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Christina James | 1939 - 2018

As published in theThe Stratford Beacon Herald, May 18, 2018.

For a person to live long enough to see the impacts they have on the people they care for can be one of life's true, unfettered blessings.

Though the last few years of her life were a struggle, having suffered through several strokes and a final pulmonary embolism that took her life on May 15, Christina James – better known by friends and family as Chris – had the opportunity, time and again, to see the impact she had on her vocal students' careers, the audiences she entertained from the stage, the lives of her daughter and step-children, and that of her husband, David James.

"She was the most loving, giving person I've ever met," David said Friday morning, only three days after she died at Stratford General Hospital at the age of 79. "She was ferociously intelligent, a fierce feminist, and generous, generous – oh my God."

At an early age – about three or four years old, according to David – the British-born Stratford Festival star discovered a passion for song. Singing her way through those early years, Chris ultimately attended the Northern School of Music in Manchester, graduated with honours, and immediately entered the world of show business.

At only 19 years old, Chris sang the titular part in the French opera, Carmen. From there she toured Britain for two years with the very first production of My Fair Lady and performed in several other shows, before marrying her first husband, who convinced her to immigrate to Canada.

And it was in Canada, on a community theatre stage in Scarborough, where David and Chris first met and fell in love. Though they were both married at the time, they eventually found their way to one another.

After several years performing with David in community theatre, she finally made it back onto the professional stage, performing with the Limelight Dinner Theatre in Toronto, singing with the Canadian Opera Company for a few seasons, and ultimately landing an audition for the role of Katisha in the Stratford Festival's iconic 1982 production of The Mikado, a character she portrayed for two seasons, during a cross-Canada tour, and at the Old Vic theatre in London, England.

"This was the most successful production that Stratford ever did," David said. "They ran it for three consecutive years, which they'd never done with any other show. They had a full tour of the U.S., ending up on Broadway, a full tour of Canada, and they took it then to the Old Vic in London, England… It also was filmed for CBC and appeared on CBC many times."

While she was performing in Stratford, Chris was already head of the vocal department at Sheridan College's prestigious Music Theatre Program – a position she held for 23 years. Throughout her time at Sheridan, Chris not only helped her students foster and develop their natural vocal talents, but looked after them as if they were her own children.

"If you graduate from that course, you work in the business… and because of that it's very demanding and all these students are very vulnerable because they're going into a very vulnerable profession… so people tended to be very high-strung," David said.

"But they knew they could rely on Chris. Chris would have just maybe worked an 11-hour day, she'd come home, settle down with a glass of wine, and the phone would ring and it's one of her students that's distraught, at the end of her or his tether. She never hesitated. ‘Come on over, I'll make you a cup of tea and we'll sort this out.'"

And it was that mother-like care and compassion she had for her students that gave them the foundation to succeed in a very tough and demanding business. On many occasions, she was able to watch those same students perform in musicals across the country and around the world, filled with pride for each and every one of them.

On Sunday afternoon, many of Chris' students, her actor colleagues, her and David's neighbours in Stratford's West Village Condominium complex, their friends, and their family will come together to celebrate her life. Chris' visitation will take place from 1-4 p.m. at W.G. Young Funeral Home (430 Huron Street) in Stratford, and her funeral service will be at Avondale United Church at 2 p.m. the following day.

As expressions of sympathy, memorial donations can be made to the Heart and Stroke Foundation through the funeral home by calling 519-271-7411, or by visiting www.wgyoungfuneralhome.com.

As published by The Stratford Beacon Herald, May 17, 2018.

JAMES, Christina- Chris passed peacefully at Stratford General Hospital on May 15 after a pulmonary embolism. She was 79 years old. Chris fell in love with Stratford after starring in the Stratford Festival's iconic production of "The Mikado" in 1982. She played Katisha for two seasons, including the Canadian tour and the Old Vic engagement in London, England. In 1993 she was one of only three original cast members to take part in the ten year revival. Her theatrical career took her to so many interesting places, including Japan where she toured with Charlottetown's "Anne of Green Gables."

While highly regarded as an actor and singer, her lasting legacy will be as a teacher. Chris was head of the vocal program at Sheridan College's prestigious Music Theatre Program for 23 years and was treasured by her many students. Through her students she is now represented on stages across Canada and the world, including Broadway and of course the Stratford Festival. At one Festival performance there were 16 people onstage and she had taught thirteen of them to sing.

Chris leaves her husband David, her daughter Elissa, her step-children Glyn, Karen and Diana, and her grandchildren Kristofer, Adam and Lauren. The family is so grateful to the wonderful staff at Stratford General for their loving care. Also to the local LHIN organization, especially the dedicated personal support workers who brightened Chris's days. Chris and David have lived in Stratford's West Village Condominium for almost six years and Chris has benefitted from the wonderful community spirit and the many friends who have given unconditional support during her difficult last three years. Special mention to Jan Hill, and Cathy and Brian Vollett, for their loving support.

Visitation at the W.G. Young Funeral Home, 430 Huron St., Stratford on Sunday, May 20, from 1-4 p.m. The funeral service will be held at Avondale United Church, 194 Avondale Ave., Stratford on Monday at 2 p.m. As expressions of sympathy, memorial donations may be made to the Heart and Stroke Foundation through the funeral home at 519.271.7411 or online at www.wgyoungfuneralhome.com


Staff Announcement by The Stratford Festival, May 18, 2018.

News Item

We were terribly saddened to learn of the passing of Christina James, who played Katisha in Brian Macdonald's legendary production of The Mikado in our 1982 and 1983 seasons. Christina continued in the role when the show toured Canada, when it was filmed by the CBC in 1983 and when it transferred to The Old Vic in London, England. Ten years later, she was one of only three original cast members who reprised their roles in our 1993 revival.

In addition to pursuing her own stage career (which took her as far afield as Japan, in a Charlottetown Festival production of Anne of Green Gables), Christina spent 23 years as Head of Voice Training in the Music Theatre Department at Sheridan College. The countless budding fellow artists whom she taught and inspired include many who have subsequently appeared on our stages.

We send our deepest condolences to Christina's friends and family – and especially to one who is a member of our own Festival family: her daughter Elissa Horscroft, Technical Director of the Avon Theatre.

 
   
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