Two of Toronto’s leading theatre companies Outside the March (Jerusalem, The Flick) and Soulpepper (Sizwe Banzi is Dead, The Seagull) are teaming up for A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney, by Obie Award-winning playwright Lucas Hnath (Dana H., A Doll’s House Part 2).

The production stars Canadian theatre titan Diego Matamoros as Walt like you’ve never seen him before, and is directed by OtM’s Artistic Director Mitchell Cushman (multi Dora-Award winner for Jerusalem and Sweeney Todd). True to form for Outside the March, the intimate and immersive production will offer a radically different experience of Soulpepper: the entire audience will sit up on stage, with a very limited seating capacity. 

The piece will receive its Toronto premiere just as the original 1928 Mickey Mouse animated short “Steamboat Willie” has entered the public domain. Hnath’s play toys with such far-fetched concepts as: what if a powerful billionaire pursued his own immortality at the expense of the world around him? What if Elon Musk could doodle? And what if a melting world is no place to keep a frozen head from thawing?    

“The play riffs off the tantalizing urban legend that Walt Disney had his head cryonically frozen,” shares Cushman. “It’s ultimately about fear of mortality, I’d say, and those ultra wealthy among us who, when faced with the finitude of life, would rather dive deep into cryonics, or blast off into space, than pay any of it forward. We’re describing the production as a ‘fantasia for the Age of Succession’, and it’s very much cut from the same cloth as that HBO show—hilarious, scathingly dark, and un-look-away-able from.” 

Toronto theatre lovers will be familiar with Matamoros from his dozens of critically-acclaimed leading turns at Soulpepper—where he is a founding member. In 70 roles over 22 seasons he’s tackled Shakespeare, Beckett, Chekhov and Ibsen, among many others. He also recently made his UK stage debut playing Gloucester in King Lear at The Globe Theatre. But he’s never tackled a role quite like Disney. 

“Hnath has created the most subversively comic portrait of this iconic figure” offers Matamoros. “Walt as an all-too-frail, self-centered daydreamer who infantilizes the world in order to keep his mind from facing its harsher realities. Beautifully surreal. Dali would have loved this play.”

Matamoros stars alongside a powerhouse cast of Katherine Cullen (Stupidhead!, Trojan Girls) Tony Ofori (WILDWOMAN, Pipeline) and Anand Rajaram (Uncle Vanya, Mustard).

Following up on their Dora Award-winning and sold-out collaboration last season on Haley McGee’s The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, Outside the March and Soulpepper Theatre once again join forces for a hilarious and thought-provoking experience that promises to be one of the performance events of the year. 

Designed for an extremely limited capacity of fewer than one hundred people, audience members will enjoy the intimate experience of journeying behind the curtain and sitting up-on-stage at the Baillie Theatre, mere inches away from the action. This continues OtM’s long history of creating some of Toronto’s most memorable theatre experiences by radically transforming familiar venues, including The Royal Alexandra (Terminus), Crow’s Theatre (Jerusalem, The Flick) and Factory Theatre (Trojan Girls).  

“We are excited to partner with Outside the March again on this provocative play by Lucas Hnath—one of the most adventurous playwrights working today,” says Soulpepper Artistic Director Weyni Megesha. “It seems fitting that this play is matched with Outside the March’s immersive audience approach to theatre, the design for this show transforms our main stage in a way our audiences have never seen. I am excited to offer them this intimate and unique experience.“

The production is designed by an award-winning cohort of Outside the March and Soulpepper collaborators: Anahita Dehbohone(Set), Nick Blais (Lighting), Heidi Chan (Sound) and Niloufar Ziaee (Costumes). And in a nod to Disney’s “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (EPCOT), the production features a stage that is continuously revolving throughout the experience. This innovative design concept was developed through a unique partnership with Humber College’s Theatre Arts Technical Production program. 

Early Bird tickets are now on sale until February 20 at 11:59pm, featuring $25 tickets (that’s up to 55% off!) to the first five performances. In fact, those are the only performances available for purchase until all performances April 13 – May 5 go on sale at regular prices on February 21, 2024.

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