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View of the NAC from Elgin St. All photos by Terry Steeves.

NAC transforms into the Capital’s glittering jewel

By Terry Steeves on October 11, 2016


Canada’s beloved national showcase for the performing arts, the National Arts Centre, is undergoing both an internal and external transformation, the first largest redevelopment of the building in its almost 50-year existence.

Inside Southam Hall, which is now open. Note the two new center aisles!

Inside Southam Hall, which is now open. Note the two new center aisles!

Along with acoustical and physical improvements and changes to the inside concert spaces, the square footage of the building itself will increase to include a massive, glass-encased addition on the north face.

When all is complete, the new and improved NAC will be unveiled as an enormous and fitting gift in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1, 2017. NAC’s Director of Communications, Rosemary Thompson, elaborates on the exciting changes yet to come:

“There is a large terrace on the north side that faces the park, the Chateau Laurier, the canal, the parliamentary precinct. It’s a beautiful view, and now you’re going to be able to see it from inside this open and transparent space, encased in two storeys of glass. Besides performance spaces, there will be meeting spaces and hangout spaces. We’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from the Halifax Library, which is a place that’s decided to become more of a community center. We want people to come in and be able to access free wi-fi, get a coffee, or just hang out, study, take a class at noon, come in with your kids for storytime in the morning, and then have lunch, etc. It’s going to be a very lovely, open, and welcoming space downtown.”

The combination of a performing arts theatre meets the community center idea stems from European influence, and also from places like the Lincoln Center in New York, whose redevelopment aimed to bring the public inside. Thompson went on to explain how architectural and cultural changes in various performing arts centers are evolving from places that were once seen apart from the city as temples of culture, to embracing the city, bringing people inside, and making it accessible to everyone.

Much has already been completed internally, with the re-opening of Southam Hall on Oct. 2nd, as well as the Studio and Theatre concert halls in full operation, in perfect timing with the new 2016/2017 season of NAC Presents. Fourth Stage has been demolished, and is being rebuilt as part of the extensive renovations to the north side of the building. Rehearsal hall space in the back stage area of the NAC has been converted into a temporary replacement for Fourth Stage shows, which has already been the site of concerts during Ottawa Jazzfest earlier this year. Aptly named, “Back Stage”, the area re-opens its doors on Fri., Oct. 21, and will feature Montreal singer/songwriter Jason Bajada.

Foyer area outside of Southam Hall.

Foyer area outside of Southam Hall.

“We’ve improved the design by putting in a cross aisle and two center aisles in Southam Hall, to improve seat accessibility and mobility. Our backstage rehearsal halls have been turned into Fourth Stage-styled programming temporary venues… cabaret-type seating for 100-150 people for smaller-sized concerts. So people will be able to go into the normally unseen backstage portion of the NAC to watch concerts this year. Having this temporary space has allowed us to accommodate almost all the shows.”

Another change to the NAC has been the recent addition of Heather Gibson, who began her new post as NAC Presents Producer on Sept. 20th. Her credentials include being the award-winning Executive Director of the Halifax Jazz Festival, and Founder and Artistic Producer of the “In the Dead of Winter” Music Festival.

The NAC’s renowned dining lounge, Le Café, is currently open for business, but will also be closing for renovations in Jan. 2017. The NAC’s Satellite Box Office, located across the street at Elgin and Queen, is taking care of all your ticketing needs during renovations.

Thompson gives a final reflection on all the excitement:

“So it will be the big present on Canada Day 2017 downtown in the native building and it will be gorgeous. What a change to Confederation Square this will be, with the NAC this glittering jewel on the corner. We also got approval to project imagery of the performing arts on our new entry lantern. So you will now see digital imagery of artists and things that are happening, not only at the NAC, but across the country, because we want to promote the performing arts everywhere.”

The NAC is the only bilingual, multidisciplinary peforming arts centre in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. It’s been the home for Canada’s most creative artists, and continues to strive to be artistically adventurous in each of its programming streams – the NAC Orchestra, English Theatre, French Theatre, and Dance, as well as the Scene festivals and NAC Presents, which showcases established and emerging Canadian artists.

Congratulations to the NAC staff, and to the rest of us, who get to celebrate the next exciting phase of this artistically vital and landmark institution.