remember looking out at the theater from the stage and thinking how much bigger and more imposing it seemed. But I also remember how good the sound was on the stage. With very little sound reinforcement, you could hear the music on the stage and feel comfortable playing.
André De Shields, Broadway singer/actor: On that splendid Saturday in September, as a member of the performing ensemble comprising “Stars Over Wisconsin: Gala Opening Night Celebration,” I learned what it meant to slip into a vision of pink Italian marble and ninety-million-year-old French limestone, priceless and comfortable as a favorite sport coat.
Read De Shield's story on how Madison has shaped his career in the arts here.
Frautschi: It was a memorable evening in every way. Every seat was full, and Overture Hall was buzzing as people got their first glimpse of that beautiful space. Cesar joined us, and all three of us were deeply moved by the huge standing ovation that erupted from the audience as they expressed their appreciation for our gift and their approval of Cesar’s brilliant work. We were particularly moved by two pieces of music that night: Karl Levine’s beautiful cello solo of “America the Beautiful,” leading into the national anthem; and the Saint Saëns Organ Symphony, a favorite of ours, which we had requested. To hear that beautiful piece played on the magnificent Klais organ with the extraordinary acoustics of Overture Hall was simply thrilling … the perfect capstone to an evening we will never forget.
W. Earle Smith, artistic director, Madison Ballet: I remember when we were first in the theater—The Nutcracker, 2004—with about 250 people backstage (44 musicians, 15 stagehands and production staff, 150 dancers, 35 wardrobe and chaperones). It was like five o’clock rush hour in Chicago, and no one knew where they were going. The funniest thing I recall was there were so many doors and you never knew where you were or where to go. On top of it, security had not been completely figured out, and if you walked into the wrong hallway you would get locked in. I keep hearing stories of how a stagehand or staff member would get locked in a hall without a way out.
De Shields: In 2005, I was [Madison Repertory Theatre artistic director Richard] Corley’s choice to portray the Stage Manager in the play that christened the Overture Center Playhouse—a third triumph in the name of inclusive casting. The play was the Pulitzer Prize–winning Our Town, written by Madison’s native son Thornton Wilder. Madison itself could have been the Midwest doppelgänger to Grover’s Corners. The production was received with great acclaim and a smidgeon of controversy.
Our Town was a life-changing experience for me. The play’s deceptively simple structure and minimalist production values sowed seeds of contemplation that continue to nourish and nurture me.
Faludi: One of the younger carpenters came up to me after the show was over and everybody had cleared out of the theater. He asked if he could go in and look at the theater from the stage. He was on the team that had installed the veneer on the exteriors of all the boxes. (Did you know those are all at different angles to reflect sound in different directions?) When he was working in the theater, it was entirely filled with scaffolding and poorly lit. He had never seen his completed work. I told him that we had strict orders not to let anybody into the theater and that I had to leave to clean up programs for about a half hour. At first he was crestfallen until it dawned on him what I had said. Later he gave me a grin and a wave as he left the theater.
BUMPS IN THE ROAD
Overture Center’s first decade wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns by any means—as current Overture CEO Ted DeDee has said on more than one occasion, “There’s a reason why Overture didn’t have a fifth anniversary celebration.” The recession that began to smack the U.S. economy in 2008 also hit Overture—hard. Reports that the Overture endowment’s predicted rate of return would be insufficient to cover the building’s debt payments began to surface, and some worried the city (and Madison taxpayers) would end up on the hook to cover the shortfall. Meanwhile, the tight economy also began to affect ticket sales for many of Overture’s resident groups. To preserve the future, a tough decision about Overture’s operational status in relation to the city of Madison had to be made. And on the ticket front, Broadway came to the rescue.
Chappell: Just a few days before I accepted the job as Overture’s publicist, I got a press release saying Overture’s $93 million trust fund was being liquidated. I didn’t know until a few weeks after my first day that the trust fund didn’t just pay the mortgage on the building, but also provided about ten percent of its annual operating budget. I was hired to do publicity and sell tickets to shows, but the first big story I managed was the announcement that we were cutting twenty-five percent of our staff—laying off good, hardworking arts professionals. It was a very tough time.
But it wasn’t because of anyone’s incompetence. That was the biggest public misperception. Remember, the entire global economy was in a complete meltdown, and our trust fund was one of many that collapsed. Many arts organizations, and many other nonprofits—including one of our beloved resident companies, Madison Repertory Theatre—didn’t survive. But we did. Even without our support fund, our day-to-day operations kept our heads above water. Ticket sales were slow that year, as were sales in just about every other sector. But we made ends meet.
Baldwin: In my role as MCAD chair, I was one of the people representing Overture Center in the negotiations with the financial institutions who were owed money after the crash in the fall of 2009. The city had walked away from the problem and left us to deal with it. Fortunately, there were some experts engaged, and we began the lengthy process of finding a way out of the financial mess. Most of the country was feeling caught up in the financial malaise, but here I was, dealing with a $28 million problem that seemed insurmountable.
So much joy, so much anger.
Janet Piraino, chief of staff for Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Overture vice president of development: In exchange for the city subsidy, the agreement on the future of Overture Center required the Overture Center Foundation Board to raise $2.4 million in private contributions and grants its first year as a new private entity. That was more than three times the highest amount raised in a single year in Overture’s history. A report was due to the mayor and the Madison Common Council in the fall of 2011 detailing how it planned to raise the money.
As I was drafting the part of the agreement on the fundraising goal, I remember thinking, “Jeezaloo! I pity the poor sucker who has the responsibility of raising that much money and writing the report on how to do it. Glad it’s not me!”
Not long thereafter, I found myself facing a career change in the wake of the mayoral election of 2011. As Overture’s first VP of Development, one of my first tasks was to write the fundraising report required by the agreement with the city as I worked to raise that $2.4 million. The irony was unmistakable. Yep. That “poor sucker” was me!
Read Piraino's account of the down-to-the-wire negotiations she was a part of as Cieslewcicz's staff here.
Chappell: Over the next couple years, it’s like Overture was living a double life, and I was telling two very different but parallel stories. The year 2009–2010 was our best yet from an arts and entertainment standpoint. We joined the Broadway big leagues. For the first time, we had full-week runs of the top Broadway tours, including Rent with the original two leads and a full month of The Lion King. Over the spring and summer of 2010, our Broadway subscriptions doubled. We sold more tickets than ever.
At the same time, we had a bit of a cloud hanging over us. The meltdown of our trust fund left us with $28 million to pay on the building. Given that we keep less than ten percent of ticket sales income, we could never even book enough shows to sell enough tickets to get rid of that debt, even if we put our resident companies out on the street and booked the Rolling Stones in Overture Hall every night. The solution—seven donors offering $15 million and three banks forgiving $13 million in debt—ultimately took the city of Madison off the hook, and paved the way for the transition to a fully private nonprofit organization.
Baldwin: Overture Center has brought such joy to so many people. I can’t understand the negativity that has surrounded the center since its inception. I thought this city was too savvy to resort to the “feed children or fund Overture” argument, but we did. Months of discussion, argument, angst, fear and hope ensued. Then, by the end of 2010, an agreement with the city was crafted and adopted. Overture Center Foundation would be the operator of Overture Center for the Arts with an annual subsidy from the city of Madison of $2 million.
Piraino: The year 2011 was a tough one for Overture. We were undergoing a yearlong transition from a public to a private entity. And we had to raise $2.4 million—more than three times the amount raised in the past—all while operating a major arts facility with seven performance venues and ten resident companies.
When I got to Overture as its vice president of development, there was only one other person in the development department. As the June 30 deadline neared, we kept track of pledges on a whiteboard. We all made a round of frantic calls asking people to help put us over the top. We did everything, including checking for change in the couch cushions. I had a good-natured fight with the accountants at least once a day about which pledges were concrete enough to count toward our goal. It was chaotic, intense and exciting. In the end, we proved a lot of doubters wrong by making our goal.
PRESENT AND FUTURE
Four years later, Overture stands in a much happier and financially stable place as a fully private entity. It has transformed not only the character and look of downtown Madison, but also the fates of the organizations that routinely perform in its many spaces. And it’s brought out the reflective side in many of them.
Kathryn Smith, director, Madison Opera: Overture Center has enabled Madison Opera to become the company it is today. Overture Hall’s acoustical and physical beauty are loved by every artist who sings with us; more than one singer has said to me, “I could happily sing in this theater for the rest of my life.”
Chappell: We’ve been fully private for two and a half years, and things are going very well. Fundraising is strong, ticket sales are in the black and our programs are growing. We’ve sent six high school students to the national musical theater competition in New York, and two of the girls, Martha Hellerman and Sophia Tzougros, made the finals, meaning they’re in the top three nationwide.
During our strategic planning process last year, we sort of daydreamed about someone winning a Tony Award, and thanking Overture in the acceptance speech for helping them get started. Now with those two making the finals at nationals, that seems like a thing that could happen. Who knows whether it’ll be Martha or Sophia or someone else, but in any case it feels like Overture makes the impossible seem possible. That’s powerful.
Baldwin: In June, Overture completed another successful year. More and more people enjoy events at Overture every year; city leadership has mellowed.
As we celebrate this tenth anniversary, I can definitely say it was worth it. I have memories of the thousands of hours spent in getting us to this point. Madison, let’s hope we’ve learned never to do this again. The future for Overture Center is bright, and I’m toasting to many more amazing experiences, childlike wonder and many more drips on the benches.
Jennifer Gray, artistic director, Forward Theater Company: In the earliest days of Forward, there was one thing about which we had no doubt—we were going to produce our plays in Overture Center. It’s a beautiful building, the center of professional performing arts in Madison, a jewel in our community’s crown. And the Playhouse had everything we could want in a theatrical home—great sightlines and acoustics, intimacy, and state-of-the-art technical capabilities.
None of us involved with FTC in that first year will ever forget the first night our company performed in the Playhouse, for our one-night-only production of All About Eve. Every last seat was sold, with a line out front for standby tickets. And when the house lights lowered to start the performance, everyone in the theater stood up and cheered.
DeMain: The hall has matured. The sound of the hall has changed over ten years. It’s capable of producing a massive sound—the volume that comes off that stage is sometimes overwhelming for the space. Beverly [Taylor], my assistant conductor, is constantly saying the orchestra doesn’t have to play so loud; they can back off a little.
Roseann Sheridan, artistic director, Children’s Theater of Madison: Every time the cast of A Christmas Carol comes into the Capitol Theater for the first time, there is that moment—especially for the younger kids—of utter awe as they stand onstage and look out to the expanse of red velvet seats and beautiful chandeliers. And they say, “Wow!” And I’m reminded of just how special this place, and the experience of performing in this space, is for them.
Stephanie Jutt, principal flutist, Madison Symphony Orchestra: The first notes I played on the stage of Overture Hall changed my life forever. The softest playing projects all the way to the back wall in the uppermost balcony, and I can hear my sound reverberating back to me in a beautiful, warm glow. The overall sound of the hall is clear and lively and truly enhances the sound of our orchestra. The acoustics of Overture Hall were managed with the greatest of care, with one of the top acousticians in the world. Overture Hall changed the Madison Symphony from a good orchestra to a truly excellent orchestra.
Piraino: Happy tenth birthday, Overture! You survived your first decade. And it was a rocky one! My fervent wish for you is that after your next decade, people will forget all the controversy and wonder, as they did with Monona Terrace, what all the fuss was about.
Li: The year 2015 will mark our twentieth year of performing in Dane County. Our first performance took place in the Isthmus Playhouse of the Madison Civic Center, so Overture’s tenth anniversary celebration is like a “double happiness” for us, a reminder of twin blessings. We’ve premiered some of our most memorable works in Promenade Hall, including The Knotcracker and Riot of Spring. Having such a beautiful, professional and creative space to work in, right here in Madison, is a true gift for me and Li Chiao-Ping Dance.
Rowland: Overture Center is a dream realized. Overture today is all we believed it could be and would be. A first-class building by a world-class architect. An exceptional place for the many talented and deserving artists and arts groups of our community to perform in. A project that has been instrumental to the revitalization of downtown Madison and has brought people back to the center of our city to live and work. A generator of new businesses and jobs and of increased tax revenues that benefit everyone.
We are extremely fortunate to have been able to give a gift of this magnitude to the city the Frautschi family has loved and called home for six generations. As Jerry has often said, “I did not build Overture just for today, I built it for my grandchildren.” It is almost impossible now to imagine our city without Overture. We are delighted that it has been so warmly embraced by the people we built it for, and are confident that its impact will be felt for ages to come.
Aaron R. Conklin is a Madison writer. He covers local theater on madisonmagazine.com.