The latter part of 2012 was a rocky time for Madison in entertainment. Entertainment venues, specifically.
For when in recent history has a business been so riddled with underhandedness, betrayal and mismanagement as the Orpheum under its previous owners? Everything from damages to the theater to one co-owner keying another’s car to bar fights to piles of money being shifted around for profits played a role in this plot. The poor old building was an unfortunate bystander to its parents’ ugly divorce.
The theater’s liquor license was revoked this summer, an event that triggered the gradual exposure of the owners’ tumultuous back-story and, eventually, foreclosure. The historic theater’s future is still slightly murky, although Frank Productions has big plans to amp up the Orpheum’s offerings and one day own the building. The company, appointed by Monona State Bank to take over a managerial role, hopes to house a variety of shows that were dwindling the past few years. The theater once played host to vaudeville acts and black-and-white film, but Frank Productions has no plans to reinstate the building’s partial role as a State Street movie theater or restaurant.
By happenstance, another venue of note to reach the news within the past few months was the Orpheum’s neighbor: the Overture Center for the Arts. The glass-walled building is far newer, but nonetheless a downtown gem that acts as a beacon for talent. Unfortunately, it depends perhaps too much upon the attractiveness of its architecture and a carefully-crafted reputation in the region to draw in talent, something like a moth to a flame.
It certainly does not have the same necessity to seek out talent that, say, Frank Productions currently has.
In late October, Madison alders recognized the venue’s potential in terms of tourism profits and a greater social good by providing community access to the arts. They showed their appreciation by restoring $900,000 of the $1 million that Mayor Paul Soglin intended to strike from the amount that the city bestowed upon the Overture in last year’s budget. The city gave Overture no conditions with this gift, but if we had to suggest two they would be a marketing overhaul and hiring of an imaginative talent-buyer.