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Overture privatization

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Overture privatization

Postby kicksville » Tue Sep 14, 2010 2:12 pm

howdy y'all,

Some of you know me as the head sound monkey at Overture Center, but that's not why I'm reaching out here. I'm a musician first and foremost, and what I see being forced down our throats vis a vis the privatization plan for Overture Center will result in not only the loss of a lot of jobs, but create a gaping hole in our cultural community.

Yes, I know a lot of folks 'round these parts think of Overture as a giant white elephant, alongside the general public perception of it being an elitist bunker of blue-hairs and rich people. But....the potential has always been there for it to become a key part of the local music scene. It's been horribly mis-managed, especially in the last 2 or 3 years, but the facility itself is an awesome place. As a performer, I've been on almost every stage in Overture. As a tech, I get to work every day with some incredibly talented people. So, I know Overture can be a rich addition to our local community, and I see this potential being wasted.

Basically, I've seen the numbers the consultants for the Overture administration have put out there as the privatization model.... I'll put it this way: If they go through with this plan, there won't be ANY kind of performance space in that building within 5 to 7 years. It will be a giant shiny marble shell that really couldn't even be re-purposed for anything else. That's sad, considering Capitol Theater has been there since 1928.

Even more sad, is that Overture does actually provide a great service to the community. Granted, it could have done more, but it certainly is not the bastion of the rich that it's perceived to be. Between The Gomers playing for Kids in the Rotunda on a Saturday morning and shows like Duck Soup or Overture After Work, there is plenty of programming for everyone - a lot of which is free too.

As I said, I'm a musician first, technician a very distant second. I wanted to reach out to folks on the local music forum to see if we can start a discussion about how to make this situation better. I don't have all the answers, but I see the potential for Overture to be a much greater part of our local music scene. Unfortunately, the way it has been run has kept it from realizing that potential. The privatization plan won't just do that - it will bankrupt the facility AND destroy the last bit of good will left in the community.

These consultants hired by Overture are right out of the movie Office Space, but behind closed doors they have convinced the powers that be, and this deal is basically done. Unless....we as a community can come up with a viable option and put some serious pressure on the politicians who will be making the final decision.

What do you think?

Conrad St. Clair
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby swoon_queen » Tue Sep 14, 2010 2:42 pm

I agree wholeheartedly and through a lot of hard work we put on a slew of great shows at Overture (most featuring local bands) and had the same somewhat revelatory thought afterward. "WHY isn't this space utilized as a community center/local music venue more frequently?" I sincerely enjoy the folks we worked with there, but the overarching bureaucracy and steep costs (some seemingly arbitrary, some necessary for union standards) seem to prevent independent promoters from presenting things that are "outside the box." I'd love to be included if an ad hoc committee is formed. This is a brave step you took, and if your perception is accurate, I am grateful that you are trying to get a proactive movement going.
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby kicksville » Tue Sep 14, 2010 4:08 pm

Thank you for chiming in, Swoon_Queen. The costs associated with putting on a show at Overture are exceedingly high, and that brings me to a point that the Overture admins have been quite successful in spinning into a fairy story: labor costs vs. bureaucratic costs.

For example, Overture says they didn't meet expectations with the Lion King. They claim the labor bill ate into their potential profits enough to keep them from making money. Well, that's bull. Disney paid the labor bill, not the city. And, they charged Disney more than we actually got paid. So Overture actually MADE money on the labor bill. FYI, I'm sure they do that to every independent promoter that comes through as well. Not only that, but a review of labor costs in Madison for the Lion King compared to other markets of similar size showed that we came in BELOW what Disney projected. That's according to the actual labor bills provided to us by other locals and the touring crew of the Lion King.

Yes, having me run sound as a union guy will cost you more than the sound guy at the Annex. But, I would argue that he is underpaid and deserves more - it's a difficult gig no matter where you do it. Also, my job is much more complicated than just pushing faders - I wish that's all I had to do! :D I have never been paid a penny for training...it's something I had to do on my own time. If I hadn't, Overture's admin folks would have kicked me out a long time ago because I would have made a mistake and not known how to get out of it. I've also spent a substantial amount of my own time preparing for gigs that weren't able to afford the set-up time they really needed. For example, I spent 8 hours the day before the MAMAs laying out the stage, patching things, etc. If I hadn't, there's no way we could have pulled off that show. I'm not complaining - I do these things because I'm a relentless perfectionist in a gig where perfection just isn't possible. I also love giving back to groups like the MAMAs or the Forward Music Fest, and that's one way for me to help 'em out. Anyone who has done a show in the Capitol Theater in the last few years has gotten this behind-the-scenes extra work because the crew there wants every show and every client to have the very best that we can deliver.

Most of the people in our local are extremely good at what they do. I think about the rigging we do at every concert in Kohl Center or Alliant Energy Center - putting tens of thousands of pounds of sound and lighting equipment 70 feet over the audience's heads is not something I want to have done by amateurs.

So with all this in mind, when Overture tries to play this "management is underpaid and the production staff is overpaid" crap, I think it is truly gut-wrenchingly disgusting (albeit not unexpected). A closer look at their fee schedule for room rental and equipment rental might be a better indication of why nobody local can afford to do shows in there. $125 per channel for a wireless mic that has long had its initial capital cost covered is pretty friggin' ridiculous....

Conrad St. Clalir
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby kicksville » Tue Sep 14, 2010 4:15 pm

Oh, and for the record, I should say there ARE some people that, although they're "management," have the community's (and by extension, their jobs) best interest in mind. Unfortunately, those folks are not in positions to be able to influence the direction Overture has taken. Some of them have been in their positions since Civic Center days, so they're not the ones who I'm pointing the finger at.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that if we're going to try and build a grass-roots push against privatization, we should be very cognizant of WHO exactly we need to counter.

I'll name names if'n y'all want.... :wink:

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Re: Overture privatization

Postby dhpickell » Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:09 pm

I think one of the problems, Conrad, in terms of the facility being under-utilized by the community, is the fact that ever since the end of the Grand Opening Festival, Overture has taken a "what can you do for us?" stance with the public.

If you can't pay the rent, or associated costs, there's not much they're going to do for you. Someone suggested recently that any city subsidy funds should be used to subsidize costs for community groups that want to use the facility but can't. I find that idea interesting.

Additionally, accessibility to the building itself, and the venues within, just to look at them, or walk through them, has been a problem yet to be solved. I can't count how many times I've seen folks try to enter Overture, in frustration, but encounter locked doors, and insufficient signage to guide them as to which way they might go to best increase their chances of success in gaining entry to the building. This sort of ongoing problem is emblematic of the attitudes that run the place, and the bigger-picture problems that they create.

The community has yet to embrace Overture, because Overture doesn't embrace the community.
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby acereraser » Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:16 pm

Have you spoken to a journalist about this? I mean, I am intrigued and everything, but I don't see how riling up a few moonbats here on TDPF (myself included) is gonna get anything done. I think a public shaming (in a forum larger than TDPF) of those responsible is the only way to get the political momentum necessary to change the tack of the USS Overture. You have taken the first step already, as you are sticking your neck out publicly.
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby kicksville » Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:27 pm

Absolutely, Davin - therein lies the rub. If Overture admin had wanted to each out, they certainly could have. And by and large, they haven't. Even when a group is given a break on costs, it seems like it's always given grudgingly and rarely is enough to make ends meet.

dhpickell wrote:Someone suggested recently that any city subsidy funds should be used to subsidize costs for community groups that want to use the facility but can't. I find that idea interesting.


I hadn't heard that proposition before, but I think it could good answer for part of the problem. Then again, I'm all for public funding of the arts....I know that makes me a commie, but I guess that's in my genes :wink:

The accessibility aspect of the building is something that we as employees suffer through as much as the public. We've been dealing with that since the facility opened, and have yet to see more than a barely whispered acknowledgment of its impact from the top brass.
Last edited by kicksville on Tue Sep 14, 2010 6:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby kicksville » Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:43 pm

acereraser wrote:Have you spoken to a journalist about this?


The IA has, but it hasn't been very effective yet. Part of the public perception problem is the generally negative view of unions, even in liberal ol' Madison. That's why I wanted to try and reach out as a performer, not in my role as an IATSE member.

acereraser wrote:...I am intrigued and everything, but I don't see how riling up a few moonbats here on TDPF (myself included) is gonna get anything done. I think a public shaming...of those responsible is the only way to get the political momentum necessary to change the tack of the USS Overture. You have taken the first step already, as you are sticking your neck out publicly.


I really want to try and reach out to other local musicians, so this might be a better way to get the discussion started than you'd think. But yes, I'll be reaching out to journalists ASAP, or the moonbats and I will end up talking to ourselves :wink: Fortunately for me, sticking my neck out probably won't get it chopped off.... As much as Overture might bitch about labor, I might be one of the lucky few who can't be replaced...yet. I've got not illusions about how quickly that could change though....
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby dhpickell » Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:55 pm

acereraser wrote:Have you spoken to a journalist about this? I think a public shaming (in a forum larger than TDPF) of those responsible is the only way to get the political momentum necessary to change the tack of the USS Overture.


We've been speaking to a few. We've had some media coverage, and expect a bit more in the upcoming weeks.

I think a forum like this is certainly useful, however, in raising the awareness of the community to the continued disrespect and disingenuousness shown by Overture management relative to the public and to their employees.

As an employee, it's interesting to contrast the messages we are sent internally--when Carto sends a group e-mail blast to everyone claiming to "personally" thank each of us for our hard work, with the message they keep feeding to the media, which is that we are the source of their problems.

I presume the irony of "personally" thanking people in a group e-mail blast is unintended. I find it entertaining nevertheless, or perhaps for that very reason.
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby kicksville » Tue Sep 14, 2010 7:26 pm

dhpickell wrote:I think a forum like this is certainly useful, however, in raising the awareness of the community to the continued disrespect and disingenuousness shown by Overture management relative to the public and to their employees.


That's it exactly - it's not just the employees who've been subject to the administration's arrogant behavior, it's the public. So how do we address that? Do we throw the bums out? And how can we develop Overture into something that fulfills its potential to the public, the local music scene, and the people who work there? I like your idea of city subsidies turned towards supporting arts groups who want to perform at Overture instead of giving people who've already blown $104 million free reign with their checkbook - that's a start as far as developing the kinds of ideas we need to present as a counter to the plan the consultants have provided.

"The only way to fight an idea is with a better idea." --John Beecher
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby dhpickell » Tue Sep 14, 2010 9:05 pm

I think one of the things that bothers me the most, today, is thinking about all of the people who donated money to 201 State Foundation, which purports to be the fund-raising arm of Overture.

I remember hearing in just the past few months about a young girl who asked the guests at her birthday party to make donations to Overture in lieu of gifts to her. Overture meant that much to her.

To find out, just recently, that 201 State spent more in the past year on lawyers and consultants than they actually brought in from individual contributors (hundreds of thousands of dollars, mind you), including all of the money received from that child, presumably, really just turns my stomach.

Did the little girl know she was paying their legal bills?
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby kicksville » Mon Sep 20, 2010 9:20 pm

I just wanted to give y'all an update: I spoke to Tony Casteneda on his WORT show last week. The archived interview is at http://archive.wort-fm.org/mp3/wort_100916_080001buzzthu.mp3 The part with us and Tony talking about Overture starts about 40 minutes in.

Also, if anyone wants to see some real fun, come to the Overture Ad Hoc Committee meeting on Thursday....here's the info:

Thursday, September 23, 2010 7:00 p.m.
260, Madison Municipal Building
Topic: Overture Center Staffing Study

Thanks for all your support everyone!

Conrad St. Clair
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby kicksville » Thu Sep 23, 2010 6:05 pm

OK, now that we're only an hour away from the Ad Hoc Committee meeting tonight, I can give y'all a bit more info about the information we're presenting tonight:

When it comes to research and statistical analysis, AMS Planning and Research is a joke. Since the Overture management folks have put all their money on a plan based on recommendations by AMS, they've made themselves an easy target. The goal this evening is to thoroughly discredit AMS (which is so easy a first-year research student could do it). Whether that forces the Ad Hoc Committee to do anything about it or not is a different matter. But, a public outcry against the pathetically slipshod case AMS has built for privatization just might. So please, come to the meeting tonight! I promise it will be entertaining.... :lol:

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Re: Overture privatization

Postby bmasel » Thu Sep 23, 2010 6:34 pm

Only way to save the place is to turn it over to the Ho-Chunk, get them a casino license for the lobby, and include contract provisions ensuring continuing subsidy to the performance spaces.
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Re: Overture privatization

Postby Boyce Johnson » Thu Sep 23, 2010 7:39 pm

If you're not at the meeting, you can watch it live on Madison City Channel (Charter Digital 994, Charter Analog 98, AT&T U-Verse 99) or at http://www.madisoncitychannel.com.
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