Volunteers miss creating extraordinary experiences for guests

Steve and Sue Smithson mimic the Hamilton pose in front of the Hamilton key art

“It’s addicting to be a part of the extraordinary experience, to share in positive interactions and to see people expressing their sheer joy and satisfaction”


Life-long Madisonians Steve and Sue Smithson last volunteered at Overture Center one year ago—in December 2019—during the three-week run of HAMILTON in Overture Hall. After then wintering in Florida, the Smithsons returned to Madison this spring to find Overture Center closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We really miss Overture,” said Steve and Sue, who have volunteered at Overture Center for more than 15 years. Some months, they volunteer a couple of times; other months, they volunteer over a dozen times, depending on the need and their schedules.

When the Smithsons retired years ago, they explored a lot of volunteer opportunities.

“Working and living in the city our whole life, we wanted to give back to the community,” said Steve. “We talked with friends who suggested volunteering at Overture Center.”

Intrigued by the arts and how they make a community vibrant, the Smithsons decided to give Overture a try.

“Since neither of us has a creative mindset, and we’d never actually participated in the arts, we were surprised by how quickly we fell in love with Overture,” said Sue. “Overture opened up new interests for us.”

Volunteering enabled them to attend different programs they wouldn’t normally go to. They found it eye-opening to see all the various kinds of shows—from Broadway to Kids in the Rotunda.

“A great personal benefit to volunteering here has been the exposure to new ideas and diverse thoughts, new ways to think,” said Steve.

The Smithsons have held many volunteer roles, including ushering, attending coat check, monitoring exits, greeting patrons and directing students and bus drivers for OnStage field trip performances. They’ve provided a helping hand at International Festivals, corporate conferences, bridal expos and holiday art shows.

“Helping to load in and load out for art fairs is a huge amount of work, but one of our favorites because we get to interact with the artists and see their pride in their work,” said Steve. “Plus, the vendors say they are treated the best at Overture, and they are appreciative at how well the events are coordinated. It’s extremely positive to hear such comments.”

Both Steve and Sue love conversing with artists and patrons and making them feel welcome. They tend to gravitate toward volunteer opportunities that allow them to do this, such as roles in the lobby where people gather.

“Whether they’re little kiddoes coming to Overture to see a family member perform or someone who has traveled three hours to get here for a Broadway show or a first-time guest or performer, I love seeing the wide-eyed awe on people’s faces when they walk into Overture,” said Sue. “They’re just so excited to be here.”

The Smithsons noted that Overture’s staff go above and beyond to train volunteers and make them feel welcome and appreciated.

“Overture’s staff is an amazing group of people to work with, and they are committed to making a positive, special experience for all patrons. They anticipate and serve every need. It’s special to be a part of that,” said Steve.

The couple has created many memories at Overture Center over the years.

“We’ve had so many good times,” said Sue. “It’s been really rewarding.”

Steve agrees.

“It’s addicting to be a part of the extraordinary experience, to share in positive interactions and to see people expressing their sheer joy and satisfaction,” he said.

The couple loves “being a part of something together” at Overture and find it difficult to be patient as they wait for that to happen again. They believe in Overture and all it brings to this community.

“Overture impacts all parts of the community and population—emotionally, socially, economically, educationally,” said Steve. “The arts are the foundation for the humanity, ideas and creativity of a community. Until Overture reopens, the community feels stagnant. Overture is the cornerstone of Madison’s art community, and it’s needed to help heal the community, to bring people back downtown and to create unity within our community.”

They agree it’s important for Overture’s work to continue.

“The arts help to strengthen a community by sharing diverse thoughts and ideas and providing a place for expression, opportunities and exposure,” said Steve and Sue. “And we want to help make that happen.”

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