A surprise awaits inside the Lyric Theatre at North York's Toronto Centre for the Arts. West of Yonge Street, the Eberhard Zeidler-designed complex still greets North York Boulevard with the elegant curves of its 1993 exterior. Inside, however, the largest of the building's three original theatres has been repurposed into two smaller venues, with the former 1,727-seat Main Stage now divided into the 296-seat Greenwin Theatre and the 576-seat Lyric Theatre.

Once hosting Broadway-style musical productions, the 2012 closure of Dancap Productions saw the theatre struggle to attract the sort of large-scale productions that used to fill the Main Stage. This left the 1,727-seat auditorium underused as demand shifted towards smaller productions, precipitating an adaptation of the central stage into the two smaller venues. 

Toronto Centre for the Arts Revitalization, Toronto, by Diamond SchmittA spectrum of colour expressed across the proscenium, image by Tom Arban

Overseen by Toronto-based firm Diamond Schmitt Architects, the project entailed a fairly complex adaptation of the existing theatre space. Carving two theatres from a single space, the project involved the creation of a new proscenium stage for the Lyric Theatre, while incorporating many of the Main Stage's original seats into the new space. The shorter viewing distance to the new stage meant that the angling and configuration of existing orchestra and balcony seating had to be adjusted to accommodate the alterations.

Toronto Centre for the Arts Revitalization, Toronto, by Diamond SchmittThe Lyric Theatre in red, image by Tom Arban

Lending a sense of cohesion to what threatened to read as an uneven—and somewhat 'Frankensteined'—space, a series of chevron-shaped fabric panels envelop the room. Softening the aesthetic irregularities of the space, the programmable LED lights embedded within each panel can also alter the mood, expressing a wide range of colours. Crucially, the panels also serve an acoustic purpose, re-balancing the sound across an altered space that was originally designed to accommodate a very different stage. 

Toronto Centre for the Arts Revitalization, Toronto, by Diamond SchmittThe Lyric Theatre in white, image by Tom Arban

The aesthetic and programming is slightly reminiscent of the exterior of the Herzog de Meuron-designed Allianz Arena in Munich, which wraps the Bavarian stadium in a much smoother, inflated skin of luminous ETFE panels. Here, however, Diamond Schmitt's LED panels are used to negotiate the adaptation of a much more constrained interior space, though the spectrum of colour can similarly respond to, and—depending on your politics—enhance, the on-stage drama. According to Diamond Schmitt Principal Gary McCluskie, the LED lights "allow for new forms of creative expression by being able to envelop the entire room in colour washing that is responsive to the dramaturgy." 

Toronto Centre for the Arts Revitalization, Toronto, by Diamond SchmittA closer look at the balconies, this time in green, image by Tom Arban

Adapting the former theatre's stage, meanwhile, the neighbouring Greenwin Theatre offers a much simpler black box configuration. The new 296-seat facility makes use of the 90-foot fly-tower height to create a soaring space, which can also be configured to function as an open-floor studio. 

Toronto Centre for the Arts Revitalization, Toronto, by Diamond SchmittThe simpler Greenwin Theatre, images by Tom Arban

Taken together, the two facilities make effective use of an existing space to create new programming. According to McCluskie, "the reconfiguration represents a sustainable design solution in that every effort was made to preserve and incorporate elements of the existing theatre, while at the same time, dramatically altering its appearance and functionality." 

Achieved on what McCluskie describes as a "relatively modest budget," the project's innovative and flexible solution was recently recognized with an Achievement Award at the 149th conference of the Toronto Construction Association. Enabling contrasting approaches to theatrical production, the LED lights and black box see the adapted spaces carve a new and more protean identity out of the Toronto Centre for the Arts' former Broadway-style stage.


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