Stage Door News

Toronto: Outside the March announces a film adaptation of “Lessons in Temperament”

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

It is with great pleasure that Canada’s leading immersive theatre company, OUTSIDE THE MARCH today announces a new venture into filmmaking and the upcoming theatrical and streaming tour of the cinematic adaptation of James Smith’s award-winning play LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT. Starring Smith and directed by Outside the March Artistic Director Mitchell Cushman, LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT will have its World Premiere on November 13th with an in-person screening at The Meridian Arts Centre – presented by TO Live – followed by a series of in-person and virtual screenings through to November 27th.

The story of four neurodiverse brothers, LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT is a cinematic escape into the art and science of piano tuning and the precarious landscapes of the mind. An instrument goes out of tune whether or not anyone plays it – something that musician and theatre-maker James Smith knows all too well. So, after months of being unemployed during the pandemic, he decides that he will spend his lockdown visiting shuttered theatres and doing what he can to keep their pianos in tune. This ritual soon unlocks James’ own search for balance, growing up as one of four brothers living with obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Adapted for film by Smith and Cushman from their award-winning play, LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT offers an urgent and cathartic story that takes the audience inside Smith’s experience as a man whose life has been shaped by mental discord, and who as an artist, seeks to find meaning within the chaos. In adapting the material to the screen, the pair worked closely with accomplished director of photography Gabriela Osio Vanden (NUISANCE BEAR, TIFF). Together their work brings audiences inside a dozen of Ontario’s most iconic theatres - courtesy of The Stratford Festival Theatre, Mirvish Productions, Soulpepper Theatre, The Harbourfront Centre, Crow’s Theatre, TO Live, The Rose Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille and Talk is Free Theatre.

Through piano tuning, James has 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” shares Cushman. “And to hear the Smith family story, and James’ tuning, ring out in all of these theatres that hadn’t been able to house any stories for almost a year at the time we were filming, that was pretty special.

A SummerWorks 2016 Prize for Production award-winner, LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT first premiered in Toronto at the prestigious performance festival as an immersive theatre experience performed anywhere there was a piano that was in need of tuning. Outside the March then produced their own run of the show in 2017, in various living rooms, studios and even a Loblaws, before being invited to present it at the Signature Theater in New York City as part of Soulpepper Theatre Company’s acclaimed 2017 New York residency.

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” offers partner company Soulpepper Theatre’s Artistic Director Weyni Mengesha. “We are thrilled that so many people will get to experience his story through this film.”

The impetus to adapt the play for the screen was partially inspired by the pandemic’s exacerbating impact on mental health, with filming initially getting underway in the fall of 2020 and continuing into early 2021.  In recognition of the devastating impact of the pandemic on the performance arts sector, the creative team chose to shoot the film in darkened theatres, themselves powerful signifying reminders of the isolation of the past few years.

In addition to Cushman, Smith, and Vanden, the production team includes frequent OtM collaborator production designer Nick Blais, editor Maria Todorov-Topouzov, and composer Bram Gielen.

Executive Producers are Josh Hellyer, David Daniels, Laurence Siegel, Judy Gladstone, Andrew Nicholas McCann Smith, and Michael Levine. The film is produced by Jenn McGouran, Laura McCallum, and Rebeccah Love.

LESSONS IN TEMPERAMENT will have its world premiere with a run of live and virtual screenings between November 13th and 27th, 2021. The live screenings, hosted by TO Live, Soulpepper and The Rose Theatre, will offer audiences the immersive experience of watching the film in some of the environments in which it was shot. Virtual screenings will be held in partnership with The Stratford Festival, Crow’s Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille.

Live screenings will operate in accordance with the latest COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Each venue will require all audience members to be masked and show proof of vaccination; venues are operating at reduced capacity with physically-distanced seating.

Tickets are available now and can be purchased at

100% of all box office proceeds from each screening will go to a different mental-health affiliated charity, including CAMH, EveryMind, Homes First, Kerry’s Place, and Stella’s Place.

Photo: James Smith. © 2021 Gabriela Osio Vanden.