Sarah Marty (’05), the producing artistic director for the Four Seasons Theatre, and Heather Good (‘05), the assistant director for development and outreach for the Wisconsin Union Theater, have teamed up to present Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me, Kate, which opens the historic theater’s 75th season on Friday and honors the memory of Fan Taylor, one of the founders of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration.
A trailblazer for female leaders in arts administration, Taylor was named director of the Wisconsin Union Theater in 1946; cofounded the Association of College, University, and Community Arts Administrators, becoming its executive director in 1956; and held leadership positions at the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., returning to Madison in 1969 to help create the first graduate program in arts administration in the nation at the Wisconsin School of Business.
Bolz Center alumnae Marty and Good took time to reflect on the historical significance of their upcoming production, which opens August 22 at the Wisconsin Union Theater, as well as their experiences as UW students, community members, and theater professionals.
Q: Sarah, I understand that you built your current business, the Four Seasons Theatre company, from your master’s thesis?
SM: In the Bolz Center degree program, we had to complete a 75-100-page master’s thesis, and mine was the business plan to start Four Seasons. We did our first show, a co-production with the Middleton Players Theater, in 2005. All of that planning I did in the year of writing the thesis got us our 501(c) status, and helped us launch the company and develop a marketing plan to do that first production right after graduation.
Q: Right now on campus there are a lot of entrepreneurship resources for students who are trying to launch businesses. Were those resources around in 2005?
SM: Being in the arts is being an entrepreneur, whether you’re a producer, a visual artist, a dancer, or a musician. Part of what we learned at the Wisconsin School of Business and in the Bolz Center was, as an artist, how do you take the business skills that you’re learning in your financial, management, leadership, and marketing classes and apply them to, in my case, the non-profit sector?
Q: Can you talk about Fan Taylor as a source of inspiration and an influence in the current show?
HG: We consider Fan the founding director of the Wisconsin Union Theater. The Theater was founded in 1939, and she was working on opening night. It is really her vision that we’re still carrying out in the Theater today, and that vision has a few key components. One is that she worked so closely with students and incorporated student learning into everything that happened at the Union Theater. I think it’s easy to take that for granted, but it’s really an extraordinary thing. That’s something that’s really unique here, and it’s something that we live and breathe every day. That is a very enduring legacy of hers.
SM: She’s definitely an amazing role model. She was the source of many firsts. She was one of the first women in the country to head a major presenting organization, the director of the Wisconsin Union Theater. She was a director for more than 20 years. She was one of the founders of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), which is a national organization that’s still going strong. She was a leader in developing the arts administration program in the business school. If there was a glass ceiling in arts administration, she punched right through it, and the work that she did is providing opportunities for women in leadership positions today.
Q: In some ways, Kiss Me, Kate, which is based on The Taming of the Shrew, seems to be a very intentional choice for this season’s opening show.
SM: The Wisconsin Union Theater opened in October of 1939 with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne's production of The Taming of the Shrew. We’re reopening the theater and celebrating both our 10th anniversary season and the Union Theater's 75th anniversary season with an homage to the past by doing Kiss Me, Kate, which is the Cole Porter reimagining of the play.
Q: When you think about all of the skills that have brought you to this point and everything you’ve learned at the Bolz Center, is there anything about UW-Madison and the Wisconsin School of Business in particular that has allowed for the creation of these experiences?
SM: When you’re on campus, you’re part of a bigger community. One of the things valued in the Bolz Center is the collaboration and partnership in all of our internships in college. In Kiss Me, Kate, for instance, Four Seasons is collaborating with the Union Theater. We have a partnership with the UW-Madison University Theatre Department of Theatre and Drama to create, build, and paint the set. We have theater professionals working with the students and mentoring them. We’re working with Ten Chimneys, which is bringing materials from the original production to opening night. We’ll have posters, props, programs, and costumes in the lobby to tie together history.
HG: The strong alumni network at UW-Madison was one of the things that drew me to the program. There’s just something special about being a Badger. People really look to each other, and there’s a really strong bond. As a student, I felt like there was a whole network of people looking out for me, helping me find good work and good thesis topics, and helping me get a job. I feel a strong drive to do the same for the students that I work with. I want to make sure that they’re getting real experiences, meeting good people, getting out in the world, and collaborating. I am so grateful for and proud of our alumni support and glad to continue to be a part of it.
Q: Do you have any advice for young women who want to work in arts administration?
SM: The thing that was really helpful to me was trying to make sure that I worked behind the scenes in every department. I tried to learn something about all of the different jobs so I had a better understanding of what people were bringing to the table. Being more well-rounded as a theater professional made me a better production manager, because then when we had to address any difficulties that we hadn’t anticipated, I’d already built relationships and had currency with each person that I was able to draw from when there was a problem to solve.
HG: One of the things about Fan that I marvel at, in addition to all of the amazing leadership that she showed, is that she also raised children. I’m raising a daughter, too. Balancing work with parenthood is formidable. I definitely have moments where I feel like if Fan could do it, I can do it. I don’t know what advice there is in that, except for you can do it. Fan did it, I’m doing it, so it can be done.