The Overture Project is remarkable in many ways.  The construction cost of $205 million was a gift from a single donor, local businessman Jerry Frautschi.  His extraordinary generosity provided Madison, Wisconsin, with a beautiful new performing arts center designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates in collaboration with Kirkegaard and Theatre Projects Consultants.  The design and execution is of the highest quality level and would stand out in a city ten times as large. The project incorporated elements of the Madison Performing Arts Center, created in 1980 by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer from a 1928 movie palace.

The Overture Center created a home for virtually all of Madison’s non-collegiate arts organizations, uniting them under a single roof.  At the heart of the PAC is the new 2250 seat multi-purpose Overture Hall, home to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, large dance performances, and touring Broadway.

The old 2100 seat Oscar Mayer Theater was renovated to serve the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, various dance companies, and the CTM theater company at a 1100 seat capacity. The 330 seat Isthmus Theater, created in 1980, was gutted and rebuilt at a 345 seat capacity with improved back-of-house facilities. A 200 seat Lecture Hall and extensive gallery space serves the Madison Art Center. An informal stage for children’s performances is tucked into the lowest level of the Lobby. Finally, three large rehearsal rooms support the performing spaces, each equipped for receptions and performances, including dance, drama, and chamber music.

Overture Hall’s shape is based on the horseshoe opera house, with box seats lining the side walls.  The concrete slab that forms the acoustic ceiling is high above the sound-transparent perforated metal ceiling, allowing reverberation to build up in the upper volume of the room.  The proscenium is unusually tall to ensure that the volume enclosed by the orchestra shell is fully integrated with the main volume of the house.  The orchestra shell itself is one of the most remarkable aspects of the design – a steel framed structure faced with multiple layers of plywood on honeycomb, incorporating a full-size pipe organ.  The shell moves on railroad tracks concealed below the stage and stores at the back of the stagehouse to leave the stage clear for opera and Broadway.

The transformation of the 2100 seat Oscar Mayer theater into the 1100 seat Capital Theater was accomplished by preserving the room’s assets – its ornate decoration and the intimate relationship between the front of the balcony and the stage – while making dramatic changes to address the room’s shortcomings.   A control booth, vestibules, and perfectly integrated new walls close off the vast underbalcony seating area; new boxes and walls at the sides mask the room’s vast width and provide useful acoustic support; and a new orchestra dramatically improves the projection of orchestral sound.

Throughout the project there was a goal of elegance without opulence, of excellence without pretension – an ideal performing arts center for the Midwest.

The Overture Center for the Arts created a beautiful new home for the major arts organizations of Madison. The centerpiece of the project is the 2,250-seat Overture Hall, a stunning new room for symphony, opera, dance, and musical theater. A unique orchestra shell, incorporating a working symphonic pipe organ and a custom set of orchestral risers, converts the room to a marvelous concert hall for the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The forestage lift and seating wagons gracefully accommodate a Broadway-sized orchestra in the small orchestra pit configuration and a grand opera-sized orchestra in the large configuration. Conductor John DeMain loves the room both as a concert hall and as an opera house, praising the beauty of the sound and the ease of balance between the pit and the stage. Great care went into the design of the proscenium zone specifically to promote this natural balance. The former Oscar Mayer Theater, once a Rapp & Rapp movie palace, was remade as the 1,200-seat Capitol Theater. New walls and seating boxes effectively narrow the room, removing the undesirable seats that were buried under the deep balcony. A new orchestra shell dramatically improved the acoustics for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. The center also includes a 330-seat thrust theater, three rehearsal/reception rooms, a children’s stage, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Project Details
Mechanical Noise Control
Room Acoustics Design
Sound Isolation
Potter Lawson / Flad, Project Architects, Madison WI
Theatre Projects Consultants, Theatre Consultant, South Norwalk CT
388,000 gsf
330-seat drama theater; 1,200-seat theater; 2,250-seat hall
2008 American Architecture Awards 2008 Urban Land Institute, Award for Excellence 2004 Project of the Year, Cultural Category, Midwest Construction Magazine