Sad news comes out of the Stratford Festival today.
“It was with great sadness that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival learned of the death of David William on Wednesday, July 28. Artistic director from 1990 to 1993, Mr. William was a highly respected and beloved member of the Festival family.
“David made an enormous contribution to the Festival that spanned many decades,” says General Director Antoni Cimolino. “He joined our team of directors in the 1960s and directed many memorable productions that featured a pantheon of Canada’s greatest acting talents. He directed a great deal of Shakespeare at Stratford, and became Canada’s go-to director for Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the Restoration and the Greeks. His work was characterized by a precision and intelligence that made the most challenging classical text enjoyable to all audiences. David had an international career and he chose to make Canada and the Festival his home. We are richer for his choice.”
“As well as being a former artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, David William was among the most distinguished masters of Shakespeare and the classics in the long history of our institution,” says Artistic Director Des McAnuff. “In addition, his leadership style with our company of actors had an impact that is still felt almost two decades after he stepped down as our artistic director. He will be sorely missed.”
Mr. William was part of the Festival’s artistic company for 17 seasons. As a director, he worked with many young performers who would become stalwarts of the Canadian stage. His first production was Twelfth Night, presented at the Festival Theatre in 1966, featuring Martha Henry as Viola. In 1977 he directed Richard Monette and Marti Maraden as Romeo and Juliet. His 1985 production of She Stoops to Conquer featured Seana McKenna as Kate Hardcastle and Colm Feore as Marlow. Mr. Feore also played Hamlet in Mr. William’s 1991 production, and Dionysus in his production of The Bacchae in 1993. That same year, Mr. William directed Lucy Peacock as Gwendolen Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest.
His mentorship of young performers continued long after his tenure with frequent visits as a guest instructor at the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre. This season he directed a class for the members of the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction. It had been hoped that he would participate in these programs for years to come.
“My first season at Stratford I was a proud part of David William’s cast for T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral,” says Mr. Cimolino. “What an enormous growth experience for a young actor – to work with a director with such a brilliant mind and a vast experience in the theatre.”
During his career, Mr. William drew brilliant performances from key members of the Festival company. Witness his 1967 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor featuring one of the Festival’s finest Falstaffs, Tony van Bridge, along with Alan Bates as Ford, Zoe Caldwell as Mistress Page, Frances Hyland as Mistress Ford, and Roberta Maxwell as Anne Page.
“The very first professional Shakespeare I ever saw was David’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which I attended after travelling to Stratford from Scarborough on one of those yellow school buses,” says Mr. McAnuff. “That production changed my life, and I have little doubt that his work had an equally powerful effect on many other audience members over the years.”
In 1971 Mr. William directed William Hutt in the title role of Volpone. The following year he was at the helm when Mr. Hutt first tackled the role of King Lear. The stellar cast of that production included Edward Atienza as the Fool, Mervyn Blake as Kent, Eric Donkin as Oswald, Pat Galloway as Goneril, William Needles as Albany, Elizabeth Shepherd as Cordelia, Powys Thomas as Gloucester and Kenneth Welsh as Edgar.
“As artistic director, Mr. William broke important ground in expanding the commissioning of new work and producing Canadian playwrights on the Festival’s larger stages,” says Mr. McAnuff.
In Mr. William’s first season, three Canadian dramas were presented within the standard repertoire as acknowledged contemporary classics: John Murrell’s Memoir; Sharon Pollock’s One Tiger To A Hill; and Michel Tremblay’s Forever Yours, Marie-Lou. He continued to program the works of Tremblay and others and to commission new Canadian works, including Pollock’s Fair Liberty’s Call and Homeward Bound by the Festival’s then literary manager, Elliott Hayes.
As an actor, Mr. William first appeared on the Festival stage in 1990, playing an absolutely unforgettable Jaques in As You Like It. His other Stratford roles included Johan Andreas Altenburg in An Enemy of the People in 1991, in which he appeared with Bernard Hopkins; and Serebryakov in Uncle Vanya in 1992. His final Festival performances were in 1994, as Lodovico in Othello and Malvolio in Twelfth Night. The image of Mr. William in yellow stockings and cross garters will live in the memories of all who were lucky enough to see Twelfth Night.
Mr. William’s tenure as artistic director fell during the severe recession of the 1990s. As the Festival celebrated its 40th season in 1992, struggling to balance the books, he reflected on the role of the Festival in such difficult times, writing:
“When uncertainty, cynicism and false witness seem to preoccupy the media and dismay the public, we can, if we will, find in the arts a last resort from where we can hear the unflinching voices across the centuries remind us that the struggle is endless and that each man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?”
Mr. William died of a head injury suffered in a fall. His life is being honoured quietly by family and friends. He was 84.