Slings & Arrows

Slings & Arrows is a Canadian TV series set at the fictional New Burbage Festival, a Shakespearean festival similar to the real-world Stratford Festival. The program stars Paul Gross, Stephen Ouimette and Martha Burns.

Slings & Arrows
Created bySusan Coyne
Bob Martin
Mark McKinney
Directed byPeter Wellington
StarringPaul Gross
Martha Burns
Stephen Ouimette
Susan Coyne
Mark McKinney
Country of originCanada
No. of seasons3
No. of episodes18
Running time45 minutes
Original networkThe Movie Network
Movie Central
Original releaseNovember 3, 2003 
August 28, 2006

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 seasons of six episodes each were filmed in total, 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 The Kids in the Hall member Mark McKinney, playwright and actress Susan Coyne, and comedian Bob Martin. All three appear in the series as well. The entire series was directed by Peter Wellington.


Rhombus Media decided to make a television series after the pattern of their 2005 documentary Five Days in September: The Rebirth of an Orchestra, which chronicled the backstage activities of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. They hired Bob Martin, Susan Coyne, and Mark McKinney to create the series.[1] The fictional New Burbage Festival in Slings & Arrows is loosely based on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival with some events being an amalgamation of Bob Martin's experiences in the production of his Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone and The Second City.[1][2]

Season 1: Hamlet

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 stage. 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. 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

The second season follows the New Burbage production of Macbeth.

Richard is desperate for money to keep the company going, and Geoffrey, frustrated over what he sees as a lack of commitment from his actors, suggests downsizing the company. A new actor, Henry Breedlove (Geraint Wyn Davies), arrives to star in a production of Macbeth, which Geoffrey is reluctant to direct because of its supposed difficulty (though he doesn't believe in the curse of "The Scottish Play").

Richard finds funding in the form of a government grant that comes with a catch—it may be used only for "rebranding". So, Richard hires an avant-garde advertising agency, Froghammer, to promote and rebrand the festival. Sanjay (Colm Feore), the head of Froghammer, 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 in which the actors don't touch or even look at each other, much to the chagrin of the couple playing the lead roles. The festival's administrator, Anna Conroy (Susan Coyne), copes with an influx of interns and begins a romance with playwright Lionel Train (Jonathan Crombie) who is doing a reading at the festival.

Ellen undergoes a tax audit, in preparation for which she is able to explain the "business purpose" of such theatrical necessities as lipstick and a push-up bra.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey obsesses over directing Macbeth, antagonizes his cast and crew, and starts seeing Oliver's ghost again, all of which make Ellen fear for his sanity.

Season 3: King Lear

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.


Season Episodes Originally aired DVD release date Blu-ray Disc release date
Season premiere Season finale Region 1 Region 1 box set Region A box set
1 6 November 3, 2003 (2003-11-03) December 8, 2003 (2003-12-08) June 27, 2006 (2006-06-27)[3] February 8, 2008 (2008-02-08)[4] August 26, 2010 (2010-08-26)[5]
2 6 June 27, 2005 (2005-06-27) August 1, 2005 (2005-08-01) August 24, 2006 (2006-08-24)[6]
3 6 July 24, 2006 (2006-07-24) August 28, 2006 (2006-08-28) July 3, 2007 (2007-07-03)[7]

Season 1 (2003)

Series no. Season no. Title Directed by Written by Original air date
11"Oliver's Dream"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyNovember 3, 2003 (2003-11-03)
22"Geoffrey Returns"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyNovember 10, 2003 (2003-11-10)
33"Madness in Great Ones"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyNovember 17, 2003 (2003-11-17)
44"Outrageous Fortune"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyNovember 24, 2003 (2003-11-24)
55"A Mirror up to Nature"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyDecember 1, 2003 (2003-12-01)
66"Playing the Swan"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyDecember 8, 2003 (2003-12-08)

Season 2 (2005)

Series no. Season no. Title Directed by Written by Original air date
71"Season's End"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJune 27, 2005 (2005-06-27)
82"Fallow Time"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 4, 2005 (2005-07-04)
93"Rarer Monsters"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 11, 2005 (2005-07-11)
104"Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 18, 2005 (2005-07-18)
115"Steeped in Blood"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyJuly 25, 2005 (2005-07-25)
126"Birnam Wood"Peter WellingtonSusan Coyne, Bob Martin & Mark McKinneyAugust 1, 2005 (2005-08-01)

Season 3 (2006)

Series no. Season no. Title Directed by Written by Original 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)

Awards and nominations

In its three seasons, Slings & Arrows was nominated for 50 awards across several categories, and won a total of 22 awards for acting, writing, direction, editing, and more.[8]

Slings & Arrows won a total of 13 Gemini Awards. It was nominated for the Gemini for Best Dramatic Series every season it aired, and won twice. It garnered at least two Gemini awards for acting in every season, winning three each in 2006 and 2007.[9][10][11]

In addition to the Gemini Awards, Slings & Arrows 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 different 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.

The following 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—regulars as well as guests—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.[8]


  1. "Bob Martin". American Theatre Wing. June 2, 2006.
  2. Ryan, Maureen (February 5, 2008). "Enjoy the delightful (and moving) backstage antics of 'Slings & Arrows'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 8, 2012.
  3. "Slings & Arrows – Season 1 (2006)". Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  4. "Slings & Arrows: The Complete Collection". Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  5. "Slings & Arrows: The Complete Collection". Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  6. "Slings & Arrows – Season 2 (2005)". Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  7. "Slings & Arrows – Season 3 (2006)". Retrieved December 24, 2013.
  8. "Slings & Arrows". IMDB. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
  9. "Slings & Arrows sweeps Gemini Awards". Archived from the original on 2014-01-31. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
  10. "'Slings & Arrows' sweeps Geminis". October 28, 2007. Retrieved 2012-01-20.
  11. "Slings & Arrows victorious with big wins at Gemini gala". Retrieved 2012-01-20.
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