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Celebration of life of William Needles to be held April 17 at Stratford Festival Theatre

As published in the Stratford Beacon Herald, March 17, 2016.


A cast of theatre luminaries will take the stage at the Stratford Festival next month in a celebration of the life of acclaimed actor William Needles, who died at age 97 in January.

Speakers including Colm Feore, Geraint Wyn Davies, Benedict Campbell, Seana McKenna, Lucy Peacock and Jon Lovitz, by video, will be part of the event on Sunday, April 17, at the Festival Theatre. The tribute will also include performances by Loreena McKennitt, Gerald Isaac, Berthold Carrière, Nicholas Van Burek, Trent Pardy, Roger Shank, Jesse Aaron Dwyer and Jean-Michel Le Gal.

Needles was the country's oldest working actor. He died January 12 with family at his side in a hospice in Alliston.

He was a founding member of the Stratford Festival company, a Member of the Order of Canada, a co-founder of the Actors Fund of Canada, and a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Waterloo, as well as the Queen Elizabeth II Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals.

Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino said Needles's stage work "seemed effortless".

"Bill was a brilliant comedian who could bring the house down with laughter while appearing quite nonchalant," Cimolino recalled in a tribute to Needles in January.

"But perhaps the greatest of his many talents was his gift of mentorship to several generations of young actors. In what can be a difficult way of life, Bill was there for so many during the tough times. "His honesty, decency and kindness could balm almost any hurt and soothe a bruised spirit. After a talk with Bill you'd be ready to get up, smile and try again."

Needles, who was born in Yonkers, N.Y. and raised in Kitchener, received a Master Teacher Cum Laude from the University of California, Irvine. He taught there for many years, during his long and illustrious acting career.

He made his Festival debut in the inaugural 1953 season under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie as Norfolk and the 1st Murderer in Richard III and as Rinaldo in All's Well That Ends Well.

The next year he starred as Petruchio in Guthrie's production of The Taming of the Shrew.

In all, Needles appeared in over 100 productions in 47 Festival seasons before his retirement at age 87 from the Stratford stage in 2006 following his role as Castruchio in the 2006 production of The Duchess of Malfi.

He also performed on stages across North America and overseas, in addition to his several film credits. The Festival has dedicated its 2016 production of As You Like It to Needles's memory. He performed in four different productions of the Shakespearean comedy over the years, in 1959, 1972, 1983 and 2005.

The event on April 17 starts at 2 p.m. at the Festival Theatre at 55 Queen St.

At PAL Place, 101 Brunswick St, Stratford

At the Stratford Festival Theatre

At the Tom Patterson Theatre

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