As a new resident in Wisconsin’s capitol, that first breath of the air is a sweet one. The breeze carries a foreign scent of a new city in a manner not that different from the fresh odor of a new house. Along with that scent comes a certain eagerness, a “What now?” feeling that tails the unpacking process.
Campus tours and SOAR were great for getting acquainted with university resources, but what do people actually do here besides study and go to class? It’s inevitable that — whether you hail from Small Town, Wisconsin or NYC — Madison has already begun working its way into your concept of “home.” Now that you’re almost home, it’s time to get started exploring this place and find out just what is so entertaining. The answer might be bigger than you expect.
Before straying too far from campus, be sure to check the events schedule at the epicenter of student life that is Memorial Union. Constant happenings in any entertainment genre give it the reputation it has, be it free concerts at the terrace and the Rathskeller, theatrical performances in the Union Theater, ongoing art exhibits, movie nights or open mic nights for the budding performer. Events and exhibits are always free, except in the theater. But even theater performances should be more affordable after saving all that money at, say, the free Bluesfest on Aug. 7 at the terrace.
If the bands playing at the terrace don’t suit your fancy, stay calm. There are plenty of venues helping to make Madison a necessary stop on many tours. When you look at the facts, it only makes sense. With a substantial college audience in proximity to other Midwest music hotspots (think Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee), all a touring artist needs is a spot to play.
Madison’s oldest theater, the Majestic, is one of those places. The cozy venue located on King St. frequently hosts small-time local acts, like progressive rockers Baghdad Scuba Review (Aug. 12) as well as underground heavyweights such as Glitch Mob, playing Aug. 21.
Small venues like the Majestic are scattered throughout the city, as any glance at a flier board will reveal. The High Noon Saloon on East Washington and the Barrymore on Atwood can add to the bag venues to check out while you rock out. Both are a bit of a hike from campus, but bus-accessibility from route 6 and 3 to each, respectively, will save your legs for the show.
But hold on, let’s say you want to be the one on stage, not just a face in the crowd. Serious artists can check booking info on the web for any venue, while in the meantime a handful of regular open mic spots scratch the performing itch. Der Rathskeller at Memorial Union has a free stage every other Thursday, just sign up at 7:45pm before things kick off. Sharing the list are the Come Back In and Brocach Irish Pub, also holding weekly open mic spots.
Along with music, Madison houses a small sanctuary for the performing arts. Spectators and actors alike can find a home at the Bartell Theater. Housing a half dozen theatre companies means there is never a shortage of running shows, and probably no surplus of actors.
An edgier alternative exists in Broom Street Theater, referring to itself as “the theater your mother warned you about.” Shows here run anywhere from a few days to a month-plus, and as with that other “B” page listing — the Bartell — they regularly conduct auditions for people looking to play a role in their creative productions.
“A Woman on Paper” runs at the Broom Street Theater through all of August, chronicling a love story between renowned painter Georgia O’Keefe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. If you care to see it, however, don’t let the misleading name of the theater stray you in the wrong direction. Here’s a tip: A more precise name would have been the 1119 Williamson Street Theater.
Finally, if the visual art galleries at Memorial Union (currently featuring the work of Gina Genis and Jim Zwaldo) don’t satisfy your right brain, and music and theater aren’t for you, Madison still has your back in the arts. By this point, what did you expect? Whether you choose to visit the Chazen Museum of Art on University (right by the Humanities building) or the sleek State Street glass giant that is the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, an exhibit is bound to spark an inspiring flame. If it doesn’t, well, maybe it’s time to start producing your own work.
All of these places add up to a fraction of the real entertainment potential in your new home of Madison. A grab bag of exciting places is waiting to be uncovered; for example, the Comedy Club on State. As a student and official resident, codependent titles, it’s up to you to explore this home and find the best place for you. This guide is simply a starting point.