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Singer-songwriter Jill Barber will be performing as part of NAC Presents this summer in Ottawa.


It turns out that pop and rock go down well alongside the orchestral and theatrical fare at the National Arts Centre.

NAC Presents, the Ottawa-based centre's new, all-Canadian program of rock, pop, jazz and even circus acts, has had 15 sold-out shows in its first 2011-2012 season and many of the 40 or so performances saw practically a full house.

NAC administrators couldn't provide exact box office or revenue numbers, which are released after the centre's fiscal year end in August. However, they have committed to another year of NAC Presents and say they're very pleased with the crowds for acts ranging from Rufus Wainwright and jazz singer Sophie Milman to the Sam Roberts Band and Jill Barber.

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"I'm thinking it's a huge success," said the program's producer Simone Deneau. She said it is difficult, however, to compare the new program of one-off concerts to the centre's orchestral and theatrical series, which are generally sold as subscriptions.

This isn't the NAC's first foray into contemporary music. NAC Presents grew out of the centre's Scene series featuring artists from particular regions. That format meant that emerging rock or pop acts from, say, the Prairies might have to wait years before the NAC re-invites them and other acts from that region.

"We were bringing in great artists, but we wouldn't necessarily bring them back in until the next [regional]Scene," Deneau said. "Why wouldn't we have this wonderful stuff coming into our building [more often] this great Canadian talent?"

The NAC, with its various theatres ranging from 200 to 2,300 seats, can provide mid-sized venues for acts that are too big to play clubs, but aren't suited to arenas, such as Wainwright and Barber.

Although part of the intention was to bring younger audiences to the arts centre, the main goal of the new series wasn't to generate revenue, Deneau noted. "This is not commercial programming," she said. "We are programming artists based on talent … that wouldn't necessarily come to the National Arts Centre if we weren't programming this kind of stream. Although many of our shows do very well – and when I say very well, that's a full house – this is not a huge revenue generating stream for us at all."

Deneau also said that the concerts weren't booked to fill an unused theatre on a particular night. In fact, she joked that she had to fight to secure space within the NAC to make room for the concerts.

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Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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