November 30 heralded the inaugural celebration of The Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts, formerly known as the O'Keefe Centre, Canada's largest performing arts facility, with more than 3200 seats.
Hummingbird Communications is a software company that has designed software for people with PCs to communicate with mainframe computers. As this is not the kind of software sold at the corner store to the public, in Canada, whey they locate their head office, the name of Hummingbird was virtually unknown. They have grown almost 10,000 percent in four years. The entrepreneurial spirit of this company is a wonderful example of Canadian business savvy and Fred Sorkin wanted to find a way to say thank you to his employees and to Canadians. He did it with a $5million donation that was sorely needed. The original hall was built in 1960 (and opened with Robert Goulet in Camelot) and very little updating has been done since.
Planned improvements and refurbishments include enhancement of the lobbies and public areas to enrich the patron experience, including new carpeting, window and wall treatments, concession and merchandising fixtures. Installation of an elevator located in the centre of the main lobbies will allow access to all three levels of the theatre. This installation is made possible by the support of The Nissan Canada Foundation. Increased accessibility for disabled patrons will be welcome!
Other systems will include a new infrared system for the hearing impaired, as well as state-of-the-art fire and life safety systems, and electronic acoustic enhancement of the auditorium. The LARES acoustic enhancement system utilizes top technology, and will significantly improve the acoustical properties of the auditorium. Comprised of 300 speakers recessed in the ceiling and side walls, unobtrusively blended into the cherry-wood walls of the auditorium, the LARES system utilizes technology only recently developed and perfected.
Elizabeth Bradley, General Manager and CEO of the new Hummingbird Centre says: "One of the objectives was the need to diversify programming. The changes will open up the hall to artists who have traditionally thought of it as acoustically unfriendly." LARES is Lexicon Acoustic Reinforcement and Enhancement System is electronic architecture designed to create a completely transparent acoustic environment. The patented software substantially increases "gain before feedback" as opposed to standard sound reinforcement methods. LARES creates direct, reflected and reverberant energy at the optimum time and level, enabling spaces to mask or enhance their natural acoustics, thereby meeting the needs of a whole variety of productions. In effect, the hall is "tuned" to suit individual attractions.
The LARES system has been embraced by musicians, and is so far installed in several of the world's premiere performance venues and concert halls including The Deutches Staatsoper, Berlin; Dresden Staatsschauspiel, Dresden; Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego; Bravo Television Studios, Toronto; and Stockholm Stadsteater, Stockholm. A system is also planned for the Olivier Theatre at the Royal National Theatre in London, England. Currently, the Hummingbird Centre's LARES system is the world's largest and most comprehensive deployment of this technology.
Other work to be done is to restore limestone and marble surfaces, flagstone terraces and landscaping, as well as the stage rigging system, backstage equipment, and backstage areas, including dressing rooms, the rehearsal hall and technical and production related support spaces. The Hummingbird Centre also already has received its new auditorium curtain, a beautiful blue.
Hosted by Geraint Wyn Davies, highlights of the evening included first act performances by Ashley MacIsaac (wild Celt violinist)! and the Kitchen Devils from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; The National Ballet of Canada; Brent Carver; a wonderful Shakespearean monologue by Richard Monette (Artistic Director) of the Stratford Festival; hilarious physical comedy from Denis Lacombe of the Circle de Soleil (who stole the show as an orchestra leader). After intermission, Kate Nelligan presented an excerpt from Master Class written by Terrence McNally; The National Ballet School with two promising young dancers Natalie Evtushenko and Jason Reilly; a rousing moment of Alvin Ailey performed by Nasha Thomas of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Topping off the end of the show was a new musical work by John Kroner (with a little help from Jule Styne) lyrics by Gary Gardner "On This Stage" performed with hilarity by Dan R. Chomeroy, Cynthia Dale, Sheila McCarthy and Geraint Wyn Davies. Available for the inaugural ceremony was Beatrice Arthur, who thanked Fred Sorkin and Hummingbird Communications for a wonderful evening.
A select party was invited for a $200/plate dinner, and another party was held where the group celebrated with Veuve Cliquot Champagne and desserts. Yummy!
-- By Andrea Hodges