New downtown venue
Aims to be the perfect setting for fans of high quality music. Free parking is an added bonus.
“There is even space for people to get up
and dance, if so inclined.”
NATACHA ROBINSON, SYMPOSIA DIRECTOR
Sitting smack in the centre of downtown could well be the city’s sweetest midsized concert venue … that you’ve never heard of. But you will soon enough.
It is in the Centre Mont-Royal, the edifice on the corner of Sherbrooke and Mansfield Sts. that had originally been the home of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The bottom four floors of the building still serve as a convention centre.
On one of these lower floors sits the theatre space, often used for lectures by those occupying the convention centre. The space has also been employed as a private venue for corporate shows and fundraisers. And its stage has been graced by the likes of Bill Clinton and Sugar Sammy, who both gave the room the thumbs-up.
And what’s not to like? The theatre sits 730 most comfortably, and the sightlines and acoustics are superb.
Beginning next month, the venue, now dubbed Théâtre Symposia, will be open to the public. Already booked are more than a dozen acts, including Canadian chanteuse Chantal Kreviazuk (who will be performing May 18 on her birthday) and the Big City Saints. The Symposia will eventually offer patrons dinner on a higher floor of the centre and cocktails and snacks on its terrasse. Oh, and what could be best news of all to many, patrons will also get free indoor parking — a rarity at any venue in the city, let alone a downtown one.
Natacha Robinson, the Symposia director/impresario, has been given the challenge of creating a vibrant entertainment venue, unlike any other in town. She brings 17 years of production experience, primarily in TV, to the gig.
Over the next four months, Symposia, though as stateof-the-art as any concert hall in town, will be further upgraded. The balcony seats will be transformed into VIP loges, a new lighting system will be installed, and the entire venue will undergo a paint job, among other touches.
“The space is elegant and intimate and unlike any other in town — it’s like a smaller Place des Arts. But great as it is, we will be endeavouring to enhance details that will make it truly hard to beat,” says Robinson, who served as a producer on the illuminating documentary Inside the Cirque.
Initially, the plan is to book shows on Friday and Saturday evenings, but if the concept catches on, it could be used nightly.
“What will hopefully set us apart from other venues is that we will offer the ultimate experience for people who love high-quality music in a perfect sound setting.”
And by that, she doesn’t mean Iron Maiden. The ac- cent will be on pop, folk, blues, jazz and classical. But she is also open to the site being used for comedy soirées, cabaret revues and live-TV broadcasts. Because the venue has a large screen and will have projection facilities, she is also considering film premières and festival screenings.
“We are targeting specific audiences — like boomers, for whom we have booked Canadian jazz musician Matt Dusk and some Motown acts,” says Robinson, who is a Gen Xer, child of boomers. “Because we’re only 730 seats, obviously we can’t book Bell Centre-like acts. So we have to pick our acts accordingly.
“The other part of the attraction is making going out downtown as hassle-free as possible by offering free indoor parking, dinner upstairs in a five-star kitchen and in the warmer months, drinks on the terrasse.”
Robinson is booking acts, but concedes that it is somewhat of a challenge. “Artists don’t want to perform where no one has ever performed before, but then again, many are open to playing this sort of venue, which offers the warmth that most other rooms don’t. I think once the word gets out, we will be attracting many artists.
“Clearly, this isn’t the space for a heavy-duty rock band. But it is for classical, jazz or even alternative electronic. And for R&B.
“There is even space for people to get up and dance, if so inclined.”
She has also booked a pair of Borscht Belt comics for August, Stewie Stone and Freddie Roman — “for those who have missed out on Just for Laughs in July.”
Robinson hasn’t abandoned TV creation and production and will continue such pursuits, when time permits.
“I was looking for something different in which to get involved. I needed new challenges. Then I saw this ad for a venue director and I thought that since I produced and directed for so many years and since I had spent four years at Spectra (the outfit that does the Montreal International Jazz Festival) being exposed to festivals and music, I would love to do this.
“In fact, I welcome TV producers to look at this space, particularly if they are looking to do some live TV. The possibilities are endless. They could do a Canadian Idol, a Quebec Idol or a Montreal Idol here. It’s a completely unique space. I was at ADISQ and met with a bunch of talent agents and music producers. The buzz is they are excited to have another option in town.”