The Weis Center for the Performing Arts is not merely a lively hub for all arts-related events at the University, but it is recognizable to residents in Central Pennsylvania, as well. For more than 30 years, the Weis Center has brought various artists to the University’s campus in order to inspire artists to share and improve their work, create an awareness of the spiritual powers of art and its ability to promote change and motivate audiences to become active participants in their communities. Aside from leaving inspired and motivated, the Weis Center team hopes audiences will share an experience with those watching the performance alongside them.
The Weis Center program ensures that visiting artists have immersive experiences on campus and develop relationships with the students they meet. During their visits, artists will participate in master classes, discussion groups, lecture demonstrations and pre- and post-performance receptions. These visits stimulate the University and Central Pennsylvanian communities by integrating the arts with our students and local residents.
In addition to hosting the University’s Student Speaker Series and other lecturers, the 1200-seat space hosts a diverse range of polished performers in the areas of music, dance, and theatre— artists, specifically, who will integrate disciplines.
So, what’s the story behind the Weis Center?
In 1982, the estate of Claire Weis, wife of Sigmund Weis of Weis Markets, provided most of the funding for the Performing Arts Center, a donation given in remembrance of Claire’s interest in the performing arts and its curriculum at the University.
The generous funds from the Weis family allowed the Weis Center for Performing Arts to be installed with special features, ranging from sound-reflecting surfaces to a professional sound and lighting system. The architecture of the space resembles a shoebox, a model that mimics that of the Boston Symphony Hall and Vienna’s Musikvereinssaal. The design of the Weis Center also includes a platform lift, an orchestra pit elevator, a glass-encased lobby, and a helix staircase, with all features arranged to provide superior acoustics in the space. Other features of the Weis Center are the rehearsal and dressing rooms, as well as the loading and storage spaces.
The executive director of the Weis Center, Kathryn Maguet, says the venue was even ranked the third Most Amazing University Performing Arts Center a few years ago. As executive director, Maguet helps curate the performing arts series for the Weis Center each season. She visits the Arts Midwest Booking Conference and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals Conference annually in order to begin scheduling upcoming performers at the University. “I try to put together a season that is timely and relevant to our campus—both students and faculty/staff—with a fair amount of variety that allows our audiences to experience the artistry of performing artists across a broad spectrum,” Maguet said. “A strong focus in recent years has been on engaging artists from around the world who share their own unique perspectives and artistic expression. I consider this to be the most important work that we do—building bridges across cultures.”
In addition to ensuring the Weis Center fits the venue specifications for each performance and the schedule works with an artist’s touring availability, Maguet looks especially for performers and artists who will inspire students. “I encourage students to take full advantage of the wealth of cultural opportunities offered at Bucknell including the Film series at the Campus Theater, Stadler Poetry Center, and Samek Museum. These centers curate exceptional programs for the campus and community.”
Upcoming events at the Weis Center for Performing Arts for the Fall 2019 season include:
Jazzmeia Horn – Thursday, Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.
This season prepare for a performance from Grammy Award-nominated jazz vocalist Jazzmeia Horn. As a Thelonious Monk Competition winner in 2015, Horn has solidified her reputation as a mature and confident vocalist.
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque – Thursday, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Jane Bunnett is a Canadian musician, especially known for her performances of Afro-Cuban jazz. Throughout her career, Burnett has held the title of Juno Award winner five times for her new style of jazz—a talent that is in demand in Canada, the United States and Cuba.
Jeremy Denk – Sunday, Sept. 22, 2 p.m.
As a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the Avery Fisher Prize, Denk is a renowned classical pianist. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and routinely performs with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra in Carnegie Hall.
Steel Betty – Friday, Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m.
Living in Austin, Texas, Steel Betty performs with tastes of bluegrass, folk, blues, Tex-Mex, Old-Time music and classic country—a reflection of traditional and rural America. While the trio does utilize roots of bluegrass and folk music, they manage to bring a lively scene of music from Texas to the rest of the country.
The Amazing Max – Wednesday, Oct. 2, 10 a.m.
Get your young ones ready to experience the magic of the Amazing Max. Using elements of magic and comedy, the Amazing Max will be sure to captivate and enchant any audience. Recommended for younger audiences (3 and up).
Kat Edmonson – Thursday, Oct. 17, 7:30 p.m.
Kat Edmonson is a critically acclaimed vocalist, songwriter, actor and dancer who has played at several well-known stages in the United States, Europe and Japan. She is an accomplished jazz vocalist who has released four albums, appeared in major motion pictures and performed on radio and television. Her most recent album is Old Fashioned Gal.
PHILADANCO! – Tuesday, Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m.
PHILADANCO! (or the Philadelphia Dance Company) uses predominantly African-American traditions to introduce innovative and creative dance techniques around the world. In 1970, Joan Myers Brown founded the group, setting the standards of breaking barriers and cultural divides.
Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein – Saturday, Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Manuel Cinema brings forth a nuanced version of the classic gothic and thrilling tale of Frankenstein. The group combines the story of Frankenstein with pieces of Mary Shelley’s biography to create a shadow puppet show that comments on the ideas of love, loss, creation, family, community, education and personhood.
Nobuntu – Tuesday, Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Nobuntu is a female a cappella quintet from Zimbabwe known for its creative performance of songs, ranging from traditional Zimbabwean songs to Afro Jazz to Gospel. The quintet uses minimal percussion, traditional instruments including the Mbira (thumb piano) and pure voices in accompaniment with authentic dance techniques.
While all of these upcoming visits from artists are exciting, let’s not forget about the past success in the Weis Center.
In particular, Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields” is a memorable performance at the Weis Center that took place in 2017. With the intention of having the performance commemorate central Pennsylvania’s coal country, Maguet reached out to the Center for Sustainability & the Environment’s Place Studies Program to work on the production. “The play was a technically-challenging piece for us, but I thought we nailed it,” Maguet said. The final product of “Anthracite Fields” came together thanks to countless hours of rehearsal and the help of 53 singers and the Lycoming Chamber Choir.
This performance, which included Wolfe’s Pulitzer-winning oratorio, allowed University students the opportunity to work with professionals in artistic disciplines. Beth Willer, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities, allowed her students to collaborate on the project. She noted how the opportunity to work with Wolfe and hear Wolfe’s feedback was a once-in-a-lifetime, meaningful experience for her undergraduate students.
Similar to Willer, others, such as Professor of English G.C. Waldrep recognized the value in having their undergraduate programs observe and develop the work of the professionals creating “Anthracite Fields.” He said his students were engaged in the ideas that they could work with pre-existing artwork as a basis to create their own and that they were encouraged to integrate art forms. This is a technique he taught them to combat writer’s or artist’s block.
In the spirit of Claire Weis, the Weis Center for Performing Arts’ team has attempted to integrate art forms both on campus and throughout the local region, doing so through performances like “Anthracite Fields,” which unite disciplines in the arts. Wolfe, Pulitzer Prize winner and composer for “Anthracite Fields,” can attest to that statement. In her experience working on the project, she praised the attention the University offered to the arts and to the challenge of exposing the campus and local communities to the benefits of artistic expression.