In May 2008, Tim Sauers moved to Madison from Chicago to take a new job as director of education and community engagement for Madison’s state-of-the-art Overture Center. What’s the ol’ cowboy quote? “There were a helluva lot of things they didn’t tell me when I hired on with this outfit.” Though he surely did his research, it is doubtful that Sauers quite understood what he was getting into when he locked the back of his U-Haul and headed north.
In 2008, Overture was embroiled in turmoil, public debate, and an uncertain future. The trust fund to support operations and maintenance was liquidated, public perception was teetering, and the governance structure was more complex than this author’s relationship history.
With 13 years of experience as the program director for Chicago’s nationally recognized Urban Art Gateways: Center for Arts Education, Sauers quickly recognized the need to increase access to arts education in Madison. He leapt into community efforts such as the Madison Metropolitan Fine Arts Task Force, where he helped create a plan to increase equity in public-school arts programming. He organized gatherings of area arts education and outreach programmers so they could communicate and collaborate about their offerings. He applied for and received Kennedy Center support to connect Overture’s resident companies with the schools.
Sauers saw another urgent need: to increase public opportunities to experience and enjoy Overture. He created Community Arts Access, a program that helps non-profit organizations present community performances and events with rental and equipment subsidies. Additionally, he hosted many worthy community groups, such as the Out Professional and Executive Network (OPEN), so they could enjoy the elegant spaces of Overture with member and networking events. Access, exposure, and openness to new ideas were hallmarks of Sauer’s early impact on Overture and our community.
But three years ago, Sauers took his already fabulous outreach efforts to a new height with the development of the Tommy Awards. One might argue that a BA in communication and theater arts, a master’s in theater direction, and a degree in interdisciplinary arts, combined with 11 years as a freelance theater critic, naturally led to Sauers getting his drama on by creating the Tommys.
The Tommy Awards showcase excellence in high school musical theater from 44 schools in 35 communities within a 75-mile radius of Overture Center. Though the primary benefits of the Tommy Awards are to encourage and recognize student excellence in musical theater productions, the program also underscores the importance of theater and dance education in high schools. The Tommys have been credited with everything from “discovering” the unbelievable talent of Wisconsin youth—Glee-style—to saving high school musical programs.
During the great Overture debates of 2011, Tim took on more for the institution. And then he took on more. And then even more. He picked up the extra work of marketing Overture. He simply let go of the fantasy of free time and the potential social life it offered, and friends became accustomed to hearing his daily rebuff of, “We have an event.” And “I can’t, I have to go see Urinetown in Oconomowoc” or “Oh, goodness no, Phantom is in Janesville tomorrow night.”
The Face of Musical Theater
Laurie Fellenz, the fine arts teacher coordinator at the Madison Metropolitan School District, says Sauers is not only “the face of the Tommy Awards,” but also, more importantly, he is becoming the face of musical theater. She continues, “The compiled reviewer critique that Mr. Sauers provides to each and every school reflects his high-caliber knowledge of theater, adolescent performers, and director/educators. It is the goal in every critique to celebrate the successes and to offer constructive feedback with useful suggestions in areas of growth. Mr. Sauers works tirelessly to assure that each critique is specific to each school and the unique aspects of their school theater program.”
Vice President of Programming and Community Engagement
Sauers was recently hired as Overture’s new vice president of programming and community engagement. The gears are undoubtedly turning already, as he looks to create new programming that will reach an even broader spectrum of our community. And now that he has only one job, albeit it a big one, Madison’s most eligible arts bachelor might even be able to squeeze in a date or two.