The National Arts Centre is the only bilingual, multidisciplinary performing arts centre in Canada, and Ottawa’s primary destination for stage performance, dance and orchestral music. However, its theatres are often full of music fans, as the centre hosts concerts frequently. With performances from pop, folk, country and rock artists, the NAC’s prestige and large theatres attract larger names from across the country.
Commissioned as part of Canada’s centenary, the venue opened two years later in 1969 with a bilingual mandate and support from then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. It receives half its budget through government funding, with fundraising efforts raising the rest. The Brutalist building overlooks the Rideau Canal on Elgin Street, with Ottawa City Hall just a five-minute walk away.
This National Historic Site of Canada features four distinct stages, each catering to a different concert experience. Southam Hall is the largest space in the NAC, seating over 2000 guests for everything from broadway shows to Canadian icons like Buffy Sainte-Marie. Babs Asper Theatre, often used for plays but features smaller acts as well, seats around 900 attendees, while the Azrieli Studio caps attendance at 300 and features all varieties of performance. The most intimate stage, simply dubbed the Fourth Stage, involves casual, tabled seating and often featuring emerging musicians.
A brief look at the centre’s past performers confirms its emphasis on bilingual art and Canadian entertainers. Quebecois artists like Jean Leloup have played the 2,000 seat Southam Hall auditorium, while Anglophone roots acts like local favourite Kalle Mattson and Constantines frontman Bry Webb have also made appearances on the venue’s Fourth Stage. While Canadian acts dominate at the NAC, international acts like Wilco occasionally stop through, too.