The Beach Boys. Bob Dylan. Tech9. Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band. What do all of these musicians have in common? All of them, at one time or another, has had a performance at The Overture Center. Adjacent to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Arts, the Overture Center has been a prominent feature of State Street’s 200 block for 84 years with a glass facade that’s hard to miss.
The Overture Center opened its doors in 1928 under the name Capitol Theatre. It originally hosted vaudeville and full length, silent films featuring a Grand Barton organ. As the era of silent films passed, Capitol Theatre’s main function morphed into a concert hall and began its legacy as premier music venue. Capitol Theatre was ready for expansion into a full blown center for the arts fifty years later. The city of Madison bought out Capitol Theatre and redubbed it Oscar Mayer Theatre due to a large donation from Oscar Mayer and added the Isthmus playhouse, hot dogs not included. The art forms finally united in the Madison Civic Center since the crossroads to what is now the Madison Museum of Contemporary Arts. Oscar Mayer Theatre played host to everything from orchestras to lower tier Broadway shows. “Although,” says spokesperson Robert Chappell, “it wasn’t particularly suited to either one.”
Jump another twenty years into the future. The Overture Center was ready for expansion and renovation into its current form thanks to a $205 million donation from Jerome Frautschi. It still remains the single largest gift to the arts in the United States. Overture Hall and its lobby were built, and thus, the glass faced 200 block was established. Overture Hall boasts seating for roughly 2250, a concert organ that is one of the continent’s largest instruments and an acoustical system that can be changed for five different acoustical purposes from Madison Orchestra to the upcoming Broadway show Jersey Boys. After Overture Hall was completed, Oscar Mayer Theatre and Isthmus Playhouse were renovated and Oscar Mayer Theatre was restored to its original name: Capitol Theatre. History lives on in the Grand Barton organ and some of the original décor. The organ is still used for the Duck Soup Series silent movie showings coming up in November. It also hosts Capitol Concert series hosting names such as Goo Goo Dolls and Tech9. Spokesperson Rob Chappell says, “This room is gaining a reputation because it looks nice, it doesn’t look like a rock’n’roll type place. The acoustics are wonderful, the back stage is nice and frankly, it’s my favorite room.”
Think Overture Center is just another way to promote Broadway and traveling classical arts from far off? Think again. Chappell says, “That’s one piece of our mission that is often overlooked, that is our commitment to local artists.” Take the three different hallways leading to Capitol Theatre. Each is a different gallery which features local artists work. The criteria? Must be a collaboration and fifty percent of artists must live in Dane County. Sometimes the exhibits can be quite emotional. “We had a women’s shelter where the kids there did their own artwork on the experiences they were going through, and it was a really powerful exhibit.” They even feature the work of undergrad art students. Think of it as undergrad art students’ “final thesis.”
Local artists are given the chance to make it big in a program called Mad City Sessions. Overture Center has partnered with Triple M radio in order to give local artists the chance to perform. Triple M radio promotes the show and gives the artist airtime. Overture Center provides the performance space. Chappell says, “Now, artists who just play in bars around town, have something on the radio for tens of thousands of listeners.” Look for 80s Rockstar Gomeroke playing their free show at the end of November.
Not only does Overture cater to local artists, but it provides for the public, no matter what age. Rotunda stage is open for any performance anytime. Walk up and practice up on the guitar, that’s what its open for. It also hosts the thirty year old program Kids in the Rotunda. Free shows catered to kids under the age of eight three different Saturdays a month. Some artists have shown up every year since the program started. That’s dedication to starting art appreciators young. Chappell says, “Study after study after study tells us when you get kids engaged in the arts early they are better students and more creative problem solvers.” What more could you want from future Badgers?
Overture Center, seven different performance spaces. Boasting Best in Madison Silver Award for best music venue awarded to Capitol Theatre. Whether a Broadway show or an impromptu Rotunda stage performance by a budding musician, it is true Madisonian musical gem.