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MONTREAL, FEBRUARY 3 ,  2015– James Lyng High School (5440 Notre Dame West) in St. Henri will welcome back two former students who have excelled in the arts, actor and playwright Vittorio Rossi and young actor Jaa Smith-Johnson, on Wednesday, February 4 (1:30 p.m.).
On the eve of the premiere of his new play The Envelope at the Centaur Theatre, Mr. Rossi will address students about his career and what got him. Smith-Johnson recently received the Gloria-Mitchell Aleong Award for artistic achievement at the Black Theatre Workshop's 29th Vision Celebration Gala.

Vittorio Rossi

Rossi, whose parents came to Canada from Italy, has played numerous roles on stage and screen but remains best known for his role as detective Tom Celano in the television series Omertà: La loi du silence, which held the highest viewer ratings in Quebec from 1996 to 1998. As a playwright, he is widely considered to be the inaugural Italian-Canadian voice on the English-Canadian stage.

Rossi's awakening as a writer came when, as an acting student at Dawson College, he was encouraged by his writing instructor, John Lucas, to write about what he knew best - the Italian community in Montréal. Rossi graduated from Concordia University in 1985 with a bachelor of fine arts in theatre performance and began his playwriting career in 1986, winning the Best New Play Award at the Quebec Drama Festival (QDF) for Little Blood Brother. He won a second QDF award in 1987 for Backstreets, a play that he describes as written "out of pure, unadulterated anger" over the death of his cousin.  His first full-length play, The Chain, broke attendance records in 1988 at the Centaur. His next play, Scarpone (Italian for "clodhopper"), based on his experience selling shoes, was also a popular success at Centaur.

 In 1992, Rossi was commissioned by Dawson College's Dome Theatre to write In Pursuit of a Cow, a play dealing with the aftermath of a fictional shooting of  two women in a local bar. His most acclaimed drama, The Last Adam, a powerful Oedipal tragedy, premiered in 1994, and the published script won the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Drama in 1996.
These early plays established his reputation for edgy, testosterone-charged, emotional family dramas, and earned comparisons with David Mamet while displaying Rossi's admiration for the work of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. With these plays, Rossi drew attention to his neighbourhood, Montréal's Ville-Émard, as playwright David Fennario had earlier done for Pointe Saint-Charles.

In 1995, in a radical change of style, Rossi presented (once again at Centaur Theatre) an episodic light comedy called Love and Other Games about courtship rituals in contemporary cosmopolitan Montréal. In 1997, the Stratford Festival commissioned Rossi to prepare a new translation for their production of Eduardo de Filippo's Filumena. In the third phase of his playwriting career Rossi has written a number of dramas based on Italian-Canadian and his own family history. Paradise by the River, a play about the internment of Italians in Canada during World War II, was produced at Centaur in 1998. Returning from a sojourn of film acting, writing and directing, Rossi wrote his "A Carpenter's Trilogy": Hellfire Pass, Carmela's Table and The Carpenter, which were presented at Centaur in 2006 and 2007.

The Envelope will be Rossi’s 10th play produced at the Centaur. As the storyline goes, while excited actors gather in a local Italian restaurant, two producers jockey for the film rights to a new play premiering at an Old Montreal Theatre. Torn between an indie L.A. filmmaker and a local producer who dangles a tempting multi-million dollar envelope from the Federal Film Fund, the playwright confronts ambition over loyalty and money over art. Made in Canada movie projects generate more red tape than red carpet winners in this satiric and engaging new play about the celluloid dream factory. It will be on stage March 24 to April 19. For more details log on to

Jaa Smith-Johnson

Jaa Smith-Johnson, 25, was born and raised in Little Burgundy. He graduated from James Lyng in 2006, where he says he fell into  acting completely by accident. When producer/director Joshua Dorsey and his assistant producer and former coordinator at LOVE (leave out violence) Alyssa Kuzmarov where looking to recruit local teens for a feature film called The Point, James Lyng was one of the perfect places to find what they were looking for. Jaa was chosen to be one of the main characters in the film and from that moment on his life was changed forever. After completion of the film he enrolled at Dawson College where he pursued a higher education in acting. He was accepted into the Dawson Professional Theatre Program, which took three years to complete and he successfully graduated in 2009. Since then he has performed in a number of plays throughout his young but seasoned career and was last seen in Centaur Theatre’s Quebec premiere of Social Studies. He’s also had the opportunity to perform in a number of plays such as: Blind (Scapegoat Carnival), Oroonoko (Persephone Productions), The Exonerated (Third Eye Ensemble), Hard Times (Third Eye Ensemble), Titus Andronicus (M.S.T.C), Our Country’s Good (Griffentown Productions) along with many others.  

Aside from theatre,  Jaa has had the privilege and opportunity to be in more than a handful of films & TV shows including Race (Jesse Race Productions), Trigger Point (Incendo), 19-2 (Sphere media), X-MEN: Days of Future Past (Fox/Marvel), Inheriting Trouble and Til Death Do Us Part (CMJ Productions) and Smurfs 2 (Sony Pictures) just to name a few. He’s been nominated for three METAs at the Montreal Theatre English Awards for outstanding lead actor (twice), and outstanding emerging artist. Jaa was also chosen by Black Theatre Workshop to be this year’s recipient of the Gloria Mitchell-Aleong Award (2015), for his artistic excellence, community spirit, entrepreneurial commitment and leadership in the arts. In 2011 he created and was one of the founding members of his theatre company called Third Eye Ensemble. Since its founding, Third Eye has produced four solid theatre productions: The Exonerated (two runs), Hard Times and Shhh…just let it happen. He had the privilege to star in all four productions and produce them. The company is now in the works of producing its fifth theatre production.  His company’s mandate is to provoke thought and communication about socially relevant issues in collaboration with our Canadian artistic communities.  

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Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213