33 WAYS TO EXPERIENCE THE ARTS IN MADISON
Our city is veritable melting pot of fantastic dance, indie delights, live music and Broadway productions—check out our vibrant offerings as you plan your next visit.
HAVE A LAUGH: COMEDY
Enjoy a laugh while you’re here! In the heart of State Street you’ll find the Comedy Club, our city’s marquee comedy venue. National caliber talent including comedians who have graced Comedy Central and Last Comic Standing’s stages (among others) perform here every Friday and Saturday night. Nearby, the Orpheum Theater also hosts comedians in a gorgeous, historic space. Two other groups that focus on the fast-paced improvisational side of comedy include the Monkey Business Institute, which has shows every Saturday night in an intimate east-side venue, and Atlas Improv Co., who bring out the competitive side of their comedians in a fun “Theatresports” show and a long-form improv show every Friday and Saturday night.
THE THRILL OF MOVEMENT: DANCE
We’ve got moves in the Midwest. Li Chiao Ping Dance was founded in Madison and also tours nationally. They celebrated their twentieth anniversary in 2015 and perform dance commissions in the modern/contemporary genre. Another thought-provoking dance group with bold, inventive works is Kanopy Dance. They too celebrated their twentieth anniversary in 2015 and fuse modern dance with ballet in their works. For classicists Madison Ballet is a wonderful escape—they perform the perennially popular Nutcracker and other productions (Dracula, Peter Pan) as well as edgier, small-scale repertory works. Li Chiao Ping, Kanopy and Madison Ballet are all resident arts groups at Overture Center, the city’s world-class performance hub. Overture also hosts touring dance acts—like this spring’s Brazilian dance group Companhia Urbana de Dança. As a college town we’re also lucky to have many student groups to enjoy—like performances by the UW-Madison Dance Department. They host dance concerts during the school year.
SONG & A DANCE: BROADWAY & TOURING ACTS
The Overture Center for the Arts was designed by renowned architect Cesar Pelli and is the city’s heart for major theater productions. With seven unique performance venues within it, acts like splashy Broadway productions, legendary music groups and modern dance troupes come here to dazzle audiences.
HALF-PINT FUN: KID-FRIENDLY
In addition to the many wonderful and family-friendly options outlined in here, kids will enjoy two of Overture’s fun performance options. The free Kids in the Rotunda series on Saturdays features dance groups, singers and magic shows. The Children’s Theatre of Madison is Overture’s youth resident arts group and produces five main stage productions per year—look for favorites like Goodnight Moon and The Wizard of Oz.
CULTURE LOVER: THEATER
For a city of Madison’s size, we have an amazing variety of theater groups performing dramatic works, musical theater and opera. Take the Four Seasons Theatre, a professional musical theater group that’s been in the city for ten years. They love sharing Tony award-winning works and Broadway favorites. At Overture Center, Forward Theater Co. is a resident theater group that prides itself on locally produced works. Madison’s reputation as great college town extends to the performing arts, and each has a respective theater department that puts on performances. Check out Edgewood College’s Diane Ballweg Theatre, Madison College’s Mitby Theater and UW-Madison’s University Theatre for student-acted dramas, classics and musicals. Also on UW’s campus is the Wisconsin Union Theater—a wonderful multifaceted theater showcasing spoken-word poetry, student performances and traveling artists. Opera buffs will delight in our three (yes, three!) opera organizations—all with a different bent. University Opera features the up-and-coming opera singers of tomorrow, while Madison Opera (a resident of Overture Center) is the city’s professional nonprofit group that performs three operas annually plus Madison’s annual Opera in the Park summer event. Fresco Opera Theatre is the newest group on the scene and brings a fresh new perspective to the genre with modern (sometimes humorous) performances.
UNDERGROUND ENTHUSIAST: INDIE THEATER
Broom Street Theater is Madison’s original hard-hitting, thought-provoking black-box theater that performs original works based on politics, current events and satire, among others. (Adult-only venue). Although Theatre LILA performs at Overture Center, this group puts on inventive and experimental new works. Music Theatre of Madison celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2016 and puts on lesser-known musicals that have a unique point of view. The Bartell is supporter and host to five theater groups—each with a distinct character. Mercury Players Theatre is an innovative socially conscious theater group. StageQ performs exhilarating, challenging queer works. Madison Theatre Guild is Madison’s oldest community theater group and specializes in dramas, comedies and mysteries. Strollers Theatre is the core group at The Bartell and stages classic plays with a high-quality production value. And the Madison Ballet also performs smaller, edgier repertory works here as well. From time to time find other groups performing here too—like the Kathie Rasmussen Women’s Theatre.
TAKE NOTE: MUSICAL ARTS
Just as thrilling as an acted stage performance, live music shows can be calming, exciting and thrilling—all woven into one. The city’s foremost classical music groups include the Madison Symphony, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society. Each brings a different spin to arts lovers. The Symphony is led by renowned conductor John DeMain, also a frequent guest conductor for symphonies and opera companies around the world. The Chamber Orchestra is the Madison Ballet’s resident orchestra and also performs Masterworks concerts with guest artists throughout the year and plays the six-concert Concerts on the Square series over the summer. Bach Dancing & Dynamite is an inviting and innovative group that puts a modern spin on chamber music. Also check out Edgewood College’s Music Department and the UW School of Music. Both programs hosts several concerts a month—most are open to the public and free.
Want more arts? Discover our museums and galleries or get the lowdown on our live music scene!