Gabrielle Huston is a student of journalism and humanities at Carleton University. She writes primarily about mental health, video games, and human rights. Find her contact information, portfolio, blog, and other links on her website.
In case you missed this news, the Dominion-Chalmers United Church building in Centretown now goes by the name of Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre (CDCC) and is owned and operated by Carleton University. Before the pandemic, dramatic arts and musical groups performed in this heritage church building. Since the lockdown, the staff has added impressive technology that allows groups to live stream or record events, in lieu of in-person performances. Mara Brown, the venue director, spoke to me about the past, present, and future of the CDCC.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Apt613: What was the CDCC like before COVID-19 hit?
Even though the building was acquired in 2018, we didn’t really get full operations going until the spring of 2019. So, really, truly, our first year of operations was from May 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020. That first year was all about getting to know the building, how the students and community groups would and could collide, doing lots of outreach, and making sure that we hosted a community dialogue.
We were, actually, just a couple weeks away from celebrating our first year with a big concert! …but then everything got shut down. So we did it online! We turned to social media instead and tried to highlight the groups that had been embracing the space and sharing our first year with us.
The CDCC shifted to a live streaming and recording setup over the summer of 2020 so that you could continue serving the community. Did any problems arise from adding technology to such an old building?
We ordered live streaming equipment as soon as we could, and waited, and waited, and waited through the backorders! Formal testing finally began in August. There were concerns about implementing technology in the historic heritage site, especially because we can’t affix anything as easily as in other buildings. All the nuances – like the experience of hearing an instrument in a hall versus hearing an instrument through your laptop – must be thought through as we execute each event.
Some of the best feedback we’ve received is that folks really appreciate how intimate the productions are: We can zoom right in on the artists’ facial expressions. In the hall, you’re immersed in the whole experience, but the recordings have given us this new opportunity.
We’re considering this new equipment to be our stepping stone. It has flexibility and creates a quality product today, but can be incorporated into a system later, when we want to ramp things up even further.
How have the artists been feeling? Are they disappointed that they can’t perform live, or happy to be performing at all?
Most folks are missing their audiences. We were briefly able to have small audiences, and they made such a difference. There’s a give-and-take between the artist and the audience which is essential to the performance. Interacting with your audience without actually seeing them has been a whole new learning curve. But, generally? They are just so excited to be performing. They love what they do, and they love to be making fascinating memories for their audiences during these unique times.
We have the opportunity to create these little families and groups full of great spirit and ideas. And I really respect how considerate they’ve all been about the safety precautions and their staff’s comfort level.
We have the opportunity to create these little families and groups full of great spirit and ideas.
So, what health and safety steps has the venue taken in response to the pandemic?
The building is very restricted now, with only one entrance and exit. Masks and distancing are mandated, of course. We have contact tracing as well, and ask the three magical questions about symptoms, travel, and contact with people who have, or could have, COVID-19. Since our lobbies tend to be small, we’ve opened an extra hall as a waiting room. In the actual performance spaces, there’s regular cleaning, seats are roped off, and assigned seating is the norm – even for the artists to keep their equipment in.
We’re all adapting to the new reality right now. What’s on the horizon for the CDCC?
We’ve just created and announced a partnership between the Carleton Music Department and the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra. It’s going to launch in the fall of 2021 and allow students to train and perform alongside the professional musicians at the CDCC. Performing in a beautiful acoustic hall brings a different adrenaline to the work and a different approach to your craft. This transfer of artistic legacy and intergenerational sharing is critical to the history and ongoing sustainability of the arts.
This transfer of artistic legacy and intergenerational sharing is critical to the history and ongoing sustainability of the arts.
When I started at the CDCC, there were so many dreams about what could happen to the building! Ever since January 2020, we’ve been planning with architects to make sure we could implement new ideas for the space without too much waste. It’s so exciting – I can’t wait to have the final package! I want to be able to look to the future, and address accessibility concerns, reopen orphaned rooms, and help the theatre excel as a recording studio. Two groups of Carleton engineering students presented environmental sustainability suggestions for the building, some of which I’m hoping to incorporate in the second phase of planning!
Fostering collaboration is a high priority of mine. Usually, if a group came to me with an idea, and I happened to know another group, a student, or someone else working on a parallel project, I’d introduce the two and see how they could work together! Our new challenge at the CDCC will be how collaborations can happen, even with all the careful planning. We’re going to have a lot of empty space for a while, but that’s okay, because the little efforts everyone is putting in are so valuable.
If you’re interested in booking the venue or learning more about its events, email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the CDCC website.