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Talking with Tartuffe

Audiences have a treat in store as Tom Rooney prepares for his role as a master con man in Molière’s hilarious – and timely – comedy.

Tom Rooney is a very busy man these days! When he's not performing as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night or Sir Benjamin Backbite in The School for Scandal, he's rehearsing the title role in Tartuffe. Somehow, he managed to find time for a chat to share with you.

Q: Tapping into this season's theme of Identity, and for those unfamiliar with the play, please tell us a bit about the character of Tartuffe - both the mask-on and mask-off versions.

Tom Rooney: Tartuffe is a master con man. His identity is fluid and dynamic, and he becomes whoever and whatever he needs to be in order to take best advantage of any given situation. In this instance, he's masquerading as a holy man preying on the gullible target of Orgon, who has been looking for meaning in his life and who is, in fact, searching for his own identity.

Setting a classic play in modern dress can give it real immediacy to a contemporary audience by drawing parallels with today's culture and society. Which situations or public figures did you draw upon for your portrayal of Tartuffe?

Unfortunately for us all, these days there are far too many situations and public figures to draw upon for inspiration. The news is rife with stories of people (mostly men) who say they are one thing and then turn out to be something very different. The hypocrite con artist is - sadly - alive and thriving in our society. I'm sure the audience will be able to easily draw their own parallels between the character of Tartuffe and multiple present-day public figures.

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Is this the first Molière play you've been in? What did you do to prepare for the role?

This is my first time performing in a Molière play. I've been surfing YouTube, looking at various other productions of Tartuffe and other Molière plays. A great resource for me has been a book entitled Controversy in French Drama - Molière's Tartuffe and the Struggle for Influence - which gives a great summary of what was going on in France and at the French court at the time Molière wrote Tartuffe. The play was banned for a number of years after it was first performed because of its apparent ridiculing of religious figures. Of course, Tartuffe is not a religious man at all but is simply a great con artist. Molière wasn't mocking religion; he was mocking hypocrisy and his own society.

What do you enjoy most about playing Tartuffe? Does this baddie have any redeeming qualities?

Tartuffe is an incredibly smart and clever criminal. His ability to quickly switch a potentially disastrous event from his disadvantage to his advantage is great fun. I'm thoroughly enjoying the challenge of the verse and rhyme. It's always a great pleasure to have the opportunity to work on a very funny and very well-written comedy. And a comedy that is so very relevant to our present times.

What do you think a modern audience will take away from seeing this production?

First and foremost, I hope audiences will find it funny - but I also hope that it will give them an opportunity to reflect on how we as a species and as a society are presently engaged in an enormous search for truth. Will we be able to put aside our own self-interests to really discern what is true? Or will we choose to believe what we want to believe simply because it is convenient and serves our own self-interests? Will we, for instance, choose to live in a society where loyalty trumps honesty? A world where we turn inward and take care of our own while others are excluded? The play, while an incredibly well-written comedy, is also a very clever critique on our society; a critique which is just as relevant today as it was when Molière wrote it. Perhaps even more so.

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Tartuffe runs at the Festival Theatre from August 1 to October 13. Don't delay in ordering tickets: there are only 24 performances of this darkly hilarious production!

Production support is generously provided by Dr. Dennis & Dorothea Hacker, by the Harkins/Manning families in memory of Jim & Susan Harkins, by Bob & Martie Sachs and by Dr. Louis and Mrs. Mary Jane Zako in celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary.

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The Spectacular Dance of Guys and Dolls

Audiences are blown away by the jaw-dropping dance numbers in this season’s mega-hit musical extravaganza!
Guys and Dolls is one of the most beloved Broadway musicals of all time - for good reason! Alongside a string of infectious hit songs, such as "A Bushel and a Peck," "Luck Be a Lady" and the rousing "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," the quirky characters are by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, making them easy to relate to during their crazy quests for love and meaning.

And then, there are all the fabulous dance numbers.…

Donna Feore's production is wowing audiences and critics alike with spectacular choreography that will leave you gasping out loud and asking, "How do they do that?" We spoke with Stratford Festival newcomer - and supremely gifted dancer - Devon Michael Brown to discover what sort of background training and hard work is behind all of the magic happening on stage.

Q: The level of skill and athleticism behind some of the dance numbers is truly astonishing, and speaks of lifelong devotion to the craft. When did you first begin dancing?

Devon Michael Brown: I started when I was three. My mom had been a ballet dancer, and my dad was a football athlete, so we were a physically active family from day one. My mom was shuttling my older sisters back and forth to dance classes, with me squirming away in my car seat. The Canadian Dance Company's Oakville studio offered free beginner lessons to boys - no doubt to encourage more young boys to get involved in the art from an early age - and Mom thought, "Hey, great - free babysitting!"

For the next few years, she drove four kids with different schedules from Milton to Oakville and back. Eventually, I took lessons closer to home at Dance Elite Studio for the Arts in Milton.

How old were you when it was clear that dance was going to be your life path?

When I was 11, I felt it was time to get serious about dance and made the decision to go back to the Canadian Dance Company. They are excellent for male dance training and mentorship. It's no exaggeration to say I owe my life to them. I only left high school in 2015, and started auditioning for shows straight away. I've done a few musicals and tours, and was lucky enough to be cast in the leading role of Max in the TV series The Next Step for the Family Channel. Being here at Stratford is surreal - in a very good way!

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Some of the dance moves in Guys and Dolls are incredibly athletic and complex. Did you already have an aptitude for that sort of thing when you were asked to join the company?

During the audition process, Donna Feore really puts you through your moves and asks to see what sort of skills you bring to the table. CDC prides itself on producing very versatile performers: they want their dancers to be good at everything and be well versed in all styles, so that you can walk into any audition room and feel confident. They give their students the ability to say "Yes, I can!" The concept of "can't" was not allowed to be part of our vocabulary - it was like another swear word!

The tumbling and leaps and flying back-bends you see me performing in the show were made possible through lessons with my private gymnastic teacher, and the CDC's acrobatics instructor was a former Olympian athlete, so I've had the best training possible. There was a constant effort at CDC to increase one's personal abilities and improve skills to the best level they could be.

I have been fortunate enough to be given some featured moments in the show by Donna, and I'm so grateful and happy to be part of the company. Every single day that I am here at Stratford exceeds my expectations - I'm in a state of happy shock!

Besides the obvious difficulty involved in some of the dance moves, what are some of the biggest challenges about performing in Guys and Dolls?

I'd have to say that the biggest ongoing challenge is stamina. Donna set the big dance numbers early and quickly in rehearsals so that we could start work on getting our stamina up to speed right off the mark. Setting the choreography so early on gave us time to perfect it, and Donna could tweak things along the way and find subtle ways to improve everything and make it even more exciting.

For example, the partnered dance number off the top of the Havana scene is so intricate - we wanted to do justice to the style and make it clear to the audience that we're not in New York City anymore with this sweaty, sexy hot Cuban street dance.

The show's most overwhelming challenge has to the Crapshooters' Ballet. It's four minutes of solid, high-energy dance, and it's hard! There is a lot to do, and I can feel myself hitting little walls along the way in that huge beast of a number, but there's no time to relax because we go into "Luck Be a Lady" almost directly afterward - but I push through, and it's just such fun to perform.

Every single one of the dancers on stage is an individual with their own fascinating story, and we are all hugely invested in the moment. That helps us deal with the stamina required in the difficult numbers, but also with the overall stamina it takes to get us through such a long run.

On opening night, the applause after the Crapshooters' Ballet nearly knocked me off my feet - and that obvious enjoyment you can feel coming from the audience is so joyous and exciting. That shared excitement of the experience will carry us right through to closing night!

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Production support is generously provided by Mary Ann & Robert Gorlin, by Riki Turofsky & Charles Peterson and by Catherine & David Wilkes.

Production Co-Sponsors, RBC Royal Bank and Union Gas Limited.

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Romeo and Juliet Retrospective

A look back at who has played the famous star-cross’d lovers over the Festival’s history – and what they’ve done since.

Enjoy a peek back at the 11 couples who have portrayed the tragic young lovers on our stages over 65 season. (Some might surprise you!)

Stratford's first ever Romeo and Juliet was directed by Michael Langham, with Julie Harris and Bruno Gerussi in the title roles. A Tony and Emmy Award winner, Ms Harris played the memorably eccentric country singer Lilimae Clements on Knot's Landing, while Mr. Gerussi is best remembered by Canadian audiences for his role as Nick on the long-running CBC series The Beachcombers. 

1968: Douglas Campbell directed Louise Marleau and Christopher Walken. A French-Canadian born in Montreal, Ms Marleau, a stage and screen performer since she was a child, won a Best Actress Genie Award in 1985 for her role in La femme de l'hôtel. Mr. Walken later achieved fame for his portrayals of quirky characters in more than 100 films, including Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, The Dead Zone, Pulp Fiction and Sleepy Hollow. (He's also quite the dancer!)

1977: It was almost a decade later before David William directed the next production, with Marti Maraden and Richard Monette in the leads. Ms Maraden went on to teach and direct at theatres across Canada, and served as Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre English Theatre from 1997 to 2006. Richard Monette needs no introduction to Festival fans. His 14-year tenure as Artistic Director - the longest in our history - saw the entire canon of Shakespeare's plays performed on our stages, together with extensive renewals of the Festival and Avon theatres, the creation of the Studio Theatre and the introduction of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre.

1984: Seana McKenna and Colm Feore teamed up for a production directed by Peter Dews. In her 26 seasons at Stratford, Ms McKenna has appeared in a huge range of leading roles - including a cross-gendered Richard III. This season she stars in The Madwoman of Chaillot and returns to Romeo and Juliet as a memorable Nurse. Mr. Feore is also a long-time favourite on our stages, most recently in the title role of King Lear. He also enjoys a prolific TV and film career that has included the mini-series Trudeau, the popular Bon Cop, Bad Cop (and its recent sequel), a pivotal role in House of Cards and recurring roles on 24, The Listener and The Borgias.

1987: Susan Coyne and Albert Schultz played the lovers in a production directed by Robin Phillips. Mr. Schultz went on to enjoy an award-winning TV career in such Canadian series as Street Legal and Side Effects before becoming Artistic Director of Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company. Ms Coyne, a co-founder of Soulpepper, also achieved renown - as co-writer, creator and actor - for the hit TV series Slings and Arrows

1992: Richard Monette's production starred Megan Follows and Antoni Cimolino. Internationally remembered for her portrayal of Anne Shirley in the 1985 CBC TV adaptation of Anne of Green Gables and two of its sequel series, Ms Follows has most recently been seen on screen as Catherine de' Medici in the series Reign, of which she is also a director. And where do we begin with our current Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino? After starting as an actor on our stages, he turned to directing and then to administration, becoming Executive Director in 1998 and General Director in 2007. Since assuming the role of Artistic Director in 2013, he has directed many outstanding productions, including this season's The School for Scandal.

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Diana Leblanc directed Marion Day and Jonathan Crombie. Ms Day has continued her acting career on stages countrywide, and is to be found on stage this season at the Shaw Festival in 1979 and Wilde Tales. She is also the director of the London and Stratford branches of Shout Sister Choirs. Mr. Crombie is best remembered for his role as Gilbert Blythe - playing opposite Megan Follows - in Anne of Green Gables. Sadly, he died in 2015 at the young age of 48. 

Miles Potter's production starred Claire Jullien and Graham Abbey. Ms Jullien is currently in her ninth season at the Shaw Festival, appearing in Dancing at Lughnasa and Middletown. Mr. Abbey, a long-time Stratford favourite, was seen last season as Bolingbroke/Henry IV in Breath of Kings, of which he was also conceiver, adaptor and associate director. Artistic Director of Toronto's Groundling Theatre, he's also incoming Artistic Director of the Festival Players of Prince Edward County. At Stratford this season, he's the associate director of Twelfth Night and plays Orgon in Tartuffe

2008: Nikki M. James and Gareth Potter starred in a production directed by then Artistic Director Des McAnuff. Ms James is best known for her Broadway roles as Éponine in Les Misérables and Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon, for which she won a Tony Award. This summer she played Portia in the Public Theatre's provocative Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar. Seen last season as Peter in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Aeneas in The Aeneid, Mr. Potter is now in his 14th Festival season, playing (among other roles) Antonio in The Changeling

Tim Carroll's "original practices" production starred Sara Topham and Daniel Briere. Last seen at Stratford in 2013, when she played Ruth in Blithe Spirit, Ms Topham makes her first appearances with the Shaw Festival this year in Saint Joan and Middletown. Mr. Briere has also appeared in Festival productions of The Three Musketeers, The Merchant of Venice, King John, Mother Courage and Her Children and Antony and Cleopatra.

And it goes without saying that you can't miss Scott Wentworth's direction of Sara Farb and Antoine Yared in this season's critically acclaimed Romeo and Juliet - now running at the Festival Theatre until October 21!

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2017 production support is generously provided by Barbara and John Schubert.

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Humanity and Humility in Timon of Athens

Joseph Ziegler plays the title role in this season’s modern setting of an extraordinarily timely play.

From the outset of casting this year's production of Timon of Athens, director Stephen Ouimette had Joseph Ziegler in mind for the lead. In recent seasons, fans of the Festival will remember Mr. Ziegler for his array of moving, powerful - and at times quirky - performances in Macbeth, All My Sons, John Gabriel Borkman, The Diary of Anne Frank, She Stoops to Conquer and The Last Wife. He is also a founding member of Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre Company, where he has acted in and directed many productions, and is a familiar figure to Shaw Festival audiences.

Mr. Ziegler is well known for his exceptional portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in Soulpepper's annual presentation of A Christmas Carol: the famous story of a greedy, misanthropic man transformed into a generous benefactor. In Shakespeare's searing and dark cautionary tale, Stratford visitors can now witness the harsh effects of the opposite journey, as inflicted upon Timon by the cruel twists of fate.

Productions of this relatively unknown work of Shakespeare are often given a contemporary framework - and that choice makes absolute sense to Mr. Ziegler. "It is a play that seems well ahead of its time," he explains. "Back in 1606, all the other English playwrights were writing one revenge tragedy after another, but Shakespeare seemed much more interested in exploring the bigger questions of humanity and humane-ness with Timon of Athens. It's such a rich play, and it feels incredibly complex and modern.

"It speaks to Shakespeare's genius that at a time when everyone else was writing about revenge, he was focusing on the topic of forgiveness. You see it time and time again in his other 'problem plays' like All's Well That End's Well, Measure for Measure and The Winter's Tale. He lived in a brutal era - and, then as now, we humans just don't seem able to understand the concept of forgiveness as easily as we understand the idea of revenge."

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The tragedy of Timon's story is that he is unable to forgive the way he is treated by his self-interested claque of false friends, and that makes him so bitter against all of humanity that the only solution is death. It is painful to watch the downfall of such an effusive, generous, loving man - so overflowing with bonhomie that he cannot recognize that those with whom he surrounds himself haven't so much as a drop of such genuine openheartedness among them.

Timon is so intent on showing his love for his so-called friends that he refuses to see the warning signs of his faltering wealth until it is far too late. It resonates strongly in these days of online banking - where all transactions are virtual and little physical money changes hands - and it is all too easy to be swept up in the moment and lose track of spending. The reversal of fortunes can take place in a heartbeat, and with devastating results.

Mr. Ziegler portrays Timon as a man who is genuinely good to his core. "His is a subtle sort of tragedy," he says. "Timon is so caught up with being kind and generous to everyone around him that he simply cannot get over being let down by them when he needs their help. The fatal flaw is that he utterly lacks understanding of how people work: he's blinded by his own high standards, and can't believe others don't live by the same code. He just can't accept it, or forgive anyone for it, and he never recovers.

"Even when he stumbles across the buried treasure, he wants nothing to do with it. Wealth has become something sinister: he sees that none of the flatterers who fawned around his dining table were ever real friends, even as they accepted gifts and favoured him with false smiles. He is a man blinkered by his own innate decency and brought down by his complacency. He becomes fatally fixated on that one aspect of human nature: self-serving greed. Not even his loyal servant Flavius can get through to him - although there is a moment in which he almost relents in the face of his servant's genuine show of grief at his former master's destitute state."

There are so many parallels to today's ever more complex and dangerously polarized world, and Mr. Ziegler feels that audiences will gain much thought-provoking insight. And he brings to the role a weight of life experience that makes it all the more real and heartbreaking as we witness Timon's descent into bitter despair.

"There's not a lot I haven't seen. I'm pretty old!" he laughs. "I've had a great life, and I've learned along the way that we all need to keep our eyes open and really see what's going on around us. In that way, I think Timon is important right now. It's not so much a play about a man as it is a play about the world and its workings. But as it is shown through his eyes, the story becomes compelling because it is so very personal. And human."

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Production support is generously provided by Cec & Linda Rorabeck.

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But Wait – There’s More!

Love the feeling of first-night excitement? We have four more fantastic productions opening in August!

Don't miss your chance to see our four fabulous late openers this season! With a classic Molière comedy, a timely 20th-century satire, a dramatic take on a shadowy moment in our national history and the world première of a new Canadian play to choose from, there's something for everyone to love. Check out a preview or regular performance - or grab a coveted seat for the opening!

The Breathing Hole | July 30 - September 22 - only 22 performances!
Commissioned by the Festival to mark Canada 150, this remarkable drama begins in 1534, when an Inuit widow, Huumittuq, has a strange dream. The next day, to the alarm of her community, she adopts an orphaned polar bear cub. Over the next 500 years, the bear encounters many other humans, among them explorer Sir John Franklin and his doomed crew, 21st-century scientists and entrepreneurs, and the passengers and crew of an Arctic cruise ship, who finally - and fatally - fulfil the mysterious vision that came to Huumittuq half a millennium earlier.

Production Sponsor, TD Bank Group

Tartuffe | August 1 - October 13
By taking the homeless and holy-seeming Tartuffe (Tom Rooney) under his roof, the wealthy bourgeois Orgon (Graham Abbey) thinks he is harbouring a pillar of piety. But in fact, Orgon is the one who has been taken in - by a ruthless hypocrite and con artist. With Orgon determined to marry his daughter to Tartuffe - and blind to the latter's lecherous designs on his wife - it's up to the rest of the household to expose the fraudster. But revealing the truth, it turns out, entails dangers of its own.

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The Madwoman of Chaillot | August 3 - EXTENDED to October 1 
This world première of a new translation commissioned by the Stratford Festival has been extended twice due to popular demand! A syndicate of unscrupulous entrepreneurs plans to exploit a hitherto unsuspected resource: oil beneath the streets of Paris. Their only obstacle is the city itself, with its historic buildings, monuments and intractably bohemian inhabitants, all requiring to be swept away in pursuit of wealth. With the spirit of art and culture pitted against the remorseless demands of commerce, it falls to a woman who has lived too long in the past to lead the fight for humanity's future. With a stellar cast led by Festival favourite Seana McKenna, this is a must-see.

The Komagata Maru Incident | August 5 - September 24 - only 20 performances!
In May 1914, as war looms in Europe, the Japanese steamer Komagata Maru arrives in Vancouver harbour, carrying 376 would-be immigrants of East Indian origin. As subjects of the British empire, all are entitled to enter Canada, but the authorities refuse to let them ashore. While using every means at his disposal to enforce the racist policies of his political masters, immigration inspector William Hopkinson is torn between his own ambition and the secret he harbours within.

Production Sponsor, Sikh Foundation of Canada

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Art and Activism

In troubled times, art mirrors the world we live in – and shows us ways to stand up and make changes.

Today's headlines give us much to be concerned about: women's issues, racial and religious tensions, political turmoil, corporate greed, climate change, the widening gap between haves and have-nots, to name but a few hot topics.

Theatre has always been a way to explore the things that drive us in everyday life - and sometimes the questions asked on stage cause us to question our own realities. What can we do to effect change? How can we make our voices heard, and speak out against oppressive wrongs? What do we want our ideal society to be?

The clash between the pressing needs of the many and the desires of the powerful few comes to a head in the remarkably timely French satire The Madwoman of Chaillot. Written in 1943 and first performed in 1945, Jean Giraudoux's comedy is brilliantly pertinent to the world today. 

Despite its fairy-tale "once-upon-a-time" quality, its story offers obvious parallels with real life. A group of cold-hearted business sharks driven by personal profit want to drill for oil beneath Paris. But the quirky Aurélie, known as The Madwoman of Chaillot (played by Seana McKenna), and her circle of vagabond outsider friends, spurred on by The Ragman (Scott Wentworth), foil their nefarious plot in a series of seemingly improvised counterattacks.

In the face of what seem to be insurmountable troubles, Seana McKenna's Madwoman refuses to sit idly by. "Aurélie gives the call to action," says Ms McKenna. "She sees her friends haplessly worrying about this onslaught of greed and says, 'What's wrong with all of you? Wringing your hands instead of doing something. How can you put up with a world in which you're not happy all day long, and you're not your own boss? Are you cowards?' She stands up to fear and incites them to do something! That is the perfect cry for activism in a play if there ever was one. In the margins of my script, I've written a capitalized 'RESIST.' And certainly, in the Paris of the '30s and '40s, they knew all about that."

With its themes of environmental destruction and corporate greed, the play resonates strongly with current world headlines. But if that sounds dark and depressing, think again.

"For all the parallels with our current situation, it isn't a heavy play full of existential anguish," says director Donna Feore. "Instead, it's a political and poetical satire that is fantastical, feminist and very funny. The Madwoman masks her sanity behind her deadpan craziness, using her fantasy life to insulate herself in the face of relentless greed."

What better way to cope with contemporary concerns than by enjoying the humour of this hilarious production with your fellow Festival fans? The Madwoman of Chaillot is proving such a popular choice, we've had to add new performances! Its run begins at the Tom Patterson Theatre on August 3 and ends on September 24.

Production support is generously provided by Bob & Martie Sachs and Alice & Tim Thornton.

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Forum events designed to provoke and illuminate discussion:

The Festival's Forum series is packed with panels, discussions and presentations addressing some of the biggest questions we face in society today. Here are events coming up over the next few weeks that are sure to enlighten and provoke discussion.

On Melting Ground | July 12
Join a panel of leading environmentalists in a discussion on personal responsibility towards the environment.

Woman: Goods or Goddesses? |
 July 19
Playwrights, actors and activists discuss how has the female voice and perspective has shifted over time in literature.
Ideas at Stratford: Whose Lives Matter? |
 July 22
Whose lives matter? Paul Kennedy hosts a discussion of the politics of inclusion.

Ideas at Stratford: The Gender Trap | July 29
Paul Kennedy hosts a discussion of gender and identity.

Art and Activism |
 August 16
The tension between art and activism is central for many theatre-makers past and present. Join artists who provoke and challenge this dynamic, as they discuss the tools of engagement, principles of social justice and community intersection in their work. 

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Summer Movie Night with Stratford Festival HD!

From stage to screen – six films from our acclaimed HD series are available on DVD/Blu-ray or on demand.

Feel like watching some of our fabulous Stratford Festival productions? Whether you're relaxing at home, on the road or at the cottage, you can indulge your love of Shakespeare with just a few easy clicks! Enjoy our feature-length productions of Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, The Adventures of Pericles, King Lear, King John and Antony and Cleopatra, available on demand at iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

If you'd rather have a keepsake copy for your collection - or to give as a special gift - DVDs and Blu-rays are available at the Stratford Festival Shops at the Festival and Avon theatres and online at


Stratford Festival HD is sponsored by Sun Life Financial as part of their Making the Arts More Accessible™ program.

Support for Stratford Festival HD is generously provided by Laura Dinner & Richard Rooney, the Jenkins Family Foundation, the Henry White Kinnear Foundation, Ophelia & Mike Lazaridis, The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, Sandra & Jim Pitblado, the Slaight Family Foundation, Robert & Jacqueline Sperandio, and an anonymous donor.

Support for Stratford Festival HD has also been provided by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Canadian distribution is through Cineplex, which specializes in bringing world-class events and performances to the big screen.

Screenings will be followed by a broadcast window on CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster.

U.S. and international distribution is through SpectiCast, the fastest growing event cinema marketing and distribution company in the world.