The stage is set for the inaugural season of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, leaving its director of artistic programming a little space to breathe.
The celebration will kick off Saturday, Sept. 22, with a community celebration from noon to 5:30 p.m. that will showcase local talent in the afternoon followed by a ticketed evening event featuring the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra and a puppet-and-dance masterpiece called “Firebird.”
“When the curtain comes up, you’ll see the best of what the area has to offer and something new we brought in from the outside,” Brenna St. George Jones, the face behind the programming, said. “Plus, it’s going to be really pretty, and it’s going to show off the room.”
The 2018-19 Pablo Center season brochure was officially released today and features a diverse range of 20 performances, plus productions by local constituents such as the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild, UW-Eau Claire’s theater department and others.
Since she was hired in February and moved into town from New York City, where she recently opened a new arts center with Columbia University, St. George Jones has been busy.
The Pablo Center’s opening celebration will include local choirs, instrumentals, dance groups and musicians, but she said they are still solidifying the lineup. There also will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and food trucks. It was originally planned in the new Haymarket Plaza, but because construction on the plaza won’t yet be completed, St. George Jones expects much of the celebration to take place inside. With full glass panes, though, she said it should still feel like the outdoors — without having to worry about the weather.
Attendees will be able to explore the building and the two galleries, which will be open to the public for the first time, all for free — something St. George Jones said was important to her.
“It was really important to us that the first people into the building be the people of Eau Claire and that everyone be able to access it,” she said.
The evening performance, “Cabinet of Curiosities,” will be a ticketed event in the 1,229-seat RCU Theatre. The first half will include the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra as well as a new piece of music by UW-Eau Claire’s resident composer Chiayu Hsu titled “Terene.”
The second half of the program will be “Firebird,” which St. George Jones said will feature the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra and 10 puppeteers telling the story of Prince Ivan, the magical firebird, and the struggle between good and evil.
Tickets for “Rare Treasures” and the rest of the inaugural season will go on sale when the website, pablocenter.org, goes live at 10 a.m. Aug. 23, said Elaine Coughlin, the center’s marketing and business development manager. The Pablo Center’s box office will open the night of the opening celebration Sept. 22, but she encourages everyone to use the website.
“It might be a little bit of a challenge for some people, but that’s the way we’re pushing is we really want online sales,” she said. “We will be able to do tickets from the phone and box office after the opening.”
The season is divided into series, such as country, dance, family, jazz, film, literary and others.
Some of the season’s highlights, in St. George Jones’ opinion? An all-male pointe ballet group, “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo,” on April 17; Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure (March 8) — a follow-up to Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live that appeared previously at The State Theatre; A Japanese taiko (traditional Japanese drum) group called Kodo Taiko (Feb. 23); country artists Tony Jackson (Oct. 26) and the all-female group Farewell Angelina on April 19 (who performed at this year’s Country Jam USA); and jazz pianist Aaron Diehl (April 11).
The dance companies will show off the space of the RCU Theatre, St. George Jones said, while more intimate performances in the 404-seat Jamf Theatre by groups such as the modern classical group Brooklyn Rider (April 10) will allow audiences to feel one with the performers.
Local group Torch Sisters is also getting its own evening performance on March 22.
“Everybody sees them as a side dish, but I think they are remarkable,” she said. “Because they’re in the Jamf, we will be able to fully rig the room and have them do their aerials and loops.”
New acts, old favorites
There also will be favorites such as the community theater shows and what are called “rentals” in the Pablo’s brochure. St. George Jones said that’s to assure people that some cover bands and companies that were featured regularly at The State Theatre have also signed on to The Pablo — there just wasn’t room for everything in the brochure.
“I think it’s entirely possible for tradition and innovation to exist side by side,” she said. “We’re going to provide the innovation and leave room for the tradition.”
The Pablo’s “Set List” is an ever-changing list of musicians who will be featured, including previously released names Phil Cook, Ray LaMontagne and Tallest Man on Earth. St. George Jones said there are other bands lined up that didn’t want to announce this early, and there is always room for more to be added.
“It looks a little expected right now, but the variety of artists I think is going to be really exciting,” she said. “This is a living thing, so check back throughout the year.”
There’s a lot to see, and a lot of different types of entertainment, something St. George Jones said she was intentional about.
“It’s the variation and the diversity, not just of the performers but the programming itself, that I’m proud of,” she said. “I wanted it to be worthy of the effort and the enthusiasm and the hard work, the leap of faith, that went into this building. It’s a good blend of what people expect and what they never would have seen coming.”
Some of it not even she could see coming. St. George Jones was hired in February, which might as well have been yesterday when it comes to booking acts. She said finding acts who still had the season open, plus fitting them into scheduling with UW-Eau Claire’s theater department, CVTG, ECCT and others was a bit of a challenge.
Add in the fact that the building wasn’t even finished when she was booking and the website didn’t yet exist, and St. George Jones had to do some convincing. While there were some groups they wanted but couldn’t get, she said overall she’s happy with the season and the amount of faith people put into them.
“There were things we really wanted that just didn’t fit into the schedule, but we’re looking at next season,” she said. “What was interesting, though, is when they heard more about the building, a lot of these places were on board.”
Still, she said she looks “forward to having a little more time to book 2019-2020,” which she is already in conversations about. Some of her goals for the next season include expanding on what people respond well to this year and utilizing the outdoors more.
The best part, though, is the room for possibility, which she said there is plenty of with the RCU and Jamf theaters.
“There’s no limit to what these two rooms can do physically,” St. George Jones said. “They can support almost anything, and that’s such a blessing.”
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