Updated December 2, 2015
The NAC Fourth Stage will close next May, several months earlier than originally announced – a move which will remove an important venue for the Ottawa Jazz Festival and for local jazz musicians, in 2016 and 2017.

The NAC Fourth Stage will close from mid-May, 2016 to July, 2017 as part of the large-scale renovations to the National Arts Centre in 2016 and 2017. The low ceiling of the current stage is expected to be raised by two feet. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
The NAC Fourth Stage will close from mid-May, 2016 to July, 2017 as part of the large-scale renovations to the National Arts Centre in 2016 and 2017. The low ceiling of the current stage is expected to be raised by two feet. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

In a press release issued Monday afternoon, the National Arts Centre (NAC) announced that it would be starting its major renovations in December in order to ensure they're completed in time for Canada Day, 2017. This will bring forward its previously-announced construction schedule by more than six months.

“The Fourth Stage will be closed starting in the spring of 2016 until July 2017,” the release said, adding that many of the shows and community events presented in that stage “will be moved to other [of] the Centre’s performance halls.”

Rosemary Thompson, the NAC's Director of Communications and Public Affairs, told OttawaJazzScene.ca that the stage would close in mid-May, after the last NAC Presents concert there on May 5. “My understanding is that everything up to that time will be fine, and then after that they're going to look at different venues within the building.”

“The Studio can be available at times. The Theatre is a larger venue but it's not impossible. And we're even looking at the two rehearsal halls as alternate venues for outside clients.”

Since it was created in 2000, the Fourth Stage has been heavily used by local musicians for jazz and other shows, most recently by Ottawa pianist Brian Browne for his annual trio concert and CD release. It's the smallest of the centre's four stages, holding up to 180 listeners in a cabaret format. The next largest space is the Studio, with 250 to 300 seats.

“It's one of our most popular venues,” Thompson said.

Listeners selected the Fourth Stage as their favourite jazz concert venue in OttawaJazzScene.ca's Jazz Favourites Poll.

The late June edition of the Ottawa Jazz Festival has presented its Improv Invitational series at the Fourth Stage for more than a decade, with two or three often sold-out shows every evening during the festival. The festival also programs one or two shows a night in the Studio, which will remain open during construction.

Thompson said the festival had been informed of the revised construction schedule.

Festival Executive Director Catherine O'Grady told OttawaJazzScene.ca on Wednesday afternoon that she had been out of town and had just heard of the closure,

“I¹m not sure what we¹ll do to be honest. I will discuss with the staff here and with the board and I¹m confident we¹ll come up with a suitable venue to house the Improv Invitational Series.”

Read more about the Ottawa Jazz Festival's plans to replace the Fourth Stage in our story about the festival's 2015 AGM.

Next February, the 2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival will also be held exclusively in the Fourth Stage, the winter festival's primary location since it started in 2012.

And NAC Presents, the NAC series showcasing live Canadian music including jazz, schedules two-thirds of its shows in the Fourth Stage – 30 out of 45 this year. The series has rescheduled several of its concerts to move them forward, including the Sultans of String (now on April 14).

The renovations, first announced a year ago, will include a major new entrance for the NAC on Elgin Street with an adjoining glass atrium and front facade – immediately adjacent to where the Fourth Stage currently sits.

The Fourth Stage will also be substantially improved as part of the construction, Thompson said. “It's going to be a much more beautiful room, with higher ceilings and a better performance space, once it's done.” When completed, the new grand entrance on Elgin Street will also be the main entry into the Fourth Stage, she said, and there will also be a café and a place to buy tickets immediately inside the entrance.

Starting in December, the NAC will erect hoarding on the north face of the building, requiring attendees at Fourth Stage concerts to enter through a temporary entrance in the hoarding to get to that stage, she said.

The press release said that construction will occur overnight and in the morning on weekdays, between midnight and 2 in the afternoon. While evening and weekend shows won't be affected, some daytime performances and rehearsals may be moved or cancelled.

Those attending concerts in the Studio, the Theatre, and Southam Hall will notice changes first with washrooms and the box office. While the current box office will remain open from 5 to 9 p.m., starting in 2016 daytime ticket purchases will be made at a temporary box office “established near the NAC”.

One of the first priorities for construction, the press release said, will be new washrooms on the second floor of the arts centre near the Panorama and Fountain Room. Once these are completed in March/April, the existing washrooms on the ground floor will be taken out of service – meaning walking up an extra flight of stairs.

   – Alayne McGregor

December 2, 2015: Updated to include changed dates for NAC Presents concerts.

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