Outside the March’s Lessons In Temperament Gives Back on Film

James Smith at a piano in a theatre with his back turned the camera. The theatre's fly rail is in the foreground of the image, between Smith and the photographer.
Original photography by Gabriela Osio Vanden.

Outside the March, the Toronto-based theatre company behind some of the most innovative immersive theatre experiences since 2009, has turned their talents screenward with their latest offering. Starting with the World Premiere showing November 13th at the Meridian Arts Centre, Outside the March is presenting the theatrical film adaptation of Lessons in Temperament by James Smith through in-person screenings and at-home streaming with all proceeds going to mental health focused charities. 

Lessons in Temperament follows Smith, a musician and theatre-maker, as he visits multiple notable Ontario theatres to tune their pianos while their doors are closed for the pandemic. The process and ritual are overlaid with his family’s story of mental health as he and his brothers live with obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. 

Smith’s play premiered in 2016 as a live theatre experience that took place wherever there was a piano to be tuned. It was awarded the 2016 SummerWorks Prize for Production before a 2017 run produced by Outside the March in various locations around Toronto (including homes and grocery stores). That same year, the show was presented in New York as a part of Soulpepper Theatre Company’s 2017 residency at the Signature Theatre.

Part of the reason for adapting the play at this time comes from the pandemic’s impact on many others’ mental health — an impact felt strongly by those in the performing arts sector. 

Outside the March Artistic Director Mitchell Cushman, who directed the film, believes it sets a different stage for the playwright and performer to explore the themes: “Through piano tuning, James has a found a language every bit as intricate and intimate as the nature of his family’s journey with mental health — something that the camera gives the audience much deeper access to than we were able to offer in the live show[.]” 

This iteration of Lessons in Temperament is being presented in partnership with several Ontario theatre companies, including Soulpepper Theatre Company, TO Live, The Rose Theatre, The Stratford Festival, Crow’s Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, Mirvish Productions, The Harbourfront Centre, and Talk is Free Theatre — all of which appear in the film! TO Live, Soulpepper Theatre, and The Rose Theatre will be offering an immersive experience, allowing audiences to watch the film from some of its filming locations. The virtual screenings will be held in partnership with The Stratford Festival, Crow’s Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille.

“When I saw Lessons, I was so moved by James’ performance, his generosity of spirit and the way he made space and poetry around something that many people suffer through in silence,” Soulpepper Theatre’s Artistic Director Weyni Mengesha says. “We are thrilled that so many people will get to experience his story through this film.”

As James Smith gives back to theatres by keeping their pianos in tune, this run of his show gives back, too, with 100% of the box office proceeds being donated to charities like CAMH, Kerry’s Place, Stella’s Place, EveryMind, and Homes First. 

The World Premiere of Lessons in Temperament runs from November 13 – 27, 2021, in-person and online. For more details and ticket information, click here.

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Written By

Mae Smith is a former associate editor for Intermission Magazine. She is a lighting designer, props builder, stagehand, and sometimes-critic. Outside of theatre, she is a crafter and a Pisces.