Fabulous People: Michael Conway

Michael Conway is the newly appointed COO of Madison-based Overture Center for the Arts. Overture Center is home to seven state-of-the-art performance spaces and four galleries where nearly 700,000 educational and artistic experiences take place each year. Learn about Michael Conway…

Hometown: I lived in Chicago for most of my life. I recently moved to Madison from Indianapolis.

First job: I took a summer job de-tasseling corn when I was 14 while staying with my grandmother in Indiana one summer. Incidentally, it might be one of my worst jobs as well: brutal temps, soaked with dew in the morning and slowly baking through the afternoon, not to mention that corn leaves are sharp, so I had to wear jeans and a long-sleeve shirt to avoid getting a thousand little “papercuts.” Even though the job was tough, it gave me a newfound respect for farming and farmers.

Favorite ways to spend your free time in WI: My wife and I love to hike and explore. We enjoy getting in the car and driving, stopping someplace interesting and getting out to walk around. So far, we’ve enjoyed visiting Baraboo, Stoughton and Devil’s Lake. We just got our 2023 Wisconsin State Parks pass, and we can’t wait for the weather to warm up so we can do more hiking.

Your biggest accomplishment and why: Professionally, my biggest accomplishment is being part of the leadership team here at the Overture Center. It’s exciting to work at a world-class arts center with an amazingly supportive community. The center is home to almost every major performing arts organization in the greater Madison area. We house the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Ballet, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Opera. We also have residencies with Forward Theater Company, Kanopy Dance Company, Li Chiao-Ping Dance, Children’s Theater of Madison and the James Watrous Gallery. Overture also offers numerous educational and programming components, including Kids in the Rotunda, the Jerry Awards, International Festival, the Lullaby Project and Overture Galleries. This is truly an amazing facility, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

The biggest obstacle you overcame: I worked at The Second City for over 15 years. In 2015, a restaurant on the first floor of our complex caught fire and spread throughout the building. Some of our administration offices (including mine) were destroyed, and the rest of the facility suffered major smoke and water damage. Along with the help of an incredible team, we were able to get our performance spaces up and running in a little over three weeks. Our first performance was for the firefighters who save the building from burning to the ground.

Someone who inspires you and why: There are a lot of inspirational people out there, so it’s hard for me to narrow it down to just one person. I’d have to say that my wife, Dorothy, is the biggest inspiration in my life. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now without her constant support and encouragement. We’re opposites in many ways, and she often challenges me to look at things from another viewpoint. I’m a better person because of her influence.

Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: Start working as a stage manager or assistant stage manager. This is a great way to start to see how the business and artistic sides work together. Be on time. Don’t turn down opportunities to develop. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Let your supervisor know you’re interested in advancing. Never burn a bridge when moving up. As corny as it may sound, always follow the “Golden Rule.”

Favorite quote: “If you have the choice between being right and being kind, choose being kind.”

Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: I think people would be surprised to learn that I used make a living as a make-up artist. I worked for several theaters and photographers in Chicago. I even got the chance to create make-up prosthetics for a medical device company.

What makes someone fabulous: I think persevering makes someone fabulous. We all have our unique challenges in life and the only real choices we have is in how we react. Seeing a person go through adversity and coming out on the other side is a fabulous thing to witness.

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