New Renovation to Improve Performance-Based Research at U of G

A design of the new ARC building with hallways and people walking around and gathering together.

By Cate Willis

A new state-of-the-art research and performance space for improvisation at the University of Guelph will open later this year.

The ImprovLab, a new 160-seat performance space for research in improvisation, will occupy the newly renovated north wing of the MacKinnon Building called The ARC. The 45,000-square foot-ARC will also contain a 140-seat black-box theatre and a 152-seat recital hall. Construction began during fall 2019 and is expected to be completed in April 2022. 

In the ImprovLab, artists and researchers will collaborate with each other and with other University members, organizational partners and the broader community, said Dr. Ajay Heble, a professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies and director of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation.

“The ImprovLab is going to be a unique space that will be used by core members of our research team at the International Institute for Critical Studies and Improvisation,” he said. “We will be able to facilitate high-quality audiovisual documentation, telematic communication and performance, and do workshops.”

Before the renovation, researchers used various spaces on and off campus for their activities. Finding enough accessible space on campus to organize events, conferences, performances and workshops was a challenge, he said.

“We’ve always wanted to have a publicly accessible space where we can do our own research," Heble said.

The ImprovLab will feature the latest technical infrastructure for audience and performance research and will have optimal acoustics for various room configurations.

“There will also be infrastructure for surround audio, interactive instruments for video and immersive projection and archiving, interactive lighting, movement sensors, interface design and high-grade internet for telematics,” he said.

This new telematics technology will enable musicians to communicate and perform across geographical distances and hold conferences in real time – both more common during the pandemic.

His team hopes this August to hold its Improvisation Festival (IF) in the ImprovLab. IF was first launched in August 2020 as an online celebration of the arts. It was held online again in 2021 because of the pandemic. With restrictions being lifted, Heble hopes to offer some events in person this year.

“We know about the vital role that the arts have played for people during this time when it’s been impossible for people to gather, so imagine how excited people are going to be to gather together again, in public, to see performances at a state-of-the-art venue like ImprovLab, or to go to a theatrical production, or to see a music recital.

“I think we’re all aching for these opportunities to experience art and I think that the renovations that are taking place and the new build are generating a real sense of excitement for people to come together to appreciate the value of arts at this important time.”

The ARC is funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and supported partly by the Government of Canada’s Research Support Fund. The Government of Canada's Research Support Fund is an important source of funding for support of research facilities, research resources, management and administration of the University of Guelph's research enterprise, regulatory requirements and intellectual property and knowledge mobilization.