Sarah Marty on the State of Community Theatre in Madison

–submitted by Mary Borland; photo by Mike Engelberger

Sarah MartySarah Marty, the Director of Arts programs at UW-Madison Continuing Studies, spoke to Rotarians about the vibrant arts program in the Madison and surrounding areas and the challenges they are facing. Sarah opened her remarks by sharing the lyrics to “No Business Like Show Business” and stating there is “no people like show people.”  She proceeded to demonstrate how this is true by sharing information about the vibrant arts programs in Madison.  Community theatre is made by, with and for the community and deploys local talent onstage and backstage and is responsive to the community in which it exists. Did you know:

  • There are over 35 art companies in the area
  • Madison is punching way above its weight in the arts and is 48th in the nation in spending $0.14/capita compared to our neighbors in Minnesota who spend $6.26/capita on the arts
  • Many local talents have gone on to national careers in the arts and some of them have come home to Madison to share and grow the next round of talent
  • Changing economic realities create challenges as companies in the area compete for limited resources, talent, volunteers, etc.
  • Change is required to be a sustainable arts program
    • Local companies are talking and planning with one another to help create many opportunities for many people to participate
  • Ticket sales now have to accommodate for 60% of funding with another 20% coming from foundations and another 20% coming from individual and business donations.
  • Examples of ways the local community arts programs are adapting include:
    • Joint auditions are happening across the community to cast two shows at once
    • Similar sets are shared between shows when feasible
    • Shared box offices
    • Shared rehearsal spaces
    • Shared pool of carpenters

Sarah closed stating there are 3 Big Questions each arts company needs to be asking themselves:

  1. Who are we?
  2. What do we do?
  3. Why do we matter?

The art companies need the community’s help with these questions and finding new ways to work together and truly move to an “ours vs mine” approach. She left us with noting that we should support the arts because they are important to peoples’ lives – the arts affect our spirits, our hearts and connect us to our fellow human beings.

For more on Sarah’s background, visit

CLICK to watch the video of Sarah Marty’s presentation.

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