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May 2022

Curiosity. Connection. Collaboration. These are words I use to describe “NASSIM” by Iranian playwright and director Nassim Soleimanpour. During a time when so much still divides us in the country and world, Nassim’s honest and quick-witted theatrical and social experiment reminds us that we have much more in common than we have in differences―and that a mother’s love knows no bounds.

I had the privilege of watching―more like participating―in “NASSIM” during its residence in March this year at Overture. I didn’t know what to expect but ended up laughing, contemplating and crying at various points in the show. I was moved to remember that even if we speak different languages, embrace different beliefs, love in different ways, there is connection in honoring the humanness in us all.

Nassim reminded me that we are better when we are curious about each other and our world, and though we may have different life experiences, we should be encouraged to find ways to collaborate. And he reminded me that in experiencing moments in the distinct way only humans can―with emotion―we can find connection.

This month’s Equity & Innovation Newsletter honors such connection through women’s voices. We invited a few members of the Madison community to share how the arts truly provide extraordinary experiences for all:

  • Francesca Hong, owner of Morris Ramen and Wisconsin State Assembly member, graciously and brilliantly participated as an actress in “NASSIM.”
  • Ananda Mirilli, Madison Metropolitan School District School Board member, attended “STOMP.”
  • Sofia Snow, director of the First Wave Program at UW Madison, produced the Line Breaks Hip Hop Festival, an annual celebration filled with lectures, performances and discussions.
  • Overture programming team and teaching artists worked with Madison Metropolitan School District’s Capital High Parent Program on the Lullaby Project, a free creative process of songwriting to help new and expectant parents express their hopes and dream for the future through music.

I encourage us all to engage with a bit more curiosity, connect with others who are different than us and collaborate in ways that move us toward a shared future. This month brought us the end of Ramadan, “Eid Mubarek”; it is also APIDA (Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American) heritage month and the national recognition of MMIW (Missing, Murdered and Indigenous Women). I leave you with a quote from the late Bell Hooks, author and social activist, “As we search as a nation for constructive ways to challenge racism and white supremacy, it is absolutely essential that progressive female voices gain a hearing.”

Ida Balderrama-Trudell (she/her)
Director of Equity & Innovation

NASSIM engages community leaders in unique on-stage experience!

Francesca Hong

Wisconsin State Representative Francesca Hong, 76th Assembly District

American writer and activist James Baldwin famously said that language “incontestably reveals the speaker” and is the “most vivid and crucial key to identity.” As a child of Korean immigrants, Wisconsin State Representative Francesca Hong grew up in a household where language indeed held importance when it came to who she and her family were

“For my parents, it was a reminder of the homeland they left and yearned for, and for me, a reminder of the language I knew only as a story passed down to me from them, a language I also yearned for,” said Hong.

Like many children in the diaspora, there was a sort of disconnection she experienced with her native tongue growing up.

“It rarely felt completely my own,” said Hong. “But while ‘NASSIM’ reminded me of that disconnection, of that fraught relationship I had with language, it also reminded me that language is community. That language is love. When we connect with each other as humans, it doesn’t matter how we speak or what we speak. The intention is what translates over many seas and lands. Language is a wheel, but care is the engine. Humanity is universally understood, easily learned and free to give. And I’m grateful to the Overture Center and the ‘NASSIM’ production for bringing that lesson to life.”

Line Breaks Hip Hop Festival returns to Overture

Line Breaks performers on a black background

The 15th annual Line Breaks Hip Hop Festival was held at Overture Center on April 1-2. First Wave is the nation’s first and only hip-hop and artistic full-tuition scholarship and originated at UW-Madison. After a two-year hiatus due to the ongoing pandemic, First Wave director Sofia Snow championed the triumphant return of this amazing festival, celebrating scholar-artists.

This year’s Line Breaks festival included the Wisconsin Idea Spotlight panel hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Foundation and featured First Wave alumni Danez Smith and Erika Dickerson-Despenza and Professor Chris Walker, founding faculty artistic director of the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives and director of the Division of the Arts. Friday night, a staged (re)imagining of Smith’s original poem “summer, somewhere” debuted under the direction of Walker and brought together First Wave cohort members from first cohort to 14th cohort. Brilliantly imagined with an all-black male cast and breaking down stereotypes of male bonds and interrogating what it means to die and be received in death, “summer, somewhere” received a standing ovation and accolades. Other performances by the First Wave touring ensemble rounded out both nights of the festival. Overture Center was honored to partner with Line Breaks, continuing a long-standing relationship with Professor Walker, First Wave and UW-Madison.

International percussion sensation ‘STOMP’ lights up Overture April 1-3

Stomp performers with drum sticks playing on shopping carts

On Saturday, April 3, Ananda Mirilli, member and former vice chair of Overture Center’s Community Advisory Council and member of the Madison School Board, attended an extraordinary show called “STOMP,” a percussion ensemble running through innovative theatrical skits and weaving sounds and experiences in ways that “no single word can describe.”

“My eyes tried to follow every movement and my body moved to every sound, until I recognized Brazilian rhythms... then I was no longer in Madison, Wis.,” said Mirilli. “The beats transported me to my home country of Brazil and to the noisy streets of Rio de Janeiro; the memories were being interpreted on the stage and the beats echoed in my body.”

The immersion into Afro-Brazilian rhythms continued throughout the show, while objects like boxes of matches, grocery carts and garbage lids became instruments. Human bodies and random objects invited all participants to experience rhythm and movement as if all were connected.

“The sound of home stayed with me,” said Mirilli. “I am grateful to Overture Center for inviting our community to look through windows of connections into unimaginable and familiar places.”

New parents create a personal legacy through song

A Lullaby teacher works on a song with a mother and her baby

Parents share dreams for their babies in the Lullaby Project. [Photo by Anya Kubilus]

Lullabies created through a collaboration between Madison-area expectant and new parents and local teaching artists participating in Overture Center’s Lullaby Project were showcased at Kids in the Rotunda on Saturday, April 30, with two free in-person community performances.

The Lullaby Project uses the creative process of songwriting to help new and expectant parents express their hopes and dreams for the future through music. The project pairs local singer-songwriters, mothers and mothers-to-be to create personal lullabies for their children, supporting maternal health, aiding child development and strengthening the bond between parent and child. Around the world, the project reaches parents in healthcare settings, homeless shelters, high schools, foster care and correctional facilities.

Overture Center is pleased to be one of 40 organizations across the country and the world to partner with the Lullaby Project, a program of Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute. 

In 2019/20, Overture worked in partnership with Harambee Village Doulas to pilot the project in Madison as part of a collective community effort to address disparities surrounding maternal and infant health of Black babies. In 2020/21, we expanded the project by partnering with Madison Metropolitan School District’s School Age Parent Program (SAPAR), now called the Capital High Parenting Program, which provides a safe, trusting environment for pregnant and parenting students by offering smaller class sizes and individualized learning in a strong, cohesive community.

In 2021/22, the Lullaby Project continues with the Capital High Parenting Program. Local musicians participating in the project include Henry Alloway, Laura Lang, Sofia Tanski, Angela Puerta, Eric Hester, Sam Taylor, Rebecca Redmann and Autumn Reed.

“Parents are able to craft their hopes and dreams for their babies through music, amplifying their voice and stories in their own words,” said Alanna Medearis, director of education and community engagement. “The songs range from sweet to silly to empowering, and all end up being beautiful expressions of their love for their child.”

The Lullaby Project is sponsored by MG&E Foundation, American Girl’s Fund for Children, Kuehn Family Foundation, UnityPoint Health - Meriter and Ian’s Pizza. Additional funding is provided by contributions to Overture Center.

Paul Forbes leads implicit bias workshops on June 1-2

Paul Forbes smiles to the camera. He has a grety suit on with a lavender shirt

Paul Forbes

On June 1-2, Overture will welcome Paul Forbes for an engaging two-hour workshop exploring implicit bias. Forbes is an anti-bias and educational equity consultant who focuses on implicit bias and encourages us “to do the work behind the work” to address implicit/unconscious bias.

All frontline Overture employees and volunteers are required to attend a two-hour session on Wednesday, June 1 at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m.

Prior to these workshops, participants are asked to watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” and come prepared to share what resonated with them.

Participants will be asked to reflect on their name and share their “name story.”

  • How did you get your name (first, middle or last name)?
  • What does it mean? (literally and/or culturally)
  • Are you named after anyone?
  • Is there a cultural/traditional/religious aspect to your name?

Workshop topics will include:

  • The stories we tell
  • What is implicit bias?
  • What is the brain science behind implicit bias?
  • Strategies to mitigate the effects of implicit bias

Outcomes from the sessions will be:

  • Getting to know each other better
  • Understanding the concept of implicit bias
  • Understanding the neuroscience (brain-based elements) behind implicit bias
  • Understanding five strategies for reducing the effects of implicit bias

On Thursday, June 2, there will be a separate workshop for full-time and part time employees, the Overture Center Foundation board members, Community Advisory Council members and resident companies that will include the showing of the documentary film “Defining Us - Children at the Crossroads of Change.”

Our intention is that these workshops add to the work we have been engaging in with Dr. Ken Hardy and directly and intentionally support our justice, equity, diversity and inclusion goals and vision to provide “extraordinary experiences for all.”

Ja’ Malik joins Madison Ballet as artistic director

Ja'Malik looks to the camera and rests his head in his hand

Ja’ Malik, artistic director, Madison Ballet

A visionary choreographer, Ja' Malik has moved to Madison at the height of a career of executing commissions from nationally-renowned dance companies, advocating for representation of Black artists. He founded and has served as executive director of New York City's Ballet Boy Productions, which aims to create pathways for young Black men to thrive in a career in dance. He is a former member of Cleveland Ballet, Oakland Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Nathan Trice Rituals, City Dance Ensemble, Ballet Hispanico and Ballet X, and collaborated with Tony-nominated Camille A. Brown on choreography for The Public Theater’s 2019 production of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.

We are excited and inspired by Madison Ballet’s bold move of recruiting and hiring an artistic director of Ja Malik’s caliber. He will be a game changer in elevating the cultural arts landscape here in Madison. It is no doubt that he will be an asset to the Madison arts community in ways we can’t even predict. His lifelong commitment and journey in dance speak for themselves. As a professional Black man in dance, Ja’ Malik brings a unique perspective that we don’t see very often in the Madison community. We often talk about engaging diverse communities in the arts space, especially in a discipline like ballet. This is our opportunity to do so.

Madison Symphony Orchestra announces new executive director

Robert Reed smiling towards the camera. He is wearing a dark blue suit with a paisley tie and yellow shirt

Robert A. Reed, executive director, Madison Symphony Orchestra

Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has announced Robert A. Reed as its new executive director. Reed starts onsite in Madison for periods of time in May and begins his full-time role in June 2022.

“Madison Symphony Orchestra’s selection of Robert A. Reed is the result of a nine-month, nationwide search conducted by a diverse search committee with the assistance of the search firm HC Smith, Ltd.,” MSO Board President Ellsworth Brown said. “From a field of four candidates, two were interviewed in depth twice, visited Madison and provided references that were checked by the committee members. We are extremely pleased with the results and eagerly anticipate Robert’s leadership and extensive experience engaging communities.”

“I am overjoyed to become the executive director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra,” said Reed. “I look forward to building upon MSO’s years of excellent leadership and its outstanding legacy—leading the organization forward to its 100th anniversary season and beyond. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to deepen relationships and expand MSO’s connections in the community. With an excellent base of Symphony musicians, board, staff and volunteers, there will certainly be some exciting times ahead.”

Latino Art Fair is this weekend: Saturday, May 7

Latino Art Fair presenters wide shot in Overture Hall Lobby

Join us for the 8th Annual Latino Art Fair ─ “amArte” ─ in which Wisconsin Latino artists celebrate the power of love through art to foster understanding, compassion and forgiveness. The event features about 15 local visual artists with art for sale along with arts activities and a face painting artist for youth. Entertainment will be provided by Latino Arts Strings Program, a youth mariachi group from Milwaukee.

On the Overture Blog: read about Zeus Corona, a local artist showcasing his photography at the Latino Art Fair.

The Latino Art Fair is co-presented by the Latino Chamber of Commerce and Latinos Organizing for Understanding and Development (LOUD).

Mariachi Herencia de México presents Esencia on Saturday, May 7

Wide view of a Kids in the Rotunda performance. A band is on the stage while an audience sits and listens

In continuation of the Cinco de Mayo celebration and in support of our Latino community, Overture Center presents Mariachi Herencia de México’s performance of Esencia on Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Capitol Theater.

The historic tradition of mariachi music has roots in cities like Guadalajara and Mexico City, places where the festive folk style lived its past glory days in the mid-1900s. Today, the future of the evolving genre may rest in the hands of a dynamic ensemble from the capital of the American Midwest: Chicago’s Mariachi Herencia de México.

Back by popular demand! This Latin Grammy-nominated group of young Mexican American musicians has released three highly acclaimed albums with chart-topping debuts on both Billboard and iTunes, defying a music industry trend and pointing to a revival in recorded mariachi music. Performing with major artists on both sides of the border, this group of young musicians has the talent, training and bravado to hold their own with the best in the world.

Mariachi Herencia de México performs songs from the group’s latest album titled “Esencia,” a tribute to the golden age of Mexican music, including hits like “Cucurrucucu Paloma,” “Los Laureles,” “Besame Mucho,” “Te Traigo Estas Flores,” “Los Mandados” and many more! The vibrant show also features tributes to Latin music legends Juan Gabriel, Lucha Villa, Lola Beltrán, José José and José Alfredo Jiménez as well as a celebration of the iconic Mexican films “El Gallo de Oro” and “Dos Tipos De Cuidado.” Comprised of both female and male musicians, the group performs stunning arrangements that highlight the group’s powerful vocals and exquisite harmonies. 

Ain’t Too Proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations comes to Overture June 14-19

Ain't Too Proud banner featuring the 5 members of the Temptations in grey suits

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations is the electrifying, new smash-hit Broadway musical that follows The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With their signature dance moves and silky-smooth harmonies, they rose to the top of the charts creating an amazing 42 Top Ten Hits with 14 reaching number one.

Nominated for 12 Tony® Awards and the winner of the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography, Ain’t Too Proud tells the thrilling story of brotherhood, family, loyalty and betrayal, as the group’s personal and political conflicts threatened to tear them apart during a decade of civil unrest in America.

Written by three-time Obie Award winner Dominique Morisseau, directed by two-time Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys) and featuring the Tony-winning choreography of Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, On Your Feet!), the unforgettable story of this legendary quintet is set to the beat of the group’s treasured hits, including “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and so many more.

The only way to guarantee legitimate tickets is to buy them directly from Overture Center at overture.org, by phone at 608.258.4141, or in person at the Overture Center Ticket Office. Learn more about safe ticket buying.


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Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street, Madison, WI 53703

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