Musician and theatre-maker James Smith spent months without his usual work during the pandemic. During lockdown he found his way back into the shuttered theatre spaces tuning the cherished pianos that sat dormant. Harbourfront Centre, Mirvish, Theatre Passe Muraille, and Meridian Centre for the Arts, were just a few spaces he had access to as his story is told through the lens in a new moving film adaptation of Lessons in Temperament with Outside the March.
But the film isn’t just a cinematic escape back into the theatres we miss. It is a story of four neurodiverse brothers as told by Smith, and woven into the art and science of piano tuning. It’s an honest and personal exploration as one of the four brothers living with obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
“An instrument goes out of tune whether or not anyone plays it.”
Part memoir, performance art, and piano lesson, the film offers us insight to families living with mental health challenges. Lessons in Temperament opens with Smith at the piano playing the profoundly moving Beethoven’s Sonata No 8 in C minor . The piece itself is both tragic and beautiful — the melody has a way of bringing tears to the eyes. Smith explains the intricacies of piano tuning will offering memories of his family. But it’s not all heavy, Smith does inject a few lighter moments.
Outside the March, a Toronto-based company known to create some of the city’s most unique theatre experiences, worked with Smith to adapt his award-winning play into a film presentation. Directed by Mitchell Cushman, we are given an intimate visual both of the mind and of the theatres and spaces featured in the film — characters in their own right. Cautiously and methodically we are viewing the Smith alone in spaces we are familiar with but in a very different light.
While Smith’s story, the audience may even find a deeper connection at this time when we’re trying to navigate our way out of nearly two years of loneliness and isolation.
And the piano tuning? Yes, relatable in life and in so many ways. It’s about finding the right distance and balance with patience. Some of the most beautiful music can emerge in unexpected ways.
Lessons in Temperament is unexpectedly moving and will more than likely stay with you afterwards. It’s a film experience worth checking into. More in-person screenings are happening in the various theatre spaces where the filming took place. Virtual screenings are also scheduled. Full schedule available here at www.outsidethemarch.ca.
100% of Box Office ticket proceeds go directly to mental health affiliated charities including CAMH, Kerry’s Place, Stella’s Place, Homes First, EveryMind and True North Aid. Also, as the material may be sensitive, present at each screening is an active listener trained staff who will offer emotional support and additional resources for anyone who may need.