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Jazz to head to the NAC's Back Stage during construction

NAC Presents Associate Producer Xavier Forget will have to schedule around the 14-month-long loss of the NAC Fourth Stage, which is also heavily used for community programming and by the jazz festival ©2015 Brett Delmage

The National Arts Centre will have both listeners and concert presenters playing musical chairs starting on May 8. That's the day after the music stops in its popular Fourth Stage, until it reopens in summer 2017.

Some audiences will instead hear concerts in the “Back Stage”, a converted rehearsal hall with 40 fewer seats. And many local musicians will have to find another venue for their show because the NAC won't have a free stage for them to book.

Even the NAC Fourth Stage staff will be playing musical chairs after the final show there on May 7. “We're not even sure how many days we have to get out,” Xavier Forget told OttawaJazzScene.ca after the NAC's Annual General meeting on March 3. As Associate Producer for NAC Presents, and current manager of community programming bookings, Forget has to schedule around the 14-month-long loss of his essential hall.

The Ottawa Jazz Festival was caught by surprise by the May 8 closure of the Fourth Stage. Originally it was scheduled to be closed just after the 2016 festival - before a more realistic construction schedule was developed in order to complete major construction by July 1, 2017. That meant a disruptive construction start that was suddenly before the jazz festival.

In recent years and at the 2016 Winter Jazz Festival, many shows filled the Fourth Stage to capacity. Forget said that the Festival has been offered the use of the interim Back Stage. But with that stage's 140 seats instead of the usual 180 seats, it's quite possible there will be more disappointed listeners this and next year. In past summer festivals, those were the bronze pass holders who were last-in-line to be admitted - if at all.

The Ottawa Jazz Festival will also continue to have access to the Studio and the Theatre. It will likely be disrupted by construction noise during the day (as will all of the NAC – imagine concrete jackhammering) but not during evening performances.

Claudia Salguero's CANTARES on May 28 is one of the shows that was relocated from the Fourth Stage to the Studio. Salguero has sold out her South American jazz shows at the NAC for five years. Forget found the Studio date for her because she was a regular NAC community presenter. “We'll try to accommodate the people who have been coming a long time,” he said.

“I'd be lying if I said it'll be the same amount of shows, just because I don't have the same amount of dates [not booked for rehearsals or other NAC programming]. I can't do five shows a night to compensate. I have less dates in the Back Stage than I have in the Fourth Stage. That's a year of displacement. It's a tough season to go through, then we're back on.”

Although it will be smaller, the Back Stage may seem familiar to jazz fans who loved the Fourth Stage. “The same quality technicians, the same stage, the same tables and chairs. So it's going to be the same feeling,” Forget says. It will be accessed by the Stage door: halfway down the outside ramp between the Studio and Confederation Park, on the canal side of the NAC.

It's not only community presenters that Forget has to try to squeeze in to the Back Stage and other NAC halls. As Associate Producer of NAC Presents, he's responsible for scheduling the popular music and jazz performances in a busy NAC schedule. This season, NAC Presents includes 11 jazz/crossover concerts in a 45-concert series. And NAC Presents can only start scheduling after the NAC Orchestra, French and English Theatre, and Dance have reserved their performance and rehearsal space, which includes the shared Back Stage / rehearsal hall.

Forget looks with good humour and enthusiasm beyond the extra work like rescheduling performances that the NAC renewal is throwing at him.

“We're moving little walls with a pencil. It's really fun. So we're working on that. Some stuff is getting confirmed because you need an electrical room in one spot. And we're also working in an existing building so it's not like you can move that staircase over there. Some stuff is fixed, some stuff we can play with, so we're looking at that. We're still making changes.”

He said the new Fourth Stage would be approximately the same size because its outside walls cannot move: “it's the Southam Hall lobby on the other side.” But the ceiling will be raised, which will mean the stage can be higher, giving better sightlines.

He said staff were close to completing the design for the stage. “It's going to be a small, intimate cabaret. [Seating for] 200 is more or less what we're aiming at.”

“We're going to have a better sounding room, we hope. It's not going to be a found space [the Fourth Stage was originally a bookstore], it's going to be designed as such, so that's a big improvement. It's going to be an improvement in the technical equipment, and we hope the room is going to sound better. It's going to look better, it's going to be a much better feeling.”

    – Brett Delmage

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