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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 11.0° F  Fair
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Stoughton Opera House booker Christina Dollhausen makes herself part of the show
Spotlight stealer
Dollhausen welcomes touring acts with musical intros.
Dollhausen welcomes touring acts with musical intros.
Credit:Christopher Gruhl

Stoughton Opera House boasts many traditions: historic preservation, intimate musical performances, and seats so hard that elderly patrons know to bring cushions. Plus, the venue's booker, Christina Dollhausen, has created a new tradition over the past year: introducing performers with short songs of her own.

Dollhausen, the only person who works on Opera House matters full time, has been a singer-songwriter for as long as she can remember. She began giving musical introductions to Opera House shows in February 2012, when Wisconsin native Jeffrey Foucault played the venue.

"I have always done [spoken] introductions for the shows," Dollhausen says. "I'd get out there, and I'd try to do these words of wisdom, and they never really came out. I always feel more comfortable onstage if I have an instrument in my hand, and that's how it all started."

The songs are usually a surprise to the audience and Dollhausen's bosses, who work for the city of Stoughton. (The latter have gently informed her that they can't pay her extra for doing musical introductions.)

Many of the tunes are written on the fly, which makes them seem spontaneous when they hit the stage.

"Sometimes I write them, seriously, like a minute prior to walking out onstage," Dollhausen admits.

Rather than ham it up, Dollhausen generally keeps things short and playful, coming off as slightly shy. Other times, she's silly and whimsical.

"Last year, for Dan Hicks, I did the mouth trumpet," she says.

The performers are also surprised to see Dollhausen show up with a guitar, but they are usually receptive.

"Jorma Kaukonen actually bowed," she says of the Hot Tuna guitarist, who played the Opera House last fall.

When Aimee Mann and Ted Leo visited the venue in November, Dollhausen offered a short adaptation of Pure Prairie League's "Amie." As in the original song's chorus, Dollhausen asked, "Aimee Mann, what you gonna do?" in her version.

"[Then Leo] walked out there [for his opening set] and said, 'I guess you can't really compete with Pure Prairie League,' or something like that," Dollhausen says.

Sometimes, though, she finds that "a little, tiny folk song" won't do. When Dollhausen struggled to create an introduction to South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo's latest Opera House show, she brought out her 5-year-old son. She expected him to "totally clam up," but instead he cheerfully reminded the audience: "Do not throw anything off the balcony because it can hit people on their heads.'"

Wise advice indeed.

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