Antony Holland, a Canadian actor, playwright and theatre director whose career spanned more than 70 years in theatre, film and television, died in Nanaimo Regional General Hospital Wednesday.
He was 95.
Holland trained in London and started his career serving with the British armed forces in England and North Africa during the Second World War.
After the war Holland was vice-principal of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in the U.K. until he emigrated to Vancouver in 1957, intending to give up theatre, but instead founded what became Studio 58, Langara College’s school of acting.
Frank Moher, playwright, actor, director and artistic producer for Nanaimo’s Western Edge Theatre, credits Holland’s inspiration for that theatre’s creation.
The men met after Holland moved to Gabriola Island where Holland, Moher and other actors gathered to perform stage readings of short plays after just a single read-through.
“That actually not only resuscitated my interest in acting, which I’d done quite a bit of as a young man, but it made me look around at all the people doing it with me and go, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of talented people here.’ That got me thinking of a theatre company and that theatre company became Western Edge.”
Holland became a long-standing supporter of Western Edge as a fundraiser and a paid actor.
Moher said Holland’s physical health declined in recent months, which frustrated him “because he still had the mind of a 40-year-old,” and was proud of being a working actor at his age.
“I asked him what’s the secret to long life and he said, ‘Don’t drink,’ which is lost on most of us in the theatre, and then he would say various funny things about marriage, which I won’t repeat,” Moher said.
Holland planned to tour in the fall with his new one-person show called Antony Holland Performs Shakespeare’s Women.
“At the time I realized one of the soliloquies Shakespeare wrote for a character who is about to leave this world and I think that’s why he included it in the show,” Moher said.
Holland received the Order of Canada in June 2014 in recognition of his achievements as an actor and teacher and for founding Studio 58 to cultivate a new generation of Canadian performers.
“His devotion was to theatre and mostly to Shakespeare, but local people will best remember his performance in Tuesdays with Morrie, which was exceptional,” Moher said. “He brought great gravitas to that play, which didn’t necessarily happen otherwise.”