Five more new things at the NAC

The latest round of upgrades to the National Arts Centre was unveiled this week, part of the $225.4-million architectural rejuvenation and production renewal project. The final phase is due for completion in December. Here are five things that were highlighted Thursday in a behind-the-scenes preview:

A pearl of a shell

The centrepiece is a new orchestra shell consisting of an intricate series of light-coloured, wood-veneer, floor-to-ceiling panels flanking the Southam Hall stage on three sides, with another series of panels overhead. The panels can be “tuned,” or adjusted for maximum reflection of unamplified sound. They can also be tucked away for an amplified performance, such as a musical or rock concert. Engineered by a Chicago company, Threshold Acoustics, the shell not only allows orchestra members to hear each other more clearly but also projects more of the music into the audience. “It’s only the second day, but it’s fantastic the difference it makes,” said Louis-Pierre Bergeron, a French horn player. “Before, maybe 60 per cent of the sound would carry and you wouldn’t really feel it. I like to feel it, physically. I think people will rediscover the orchestra.”

Sound and lights

Performances in Southam Hall, the Babs Asper Theatre and Azrieli Studio that require amplified sound will benefit from the upgraded audio gear, including speakers, communications systems, monitors and processing equipment, and state-of-the-art LED lighting with a full spectrum of colours. Installed throughout the building are more than 300 new speakers and 1,300 light fixtures connected by 200 kilometres of electrical wire and cables.

No more soundbleed

Careful attention was paid to prevent sound leaking among venues, explained Threshold’s Scott Pfeiffer. After the entire electrical system was modernized to support the new lighting, all the holes made to run wires then had to be plugged. Also upgraded were the doors of the Babs Asper Theatre to seal its lobby from the outer concourse so that multiple events can take place simultaneously without disruption. The 32,500 square feet of isolation material is sure to eliminate any chatter from the coat check.

Food as art

The NAC’s Rideau Canal-side restaurant, Le Café, is also undergoing a thorough renovation that started with the kitchen fixtures, which hadn’t been upgraded in decades. When the eatery reopens on Sept. 11, it will sport a clean and modern look, including new tables (custom-made from locally sourced white oak), chairs, china and candle holders. Gone are the white linen tablecloths and, soon, the stucco ceiling will be replaced, too. The patio won’t be open until next summer. The food will focus on Canadian cuisine, including a lunch menu with accessibly priced options such as burgers and club sandwiches. Wherever possible, ingredients will be procured in Canada.

Chefs in the spotlight

Plans for Le Café include a monthly residency for visiting chefs to join forces with executive chef Kenton Leier. “We consider food an art as well,” said food and beverage manager Nelson Borgos, hinting at a partnership that will coincide with next year’s launch of the Indigenous theatre department. “We really want to give Canadian artists, chefs, a national stage to showcase their talents and food from their regions.” Like the other artistic disciplines at the NAC, efforts will be made to ensure a balance between male and female chefs.

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