Pablo Center at the Confluence’s 2019-20 season features performers who have earned international acclaim as well as those who are revered locally.
In fact, some of those stars who perform across the U.S. and the world have roots in west-central Wisconsin. Consider:
• “Come Through,” a collaboration between the Twin Cities’ TU Dance troupe and indie band Bon Iver, will mark Eau Claire native Justin Vernon’s first high-profile performance in Pablo Center’s RCU Theatre. The production can be seen Nov. 22 through 24.
• Chris Kroeze, the Barron resident and runner-up on NBC’s “The Voice,” will follow up his sold-out, three-night stand earlier this year at the center with shows Dec. 20 and 21.
• Ben Seidman, who combines stand-up comedy, sleight-of-hand and psychological illusion, has appeared in a Netflix original production, on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” and in two Travel Channel specials — and he’s a UW-Eau Claire graduate. The Los Angeles resident will return to town April 10.
Those are just three of the dozens of performances in the new season, announced Friday, that will allow Pablo Center to build on some impressive numbers registered in its debut: 80,000 unique guests, more than 238 performances and 1,100-plus members.
Brenna St. George Jones, Pablo Center director of artistic programming, explained how the new slate expands on year one.
“The first season for us was about proving that this place was possible,” she said, noting the process that culminated in last year’s opening downtown where the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers meet. “We spent 10 years on dreaming, six years on the planning, three years on the building.”
Thus, they were pleased to see the facility was ready for its close-up; that audience members from the region and Chippewa Valley enjoyed the regional, national and international talent; and the local creative economy got an added jolt.
That success, St. George Jones said, led to the following goal for the next act: “We want to prove that the possibilities are endless.”
Music, magic and more
The season offerings include the following series: Broadway; comedy and magic; dance; early music; family; film; jazz; an eclectic subset of music under the heading New Classics; and literary.
St. George Jones highlighted some of the performances on the calendar.
• Cirque Mechanics’ “42Ft — A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels,” Sept. 26, RCU Theatre.
For the season-opening spectacle, Pablo Center is bringing in a company that will be, St. George Jones said, “literally building a circus ring onstage. And it’s going to be a circus but with a little bit of a steampunky twist.” It will include a trapeze and strongmen, and, she added, “it has a little bit of the Cirque du Soleil feel to it.”
• “STOMP,” March 20-21, RCU Theatre.
Theater fans from the region often ask St. George Jones when Pablo Center will play host to a Broadway production. Initially that was planned for a few years down the road, but this explosively rhythmic percussion production is making the trip this year.
St. George Jones calls it “just a sensational, spectacular show — and the kind of show you would have had to drive to go see before Pablo.”
• Orlando Consort: “Food, Wine and Song,” Feb. 6, Jamf Theatre.
The early music vocal ensemble from London will turn the Jamf into a banquet hall for a production that features a menu taken from medieval feasts, wine and songs that would have been sung at such events, some of which are sacred and other that aren’t.
“They get increasingly a little bawdy as the banquet goes on,” St. George Jones said.
• “Call of the Wild,” Feb. 8, Jamf Theatre.
Part of the family series, this is a one-man adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel in which the performer is surrounded by a 180-degree video screen.
“I know that’s in Alaska, but that culture has such a strong tie to Wisconsin and the northwoods,” St. George Jones said.
• “Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis Big Band Holiday Tour,” Dec. 11, RCU Theatre.
“I was working at Lincoln Center when Jazz at Lincoln Center was in its infancy,” St. George Jones said, “and so much of the mandate about it was so generous. Because teaching is a huge part of what they do, and outreach.”
• Several concerts by stars of varied popular music genres in the RCU Theatre: Lyle Lovett, Oct. 15; Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, Oct. 21; John Hiatt, Oct. 24; and Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Feb. 7.
St. George Jones recalls getting a sense of the massive popularity Anastasio’s regular band commands when they played concerts at the former Loring Air Force Base in northeastern Maine, the state she’s from.
“For that weekend it was the biggest city in Maine,” she said.
• Ballet Hispanico, Oct. 5, RCU Theatre.
The company deserves the overused critical plaudit “world renowned.”
“In their lifetime they’ve been seen by over 2 million people around the globe,” St. George Jones said. “They combine ballet with flamenco and modern; it’s just sexy, and the technique is amazing.”
• “Home Within: Kinan Azmeh and Kevork Mourad,” Feb. 19, Jamf Theatre.
The collaboration features Azmeh, a Syrian composer and clarinetist, playing a haunting score while Mourad, a Syrian-Armenian visual artist, creates charcoal and watercolor drawings onstage.
The performance reflects the Syrian revolution and its aftermath, particularly the mass displacement of the population.
“It’s heartbreaking but so beautiful,” St. George Jones said of the piece. “It’s just aching.”
For Kroeze’s December dates, the singer-guitarist is doing a performance along the lines of a “hometown holiday” show.
“They called and said, ‘Could we do it at Pablo?’” St. George Jones said. “And it was like, Yeah! You guys were so fun!”
The TU Dance-Bon Iver production represents what St. George Jones sees as one of Vernon’s standout qualities.
“The thing that I admire about Justin and about Bon Iver is their willingness to push their boundaries a little bit,” she said. “So the fact they’re willing to put themselves out there like this … This is apparently a really collaborative work between Bon Iver and TU Dance. Bon Iver is onstage while it’s being done; you can see them performing.”
This performance, St. George Jones said, helps answer the oft-asked question around town: When is Vernon going to appear at the city’s marquee performance space?
“When it’s the right project,” she said. “When it’s the right thing. Justin and that world were very much a part of why this building was possible. But we need to be able to stand on our own, and when he has a project that he wants to bring here like this, then that’s the right moment.”
St. George Jones notes that, in addition to the newly announced season, Pablo Center’s year also features the region’s constituent groups — talented musicians, theater troupes, authors and other creators. Many of the out-of-town productions that rent space for regular if not annual appearances also will be back again, she said.
In describing the spectrum of arts that the 2019-20 season embraces — certainly no easy feat — she provided the following summation:
“There is some stuff that pushes and some stuff that is meant to be emotional and is meant to challenge — to challenge me, to challenge the artist, to challenge the audience,” she said. “And then you balance that with stuff that is just supposed to make you happy.”