Overture provides enriching experiences one doesn’t get on a typical day

Darrin Johnson smiling

“There’s something about the chemistry of the people on stage that is different than in a movie”


When asked what he missed most about Overture Center during our 18-month, COVID-19-instigated closure, Overture patron Darin Johnson said, “The opportunities to step away from my day-to-day life and experience life outside my norm.”

Johnson started attending shows at Overture shortly after moving to Madison for a job at CUNA Mutual Group, where he has now worked for nearly 22 years. He enjoys a variety of shows but admits he wouldn’t have known the full spectrum of programs if not for volunteering at Overture.

“Being a volunteer usher afforded me the opportunity to see shows that I may not have previously had an interest in, but once I was exposed to them, they opened my eyes to the enjoyment they could bring, whether through shared laughter or conversations after the show,” he said.

Johnson learned about Overture’s free and low-cost Education & Engagement programming, such as Kids in the Rotunda, Disney Musicals in Schools and OnStage Student Field Trips. He assisted at special events, including the UW-Madison college freshmen orientations. He browsed the art exhibitions in the four galleries. He attended the Madison Symphony Orchestra organ concerts.

“I don’t believe people realize the variety of shows and events that go on at Overture,” he said

In an average pre-pandemic year, Overture hosts more than 400 events―from weddings and business conferences, to artist talks and group tours, to Broadway tours and local artist performances.

A few of Johnson’s favorite programs include Duck Soup Cinema, a silent film series with local vaudeville-style acts, and National Geographic Live, featuring real-life National Geographic explorers, photographers, scientists and filmmakers. He has also seen Wicked four times and loved each one of the performances.

“I’ve experienced about every type of show at Overture and find them all impressive,” he said.

The last performance Johnson saw at Overture was Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live in the 2019/20 season. He attended with a coworker, a fellow Mystery Science Theater fan who had never been to Overture Center. He showed his friend the best route to Overture, where to park and where to go within the facility.

Johnson said going to Overture gives him a reason to visit and learn about downtown Madison, and he likes to share the experience with others.

“I usually attend shows with my girlfriend or friends, and we make a night out of it by coming downtown early and eating at a restaurant on State Street,” he said. “Madison has a great downtown. It’s a lot of fun, and the performance at Overture is always the capstone of the evening.”

Additional job responsibilities now fill Johnson’s days, and he no longer has time to volunteer at Overture, but someday he hopes to rejoin the team.

“I really loved it, and I look forward to coming back again when I retire,” he said. “Overture staff were awesome and helpful, and the patrons were respectful.”

This season, Johnson is interested in seeing Tape Face and, of course, Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: Time Bubble Tour. He’s been perusing the Broadway lineup, too, and may attend a show or two.

He says life gets busy, but it’s important to take the time to experience live performances.

“There’s something about the chemistry of the people on stage that is different than in a movie,” he said. “A movie is entertaining, but you forget it when you leave, whereas a live performance spurs ideas and discussions.”

If you haven’t been to Overture yet this season, Johnson encourages you to plan a night out with a friend.

“Overture gives you a chance to experience things you don’t normally see in your everyday life,” he said. “Watching a show at Overture is special. People should go to Overture more often.”


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