NAC unveils Phase 2 of its $110M renovation featuring new Fourth Stage and new glass rooms

The new Fourth Stage. Photo: Peter Robb

In its dance of the renovation veils, the National Arts Centre has revealed more new parts of its $110 million addition including a revitalized Fourth Stage performance space and two new glassed-in second floor rooms with spectacular views of Parliament and downtown Ottawa.

The opening Wednesday afternoon with a performance by Canadian singer Gabrielle Shonk was in the Fourth Stage which will see its first concert on Friday night with Ottawa’s soul and funk band BLAKDENIM. A list of 30 new NAC Presents concerts for 2018, including performances by Randy Bachman and Michel Pagliaro, was revealed Wednesday morning. The list is here.

The event marked the end of the second phase of what is formally called the NAC’s Architectural Rejuvenation Project. Phase 1 was opened on July 1 by Prince Charles.  

The view from the O’Born Room.

The event was hosted by Heather Gibson, the executive producer of NAC Presents and the Programmer of many new public spaces in the centre and Peter Herrndorf, the centre’s CEO who was making his first public appearance following the announcement of his decision to leave his post next June.

These new spaces will be for public events and for events catered by the NAC’s large food services division.

Nelson Borges, the head of that department, told an assembly of media and guests on Wednesday that one of the new rooms on the second level has already been used for a formal, albeit secret, event. A dinner for those officials attending the recent round of NAFTA talks in Ottawa was held in the Rossy Pavilion, located above Elgin Street. It was catered by the NAC and featured a dinner composed of dishes representing the cuisine of all three countries — Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Borges said in an interview that he hopes the NAC will once again become a place where important officials dinners and celebrations will take place.

“The pope has been here, the Queen has been here. Decades ago the Chateau Laurier and the NAC were two places to go to. Over time the NAC got tired and dark and now with these new places and rooms, when we brought the Global Affairs team in they knew instantly this was where they wanted to be.

The NAC’s head chef is Kenton Leier, who joined the NAC from the Westin Hotel where he followed Borges as head chef.

These new spaces will see the food services department at the NAC upping its game, Leier said.

“The big difference is we will be working with our clients to give them what they want. As a chef I won’t be serving what I want to serve. That means lots of custom menus and unique types of events.”

Borges said that “we looked at this place from across the Canal over the time, it had kind of lost its direction. For us it is important to bring Canada back in focus. It will be about Canadian wines and Canadian food foremost and working with those things.”

“We say Canada is our stage. We want Canada to be on our plates too,” Leier added.

Since it opened in 2001, the Fourth Stage has been a very popular venue at the NAC, with dozens of performances a year. It has been a space for community groups and for emerging artists performing in  NAC Presents. 

The Fourth Stage was opened as a performance space Jan. 5, 2001 and after 16 years needed a facelift. 

The stage in the new space now faces Elgin Street, rather than having its back to the roadway. The ceiling has been raised four feet making it feel more open. The centre has added a new, larger lighting grid to enhance performances. The lights are now LED. They are more energy efficient and a lot cooler than the old incandescent lamps that used to cook the artists on stage. The lights move which will also make for a more dynamic presentation.

With a high ceiling comes with a bigger and better sound system and a higher stage, allowing for a better view of the performers, the NAC says. There is also an expanded bar, adding the “lounge” feel of the space for 162 patrons when the space is at capacity. Drinks will be served during shows.

There is one more shoe to drop to complete the renovation of the NAC. That is expected in February when the old Panorama Room will double in size and emerge renamed as the Canada Room.  That will more than double the space (to 26,000 square feet) available at the NAC for catered events, such as weddings and banquets. The space includes the O’Born Room on the Canal side of the centre and the Lantern Room. The LED panels which will be used to broadcast performances to Elgin Street from inside the Lantern are expected to be ready by the New Year.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.