Overture Center for the Arts

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Overture Center for the Arts is a state of the art performing arts center and art gallery in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. The center opened on September 19, 2004, replacing the former Civic Center. In addition to several theaters, the center also houses the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Overture Center for the Arts
Main entrance to Overture Center. The facade was originally part of Yost's Department Store.
Address201 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin
United States
Coordinates43°4′28″N 89°23′19″W / 43.07444°N 89.38861°W / 43.07444; -89.38861Coordinates: 43°4′28″N 89°23′19″W / 43.07444°N 89.38861°W / 43.07444; -89.38861
OperatorOverture Center Foundation
Typeperforming arts center
CapacityOverture Hall: 2,255
Capitol Theater: 1,089
The Playhouse: 347
Promenade Hall: 252
Rotunda Stage: 350
Opened1928 (Capitol Theatre)
Reopened1980 (Madison Civic Center)
2004 (Overture Center for the Arts)
ArchitectCesar Pelli


The center was commissioned by Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland, designed by Cesar Pelli. Perhaps his most famous works are the Petronas Twin Towers, which were for a time the world's tallest buildings. He also designed the World Financial Center complex (since renamed Brookfield Place, in downtown Manhattan. Frautschi/Rowland paid $205 million to construct the building, making it the largest private gift to the arts of its kind.[citation needed] It replaced the Madison Civic Center, located on the same block on State Street. Its first President/CEO was Robert B. D'Angelo, followed by Michael Goldberg, Tom Carto, Ted DeDee and Sandra Gajic.


The building has seven venues, in addition to art galleries:

Overture HallEdit

The 2251-seat Overture Hall is the facility's largest theater. Consisting of four levels of seats, it has a striking architectural style and was designed for acoustics (no center aisle). The balconies have "continental-style" seating arrangements, where aisles other than those on the sides of seat rows are omitted in order to provide greater seat size and acoustics. It houses a large, permanent organ by the German organ builder Klais. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, and Madison Ballet call this theater home. In addition to local Madison performing groups, touring performances have played in Overture Hall; comedian Jerry Seinfeld and musician Yo-Yo Ma are examples of nationally famous performers who have appeared here.

Capitol TheaterEdit

During Overture construction, the Oscar Mayer Theater (originally named Capitol Theater, which opened 1928 as a movie palace) was restored, downsized, and re-christened the Capitol Theater. The theater's inaugural performance, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, upon reopening took place in November, 2005. Done in muted teal and fuchsia, it seats 1098 in the main floor and balcony. Original to the theater is an organ built by Oshkosh's Barton Organ Company. Resident companies include the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and CTM Madison Family Theatre, although some traveling shows (usually concerts) regularly perform there.


This smaller, intimate performance space replaced the former Isthmus Playhouse. It was renovated with the Madison Repertory Theatre in mind as its resident company, and was occupied by Madison Rep until its closure in March 2009.

Promenade HallEdit

This is a smaller room featuring bleachers in the walls that can convert it to a performance space seating up to 300. Kanopy Dance is its resident company.

Rotunda StageEdit

This room, located in the lower level, is used primarily for the center's Kids in the Rotunda performances. The only venue accessible to the public during regular hours, it features a color scheme of fuchsia walls and floors, as well as permanent audience riser seats. It is also a venue for banquets, meetings and other performances.

Wisconsin Studio and Rotunda StudioEdit

These two venues are used mainly for rehearsals and meetings. They are also fully equipped black box theater spaces seating 100-200 depending on seating configuration.

Visual Art GalleriesEdit

The center contains four visual art galleries. The Overture Galleries present exhibits by local and state artists and organizations.

The center houses the James Watrous Gallery, which is operated by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. This gallery displays larger exhibits and installations from regional artists.

Both galleries are open to the public.

Notable PerformersEdit

Following is a partial list of notable performers that have staged concerts at the Overture Center:

Financial ControversiesEdit

The Overture Center has been the subject of several controversies. After Frautschi's/Rowland's initial gift of a $100 million, they donated another $100 million, to make this a state of the art venue. Some citizens complained that the City of Madison's priorities were skewed. Others said the project would hurt the image of nearby State Street. Still others believed it would be accessible only to the wealthy while limiting access to local and smaller acts and artists.[1]

After initial construction of the center, concerns were raised over additional funding. Citizens became concerned that as the economy slowed Overture's reserve funds would decrease. As this happened, the potential was raised for the City of Madison to step in to maintain funding levels. Some were worried that a project that was supposed to be private would become an unnecessary burden to taxpayers. These fears were exacerbated by the liquidation of the trust fund that was set up to pay the construction debt for the building as well as provide some operating income.[2] The liquidation left some construction debt that was paid for by Gerry Frautschi, (Webcrafters), Pleasant Rowland (founder of American Girls), and a number of their friends. The endowment liquidations forced the center to cut staff because of the loss of the operating income. The Overture Center continues to be a privately owned facility and is now run by a non-profit; it is no longer a City of Madison agency. The Center receives an annual subsidy from the city approximately equal to that which the Madison Civic Center received (a facility owned by the city). With an estimated operating budget of $18.4 million (fiscal year July to June 2012-13) Overture Center seems to have emerged from its financial difficulty. Staffing levels now exceed the level before the forced endowment liquidation.

Miss Saigon ControversyEdit

When a touring production of Miss Saigon was scheduled to play at Overture in April of 2019, local scholars and members of the Asian American community voiced concerns about the show's content; Overture staff worked with this group to organize a panel prior to the production titled, "Asian American Perspectives on ‘Miss Saigon’: Stereotypes, History and Community."[3] In the days before the event, Overture added a white panelist from a local theatre company at the expense of one of the Asian American scholars who helped to organize the panel, Lori Kido Lopez, an expert in Asian American portrayals in media and entertainment. Furthermore, the panel's original context of providing an Asian American perspective was altered with the event re-titled, "Perspectives on Miss Saigon: History and Community".[4] In addition to Kido-Lopez being removed from the lineup, a program note written by panelist and scholar Timothy Yu was no longer going to be included. Overture also informed the panelists that the questions which had been previously prepared by scholar and moderator Leslie Bow would not be used; Overture was, "going to ask their own questions."[5] Bow's original set of questions included "How do plays like this impact American impressions about Vietnamese people?", "Do you think that the southeast Asian community will find this show appealing?", "Who is responsible for bringing diverse stories and productions to the stage?" and, "How might theatre contribute to racial awareness?"[6] Overture's President/CEO Sandra Gajic, described these questions as "inflammatory."[7]

The day of the event, the panel was cancelled by Overture, citing the fear that the panel made up of scholars was "becoming more of a lecture than a dialogue" according to a press release from Ed Holmes, Overture's Senior Vice President for Equity and Innovation.[8] The Asian American panelists then held a "teach in" outside of Overture in protest. Overture attempted to reschedule the panel, but only after the production was over for several weeks; the original Asian American panelists declined to participate.[9]

As a result of the growing controversy, Gajic, who had taken over the job of Overture CEO after "Miss Saigon" had been selected to come to Overture's season, offered a public apology via social media.[10] Gajic came under fire for allegedly lying to a local reporter about Yu's essay, claiming that, "a program insert was never an option." Yu provided an email showing that Overture had offered Yu two pages in the "Miss Saigon" program for an essay about the show's context.[11] Lex Poppens, Overture's Vice President of Sales revealed that contrary to Gajic's claim, Overture had offered Yu "the opportunity to write two pages in the program book. And he did submit the pages". Poppens stated that the producing company, Broadway Across America, did not approve of the essay being placed in the program. Gajic made a second apology through a local newspaper on April 1st, calling the cancellation a "regretful mistake" and claiming that the uproar had triggered a more critical look at future programing.[12] Later that day, a local university, Edgewood College announced that they had cancelled plans to attend the production due to the increased awareness of the show's content, voicing the desire to provide, "inclusive events" for students.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Search : Madison.com Madison WI news sports entertainment". Madison.com. 1999-07-22. Retrieved 2012-05-26.[dead link]
  2. ^ "Search : Madison.com Madison WI news sports entertainment". Madison.com. 2008-09-20. Retrieved 2012-05-26.[dead link]
  3. ^ https://madison.com/wsj/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/overture-panel-to-address-question-of-asian-stereotypes-in-controversial/article_2523fe40-b204-5767-b572-d60d23ada5de.html
  4. ^ https://isthmus.com/arts/stage/overture-miss-saigon-asian-stereotypes/
  5. ^ https://badgerherald.com/news/2019/03/27/panel-intended-to-add-context-to-controversial-musical-miss-saigon-canceled-by-overture-center/
  6. ^ https://madison365.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Questions-for-Miss-Saigon-panel-at-Overture-Center.pdf
  7. ^ https://www.tonemadison.com/articles/a-miss-saigon-discussion-implodes-at-overture
  8. ^ https://badgerherald.com/news/2019/03/27/panel-intended-to-add-context-to-controversial-musical-miss-saigon-canceled-by-overture-center/
  9. ^ https://madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/theatre/overture-apologizes-attempts-to-reschedule-miss-saigon-panel/article_a51ebef0-709d-5b54-8d15-3a74c069d747.html
  10. ^ https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10156086677401892&id=52839101891
  11. ^ https://madison365.com/in-overture-drama-subplot-ceo-inexplicably-lies-to-reporter-about-essay/
  12. ^ https://madison.com/opinion/column/sandra-gajic-overture-acts-on-lessons-learned-in-miss-saigon/article_08c55027-f019-5821-b6c2-c15d82854fba.html
  13. ^ https://madison365.com/edgewood-college-cancels-trip-to-see-miss-saigon/

External linksEdit