Slings & Arrows

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Slings & Arrows
Title card
Created bySusan Coyne
Bob Martin
Mark McKinney
Written bySusan Coyne
Bob Martin
Mark McKinney
Directed byPeter Wellington
StarringPaul Gross
Martha Burns
Stephen Ouimette
Susan Coyne
Mark McKinney
Music byRon Sures
Opening themeGreg Morrison
Ending themeGreg Morrison
Country of originCanada
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons3
No. of episodes18
Executive producersNiv Fichman
Laura Michalchyshyn
ProducerSari Friedland
Production locationsOntario, Canada[1]
CinematographyRudolf Blahacek
EditorChristopher Donaldson
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time45 minutes
Production companyRhombus Media
Original release
NetworkThe Movie Network
Movie Central
ReleaseNovember 3, 2003 (2003-11-03) –
August 28, 2006 (2006-08-28)

Slings & Arrows is a Canadian television series set at the fictional New Burbage Festival, a Shakespearean festival similar to the real-world Stratford Festival. It stars Paul Gross, Stephen Ouimette and Martha Burns. Rachel McAdams appeared in the first season.

The darkly comic series first aired on Canada's Movie Central and The Movie Network channels in 2003, and received acclaim in the United States when it was shown on the Sundance Channel two years later. Three six-episode seasons were filmed, with the final season airing in Canada in the summer of 2006 and in the United States in early 2007.

Slings & Arrows was created and written by former Kids in the Hall member Mark McKinney, playwright and actress Susan Coyne, and comedian Bob Martin. All three appear in it as well. The entire series was directed by Peter Wellington.


Slings & Arrows centers around life at a fictional Shakespearean theatre festival in New Burbage, Canada. Each season focuses on The New Burbage Festival’s production of a different play. The themes of the play are often juxtaposed with personal and professional conflicts facing the festival’s cast and crew.

Season 1: Hamlet[edit]

The show's central characters are actor/director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross), New Burbage artistic director Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette), and actress Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), who seven years previously collaborated on a legendary production of Hamlet. Midway through one of the performances, Geoffrey suffered a nervous breakdown, jumped into Ophelia's grave and then ran screaming from the theater. After that, he was committed to a psychiatric institution.

When the series begins, Geoffrey is in Toronto, running a small company, "Théâtre Sans Argent" (French for "Theatre Without Money"), on the verge of being evicted. Oliver and Ellen have stayed at New Burbage, where Oliver has gradually been commercializing his productions and the festival. On the opening night of the New Burbage's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oliver sees Geoffrey on the news, chained to his theatre in protest. Heavily drunk, Oliver calls Geoffrey from a payphone and they argue about the past. Oliver then passes out in the street and is run over and killed by a truck bearing the slogan "Canada's Best Hams".

Geoffrey's blistering eulogy at Oliver's funeral about the state of the festival leads to him being asked to take over Oliver's job on a temporary basis. After clashing with an old rival, Darren Nichols (Don McKellar), Geoffrey is reluctantly forced to take over directing the festival's latest production of Hamlet. Making this difficult are Jack Crew (Luke Kirby), the insecure American film star cast as Hamlet; Geoffrey's former lover Ellen, who is playing Gertrude and dating a much younger man; and Oliver, now haunting both Geoffrey and the festival as a ghost. Also in the play is apprentice actress Kate (Rachel McAdams), who finds herself falling for Jack.

On the business side of the festival, New Burbage manager Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney) is seduced by one of his sponsors, American executive Holly Day (Jennifer Irwin) who wants to remake New Burbage into a shallow, commercialized "Shakespeareville".

Season 2: Macbeth[edit]

The second season follows the New Burbage production of Macbeth.

Richard is desperate for money to keep the company going. Geoffrey, frustrated over what he sees as a lack of commitment from his actors, suggests downsizing the company. A famous and highly egotistical actor, Henry Breedlove (Geraint Wyn Davies), arrives to star in Macbeth. Geoffrey is reluctant to direct the play due to the difficulty of staging it well, but insists that he doesn't believe in the curse of "The Scottish Play".

Richard secures a government grant to rebrand the festival. To do so, he hires an avant-garde advertising agency, Frog Hammer. Sanjay (Colm Feore), the head of Frog Hammer, launches a series of shock advertisements and manipulates Richard into accepting them.

Elsewhere at the festival, Darren has returned from an artistic rebirth in Germany to direct a version of Romeo and Juliet. His experimental staging requires the actors to not touch or even look at each other. Frustrated by this, the leading actors Sarah and Patrick seek out Geoffrey's help.

The festival's administrator, Anna Conroy (Susan Coyne), copes with an influx of interns. Among them is the ambitious Emily (Grace Lynn Kung), who can be a little too enthusiastic when enforcing theater rules. Anna begins a romance with playwright Lionel Train (Jonathan Crombie), who is doing a reading of his original play at the festival. She becomes upset when he uses her personal life in his writing, straining their relationship.

Ellen is upset that she must undergo a tax audit. Her accountant brother-in-law agrees to help, but the two argue over Ellen's shoddy record keeping. She attempts to explain the to "business purpose" why lipstick and a push-up bra are theatrical necessities.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey obsesses over directing Macbeth, antagonizing his cast and crew. He starts seeing Oliver's ghost again, which make Ellen fear for his sanity. Henry and Geoffrey develop a tense power struggle over how to handle the titular character.

Season 3: King Lear[edit]

The third season follows the New Burbage production of King Lear.

The cast of Macbeth returns home after a successful run of the production on Broadway, where an old friend of Ellen's (Janet Bailey) tells her to think about moving beyond New Burbage. As Richard tries to cope with being a success, Anna must deal with a group of stranded musicians and Darren is back in town, this time to direct a new musical, East Hastings.

Geoffrey, meanwhile, has cast an aging theatre legend, Charles Kingman (William Hutt) as Lear, despite everyone's fears that the role will kill him. As rehearsals continue, Charles terrorizes Sophie (Sarah Polley), the actress playing Cordelia. Sophie is also involved in the rivalry between the young actors in Lear and the young actors in the musical, whose success soon overshadows the troubled Shakespeare production.

As things spiral out of control, Oliver returns to haunt and help, and Geoffrey seeks therapy from an unlikely source.



SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
16November 3, 2003 (2003-11-03)December 8, 2003 (2003-12-08)
26June 27, 2005 (2005-06-27)August 1, 2005 (2005-08-01)
36July 24, 2006 (2006-07-24)August 28, 2006 (2006-08-28)

Season 1 (2003)[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
11"Oliver's Dream"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyNovember 3, 2003 (2003-11-03)
Oliver Welles, the creative director of the New Burbage Shakespearean Festival, struggles to be enthusiastic with his production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This greatly frustrates the leading lady, Ellen Fanshaw. Oliver's former protégé, Geoffrey Tennant, loses his small theatre company when the money runs out. The New Burbage Festival's business manager, Richard Smith-Jones, is drawn to American executive Holly Day, who represents a major sponsor. While passed out drunk, Oliver is hit and killed by a truck.
22"Geoffrey Returns"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyNovember 10, 2003 (2003-11-10)
After Oliver's death, Geoffrey is installed as the festival's interim creative director. He accepts, although some people question if he's mentally stable enough for the job. It's well known that, seven years ago, Geoffrey had a nervous breakdown on stage while playing the lead in a production of Hamlet that co-starred Ellen and was directed by Oliver. Geoffrey and Ellen try to be professional, despite having been a romantic couple in the past and their relationship ending badly.
33"Madness in Great Ones"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyNovember 17, 2003 (2003-11-17)
Geoffrey tries to settle into his new job, but Oliver's ghost keeps appearing and berating him. Geoffrey has refused to direct the season's production of Hamlet, which has stunt cast movie star Jack Crew as the lead. Ellen encourages the other actors to shun Geoffrey. Controversial director Darren Nichols takes over the production and begins insisting on extravagant sets and pyrotechnics. Geoffrey reaches a breaking point and challenges Darren to a sword duel at a party in Ellen's house.
44"Outrageous Fortune"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyNovember 24, 2003 (2003-11-24)
After the duel at the party, which trashed Ellen's home, the police arrested Geoffrey. While in a jail cell, Geoffrey and Oliver try to figure out if the former is crazy or the latter is a real ghost. Jack romantically pursues Kate, an actress at the festival and the understudy for Ophelia. However, fellow actress Claire warns her about being seen as a social climber, which causes Kate to have reservations. Ellen's younger boyfriend, Sloan, punches Geoffrey and Darren for making the mess at her house.
55"A Mirror up to Nature"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyDecember 1, 2003 (2003-12-01)
Geoffrey has agreed to direct Hamlet. Kate decides she'd rather be with Jack than worry about what others think. Oliver manages to scare Claire into injuring herself so the more talented Kate can take over the role of Ophelia. The production is presented with a difficult situation when Richard takes away all their preview performances. Holly plans to turn the New Burbage Festival into a highly-commercialized "Shakespeareville" that will emphasize mainstream musicals. Jack's confidence is shattered when Richard tells him that no one expects him to be a good Hamlet.
66"Playing the Swan"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyDecember 8, 2003 (2003-12-08)
Jack has disappeared just before the opening night of Hamlet. Geoffrey worries that he was too harsh on Jack. Oliver admits that his own bullying tactics as a director "had nothing to do with good theatre," but rather stemmed from his own personal issues. Geoffrey and Ellen confront what led to his breakdown and the events that followed. Jack's confidence is boosted by Geoffrey's kind words and the play is a success. Richard realizes that Holly is cruel and manipulative, and so he sends her and the plans for Shakespeareville packing.

Season 2 (2005)[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
71"Season's End"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJune 27, 2005 (2005-06-27)
After losing multiple sponsors, Richard hopes a government grant will save the festival. He also wants Geoffrey to direct Macbeth, but is initially refused. Ellen realizes the age gap between her and Sloan is too big for they relationship to succeed, and so she breaks up with him. Kate gives up the role of Juliet so she can marry Jack and go the US with him. Geoffrey agrees to direct Macbeth as a tribute to Oliver, who always wanted to stage his own production but never did. Geoffrey and Ellen become a couple again.
82"Fallow Time"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 4, 2005 (2005-07-04)
Richard revives the festival intern program, which creates chaos in the office for festival administrator, Anna. Geoffrey and Ellen try living together. Richard hires edgy advertising agency Frog Hammer to oversee the festival's rebranding. Geoffrey looks over concepts that Oliver left behind for staging Macbeth. Famous Shakespearian actor Henry Breedlove arrives to play the lead.
93"Rarer Monsters"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 11, 2005 (2005-07-11)
Darren is hired to direct Romeo and Juliet. Geoffrey becomes obsessed with directing MacBeth and begins spending late nights at the theater conversing with Oliver. Ellen worries that his sanity is slipping. Henry undermines Geoffrey's authority in front of the cast and crew at rehearsals. Ellen, unable to cope with Geoffrey's erratic behavior, breaks up with him and he moves out.
104"Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 18, 2005 (2005-07-18)
Frog Hammer's offensive advertising campaign causes older subscribers to cancel en masse. Richard fears this will ruin the festival, but ad exec Sanjay convinces him to trust the strategy. Darren strips Romeo and Juliet of all its warmth and romance, to the chagrin of his leads, Sarah and Patrick. Ellen is infuriated that her taxes are being audited. Disagreements over how to handle the character of MacBeth leads Geoffrey to fire Henry.
115"Steeped in Blood"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 25, 2005 (2005-07-25)
Despite Darren's anti-romance concept, the actors playing Romeo and Juliet have fallen in love. The police inform Richard that Sanjay is a con artist. With all the rebranding money gone, Richard is set to lose his job. Ellen owes a large amount of money in back taxes. After firing Henry, MacBeth goes ahead with understudy Jerry, resulting in a vindication of Geoffrey's unconventional creative choices. Ellen, however, convinces Geoffrey that Henry is the better actor for the role. Henry wants to come back, but he remains egotistical and rude.
126"Birnam Wood"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyAugust 1, 2005 (2005-08-01)
Young adults respond to Frog Hammer's ad campaign and start buying tickets, saving Richard's job. Geoffrey manipulates Darren into restoring the romance in Romeo and Juliet. To put Henry in his place, Geoffrey makes sudden changes to Macbeth's staging that knock Henry off-kilter. Richard auditions for a musical and learns how difficult rejection can be as an actor. Geoffrey tries to sever his ties with Oliver's ghost once and for all. After Sloan chastises them for breaking up, Geoffrey and Ellen go home together.

Season 3 (2006)[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
131"Divided Kingdom"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 24, 2006 (2006-07-24)
142"Vex Not His Ghost"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 31, 2006 (2006-07-31)
153"That Way Madness Lies"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyAugust 7, 2006 (2006-08-07)
164"Every Inch a King"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyAugust 14, 2006 (2006-08-14)
175"All Blessed Secrets"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyAugust 21, 2006 (2006-08-21)
186"The Promised End"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyAugust 28, 2006 (2006-08-28)

Background and production[edit]

Development and writing[edit]

In the late 1990s, Tecca Crosby pitched the idea of a half-hour comedy about a theatre festival to producer Niv Fichman. Fichman recruited Susan Coyne to write the pilot, which at the time was called Over The Top.[1] Mark McKinney later joined the project, followed by Bob Martin.[2] Coyne, McKinney, and Martin are listed as the show’s creators, and share writing credits on all 18 episodes.[3]

The series was produced by Rhombus Media for The Movie Network and Showcase.


Village street with buildings and lamp posts
Scenes of the fictional town of New Burbage were filmed on Main Street in Georgetown, Ontario.

Filming took place in southern Ontario, Canada.[1] The lobby of the fictional Swan Theatre is Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre. Interior theatre scenes were filmed in Hamilton’s Tivoli Theatre in season one and in Brantford’s Sanderson Centre in seasons two and three. The Studio Theatre where season three's East Hastings performs is the main stage of Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. [4] Other locations included the Blue Goose Tavern in Toronto, and Yong’s Restaurant in Georgetown.[5]


In 2009, a remake of Slings & Arrows, titled Som & Furia (“Sound & Fury”), aired on Brazil’s Rede Globo network.[6] The 12-part Portuguese-language miniseries was produced and co-directed by Fernando Meirelles.[1]

Possible prequel[edit]

As of November 2019, the creators were shopping a prequel to Slings & Arrows called The Amateurs about the origins of The New Burbage Festival in the 1950s.[7][8][9]


Awards and nominations[edit]

In its three seasons, Slings & Arrows was nominated for 50 awards across several categories, and won 22 awards for acting, writing, direction, editing and more.[10]

It won 13 Gemini Awards. It was nominated for Best Dramatic Series every season it aired, and won twice. It won at least two Gemini awards for acting in every season, winning three in each of 2006 and 2007.[11][12][13]

In addition to the Gemini Awards, the series swept Best Drama (One Hour) from the Writers Guild of Canada all three times it was nominated, and won Outstanding Television Series – Drama Awards from the Directors Guild of Canada in 2006 and 2007. The Writers Guild of Canada nominated three of its episodes for Best Drama Series in 2004.

Other awards included a Canadian Comedy Award in 2005 for Television – Pretty Funny Writing – Series, and a Satellite Award in 2006 for Best DVD Release of a TV Show.

This table summarizes award wins by cast members:

Actor Awards won
Paul Gross Gemini, Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role (2004, 2007)
Stephen Ouimette Gemini, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series (2007)
Martha Burns Gemini, Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role (2006, 2007)
Mark McKinney Gemini, Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role (2006)
Susan Coyne Gemini, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series (2006)
Rachel McAdams Gemini, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series (2004)

Many cast members—guests as well as regulars—were Gemini-nominated for their work on Slings & Arrows but did not win, including Jennifer Irwin, Sarah Polley, Chris Leavins, Don McKellar and William Hutt.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d "Slings & Arrows | The Canadian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  2. ^ VanDerWerff, Emily Todd (May 30, 2013). "The creators of Slings & Arrows talk about creating one of TV's greatest shows". AV Club. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  3. ^ "Slings & Arrows". IMDB. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  4. ^ St.James, Emily (2013-05-30). "The creators of Slings & Arrows talk about creating one of TV's greatest shows". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2022-12-03.
  5. ^ Torontoist (2013-09-04). "Reel Toronto: Slings and Arrows". Torontoist. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  6. ^ "Som & Furia/Sound & Fury". IMDB. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  7. ^ "'Slings & Arrows' is one of the best TV shows you might never have heard of | The Star". 3 November 2019. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  8. ^ Snyder, Diane (November 22, 2019). "Mark McKinney Reflects on Beloved Canadian Series 'Slings & Arrows'". TV Insider. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  9. ^ Ahearn, Victoria (November 23, 2017). "Susan Coyne talks 'Slings & Arrows' prequel and 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'". National Post. Retrieved 2020-01-26.
  10. ^ a b "Slings & Arrows". IMDB. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
  11. ^ "Slings & Arrows sweeps Gemini Awards". Archived from the original on 2014-01-31. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
  12. ^ "'Slings & Arrows' sweeps Geminis". October 28, 2007. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
  13. ^ "Slings & Arrows victorious with big wins at Gemini gala". Retrieved 2012-01-20.

External links[edit]