Stratford to unspool ‘Caesar’

Cineplex, CTV to present stage show

Inspired by the Metropolitan Opera’s success with filmed versions of its stage productions, Canada’s Cineplex has joined forces with CTV and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to present the fest’s hit 2008 staging of “Caesar and Cleopatra,” starring Christopher Plummer, on 80 screens across Canada.

Scheduled to unspool once only, on Saturday, the film was shot in front of an audience over three days during the George Bernard Shaw play’s Stratford run last fall, using nine high-definition cameras and Dolby surround sound.

The project was largely driven by Plummer and Stratford board member Barry Avrich, who served as producer. They brought in broadcaster CTV, which will air the show in April, as well as corporate sponsor American Express.

“The bottom line is that the C$1.2 million ($980,000) film has already broken even, and now we only stand to make a profit through DVDs and on the international market,” Avrich said.

Advance interest is high, with five of the six Toronto venues sold out.

Plummer is already working with Stratford artistic director Des McAnuff (who helmed “Caesar and Cleopatra”) on a similar project for the 2010 season.

“It’s a different world out there these days, and you have to find your audience in new and exciting ways,” Plummer noted.

Despite general critical acclaim, last year’s Stratford season sustained declining audiences due to the economic climate, and the Stratford is said to be facing a deficit of $3 million, its first in 14 years. That makes the outreach a project like this can generate increasingly vital.

“It’s important for people outside of our normal audiences to understand the quality of what we’re doing here,” said Stratford general director Antoni Cimolino. “I believe that if they see it, they will come.”

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